The Libyan Army has seized fresh territory in southwest Benghazi from Islamic state militants and extremist groups, after launching a final operation to “liberate” the eastern city.
Troops under the orders of General Khalifa Haftar, the army chief recognized by the Tobruk-based parliament, retook the whole of Garyunis, a southwestern district, Al-Jawf oil service company and two militia camps on Friday, Libya Channel’s correspondent said.
It came a day after officials announced they had retaken Al-Faakat suburb to the southwest of the city as well as the pipes factory. And on Wednesday army spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari told reporters army forces had liberated large areas of Garyunis, a coastal district that is home to the city’s main university, as well as next-door Ganfuda district and Gawarsha, all in the southwest.
Their most strategic gain they claimed was the sprawling Chinese housing project, home to some 20,000 housing units that are still under construction by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC). The area – which contains many high rise buildings – had been used by snipers, making it a a strategic win. Its seizure also cut the districts of Ganfuda from Gawarsha, isolating extremist positions from each other.
“Over 18 soldiers were killed Wednesday and more than 40 wounded. A further 9 were killed Thursday. The forces found lots of bodies of the terrorists, including many foreigners. Operations are ongoing,” Mismari told.
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council – the main extremist coalition fighting in the city – said Friday over 10 of their fighters had been killed in clashes and airstrikes on Ganfuda and Garyunis.
The 302 Brigade confirmed the victory on Wednesday.
“The Libyan Army controlled the Chinese complex project to the Gawarsha gate, and have seized 18 armed cars from the terrorist militias” a spokesperson said.
The Army’s general command launched “Operation Badr el-Kubri – named after a historic Ramadan battle during the early days of Islam – on Wednesday morning to “expel the remnants of the extremists from Benghazi for good”, Mismari said hours after the offensive began. In the latest push they pummelled enemy positions with artillery and airstrikes before moving in with ground troops.
Mismari said they had now taken a customs storage unit in Jawhara port, new farms in the west of Garwasha and residential and villa complexes of Garyunis.
The militants now hold parts of el-Jawhara Port and Nowruz beach resort.
On the frontline and under fire Libya Channel correspondent filmed the constant sniping from the armed groups, as he crossed disputed neighbourhoods with military officers.
Haftar’s forces have been locked in a battle with hardline armed groups in Benghazi since May 2014, when Haftar launched Operation Dignity to flush militias out of the city.
Among the forces he is fighting is the Islamic State Group, al-Qaeda aligned Ansar al-Sharia and other brigades in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council – an armed coalition supported by some political factions in western Libya.
Earlier this year the army made impressive gains retaking back most of the centre of the city and declaring 90 percent of the town to be under their control.
Haftar remains loyal to the House of Representatives in Tobruk but has rejected the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, on account of its alliances with armed groups in the west that oppose the Libyan Army.
The divisive general said last month in an interview that it would be “unthinkable” to pledge allegiance to the Government of National Accord, while they worked with “militias”.
The GNA has hit back at Haftar threatening to pursue legal action if he continues to launch military campaigns without their consent.