Sirte, Libya might soon be recaptured thanks to U.S. airstrikes and Libyan ground forces. For the past three months, a bloody campaign has been underway with the backing of the U.S. military to take back one of ISIS’ most important bases outside the Middle East.
The terrorist group took over the city over a year ago, prompting more than 90,000 people to flee their homes. Sirte is located roughly halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast.
Over the summer, fighting against snipers and suicide bombers, Libyan ground forces with the help of America were able to make progress. The advance came at a hefty price, hundreds of people got killed on the battlefield. Just this week, the Libyan forces had 34 casualties while fighting ISIS and 150 were wounded.
As the battle advances the final stages, the American military is moving with caution because officials believe that there are more than 50 hostages that are being held in Sirte. Some of the hostages include foreign nationals, a reason for caution in the battle’s final stages.
Late Tuesday, news broke that President Barack Obama had accepted the request of senior military leaders, who want to extend the combat mission in Libya for another month. Will the extra 30 days be enough for the military to accomplish its goal in Sirte?
According to the media, Obama has granted permission to keep two U.S. Navy warships off the coast of Libya that will aide Libyan ground forces that are striking ISIS in Sirte. A defense official, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave more details about the two ships that will stay on the Libyan shores, the person explained:
“One of the U.S. warships had been scheduled to go to the Persian Gulf in September to begin airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and keep an eye on Iran, a week after four provocations between Iranian gunboats and U.S. Navy ships — one of which resulted in warning shots being fired by a U.S. warship. The other, a U.S. Navy destroyer, was supposed to head to the Black Sea near Russia next month. However, both plans will be put on hold.”
According to the official, the USS Wasp, which is a large amphibious assault ship loaded with over 1,000 Marines as well as Harrier jets and Cobra attack helicopters, will remain off the coast of Libya. Since Monday, the U.S. Marine Corps jets and attack helicopters from USS Wasp have conducted 92 airstrikes against ISIS in Libya.
The USS Carney, a guided-missile destroyer, will also remain in position. The defense official added:
“The destroyer is close enough to be seen from shore.”
Data showed that Marine Harrier jets have conducted 124 missions over Libya against ISIS since airstrikes began on Aug. 1. Marine Cobra attack helicopters have flown 31 missions as of Tuesday. Another defense official said:
“I expected U.S. airstrikes to be ending soon because ground forces loyal to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli which the U.S. military is supporting is now in control of 90 percent of Sirte.”
Back in June, CIA Director John Brennan stated there were between 5,000 to 8,000 fighters in Libya with few hundreds hiding and guarding Sirte.
Asked if there is a possibility that the president’s authorization for 30 days will be extended until the city has been recaptured, the White House and the Pentagon declined to comment.