ISIL in retreat in Libya

Wall Street Journal:
Islamic State fighters fleeing their Libyan stronghold of Sirte are seeking to cross the border into neighboring countries or possibly regroup in southern towns to fight again, Western and local officials say.

The extremists have headed to the long, porous border that Libya shares with Algeria and Niger. The countries bordering Libya have been on high alert, officials say, as part of efforts to block foreign fighters who may be looking to return home to other parts of Africa. But the vast desert expanse of the Sahel region offers a refuge to militant fighters that has long vexed U.S. counterterrorism forces.

“These borders are so huge and they require a degree of professionalism that these countries do not have in order to monitor them,” said a Western official who is monitoring the offensive in Sirte.

Although the offensive to clear Islamic State from the coastal region around Sirte began in May, recent U.S. airstrikes have played a pivotal role in the battle for the city, which is the hometown of late Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. The U.S. airstrikes have helped an alliance of ragtag Libyan militias dislodge a cornerstone of Islamic State’s caliphate and now surround the remaining fighters in a handful of neighborhoods.

Sirte was the only city Islamic State fully controlled in Libya and was considered the militants’ beachhead in North Africa and just across a narrow strip of the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. But Sirte’s loss is the latest setback for the extremist group, which is also under pressure in Syria and Iraq after losing key cities and seeing its resources and supply lines pinched.

Western officials assess that hundreds of fighters fled Sirte weeks ago before the city was fully surrounded, fleeing south. About half of Islamic State fighters in Sirte are considered foreign, according to Western officials monitoring the offensive. The majority are Tunisian but include an array of sub-Saharan nationalities, notably Sudanese and Nigeriens, these officials say.
The Libyan forces had an inadequate force to space ratio in dealing with ISL forces and were unable to cut their lines of retreat.  With the help of US aircraft, they did have enough firepower to deny them control of Sirte and send them fleeing.

It is highly likely that the ISIL forces will try to regroup and seize control of other real estate in Libya.


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