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Forces advance in IS bastion as US keeps up air strikes


Libyan forces said Tuesday they were advancing inside
the jihadist bastion of Sirte, as Washington conducted a
second straight day of air strikes on Islamic State group
positions in the city.

US President Barack Obama defended the two-day-old air
campaign, saying defeating the jihadists there was in
America's national interest.
The IS bastion, located just across the Mediterranean
from Europe, has been shaken by weeks of fierce clashes
between jihadists and fighters allied to Libya's UN-backed
Government of National Accord (GNA).
The city, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli, has
been controlled by IS since June 2015, and its loss would
be a major blow to the jihadists, who have faced a series
of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
Forces loyal to the Tripoli-based GNA said Tuesday they
had gained full control of Al-Dollar, a central residential
district in Sirte, after clashes that killed five of their
members and wounded 17.
The announcement came after US aircraft launched five air
strikes on Monday against "several targets in Sirte, hitting
IS members and vehicles" , the GNA forces said in a
statement.
The Pentagon said the raids came in response to a
request from Fayez al-Sarraj, the unity government chief.
"It is in America's national security interest in our fight
against ISIL to make sure (the GNA are) able to finish the
job," Obama told a White House news conference, using
an IS acronym.
- New air raids -
"We're working in partnership with them to assure that IS
does not get a stronghold in Libya, even as Libya begins
what is going to be a long process to establish a
functioning government and security system, " the
president said.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the
United States had conducted seven strikes so far: five on
Monday and two on Tuesday.
Two T-72 tanks were among the targets, and Davis said IS
fighters had been killed, but he did not have an estimate
of how many.
While the Pentagon had conducted two previous air
attacks on high-value IS targets in Libya since last year,
Monday's action marked the first US strikes in Sirte itself.
The GNA press office said Tuesday that the latest strikes
had destroyed an IS rocket launcher and a vehicle.
IS has taken advantage of the chaos in Libya after the
2011 ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi to
increase its presence in the oil-rich country.
The jihadists have claimed deadly attacks, including
beheadings, and targeted foreign embassies.
Sarraj's unity government emerged as the result of a UN-
brokered power-sharing deal in December, but it has
struggled to assert its authority across Libya.
A rival administration based in the country's far east has
refused to cede power to Sarraj's government since he
sailed into the capital under naval escort in March.
- 'Limited' strikes -
More than 300 pro-GNA fighters have been killed and over
1,500 wounded since the start of the battle for Sirte,
according to medical sources.
Forces supporting Sarraj's government entered Sirte on
June 9, but their advance has been slowed by an IS
fightback using suicide car bombs and sniper fire.
The pro-GNA forces are mostly made up of militias from
western Libya established during the 2011 revolt.
Sarraj said the American involvement would be " limited in
time and will not go beyond Sirte and its suburbs ".
The Libyan parliament however, which does not back the
GNA, branded the US strikes a " violation of (Libyan)
airspace ", according to a news agency that is close to the
legislative body.
The foreign ministry in Russia, which is carrying out anti-
IS strikes in Syria at the request of the Damascus regime,
stressed the need for " close coordination (in) the efforts
of all countries engaged in the battle against terrorism".
The American raids were carried out at the request of
Libyan authorities, it noted.
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, Libya's former
colonial ruler, spoke to Sarraj by phone on Tuesday and
expressed Rome's appreciation for the GNA's
"commitment against terrorism ", a statement said.
France reaffirmed its "full support" for Libya's unity
government, while at the same time seeking to mend
fences over the presence of French troops in the east of
the conflict-ridden country.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, also speaking to Sarraj
by telephone, " hailed the decision of the Libyan authorities
to appeal for international aid", the foreign ministry in
Paris said.
Paris recognises the GNA, but it also supports anti-IS
forces loyal to the parliament and government based in
the east that are refusing to cede power to the UN-backed
administration.
Military sources in the east said a suicide bomber on
Tuesday killed at least 15 soldiers loyal to the non-
recognised government in an attack in the city of
Benghazi claimed by a militia alliance, the Revolutionary
Shura Council.

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