Forces aligned with Libya’s unity government have taken Ouagadougou hall and Ibn Sina hospital, the Islamic State Group’s headquarters in Sirte, a major victory that could spell the end of the jihadist’s coastal caliphate.
Since February IS fighters had anchored their 250km stretch of territory in the sprawling Ouagadougou complex, built by Muammar Gaddafi in the 1990s for Africa Union meetings at his hometown.
They treated their wounded in the city’s nearby Ibn Sina hospital, also an important part of their headquarters and survival.
On Wednesday Operation Bunyan Marsus or Compact Architecture – launched by the Government of National Accord in May, announced that it had also recaptured the city’s university, the partially built “bone” buildings just west of the centre and a former military area known as Jaiza.
The sudden advance means that IS have lost their main boltholes and are scattered among districts one, two, and three, signalling what could be the end of their territorial grip in Libya.
“Our forces have complete control of the whole of the Ouagadougou complex – they even advanced some distance beyond the complex,” said Rida Aissa, a spokesman in the forces’ media office.
The media office tweeted at 7pm Wednesday “Ouagadougou Congress Halls Complex is now under the control of our forces,” after confirming the other areas had been taken.
“The field hospital has received the bodies of 16 martyrs in today’s liberation battles, including nine from the city of Misrata, three from Khoms, and a martyr from each of the following cities: Tripoli, Zliten, Sebha, and Mashashia,” they added.
The command centre said that there was a state of “disorientation and confusion” within the ranks of IS which remained in Sirte. Government forces added that they uncovered 20 bodies, believed to be from among the jihadist ranks, indicating they were fleeing and living their fallen comrades.
Bunyan Marsus launched the final attack “from several directions” at 11am Wednesday morning, shortly after announcing they had lost a fighter jet over the area. Spokesman Aissa said the cause of the crash and the fate of the crew could not be confirmed. IS said it shot down the jet, killing a pilot, according to a statement on a website close to the group.
Wednesday’s gains came after several advances in the central city. On Monday Bunyan Marsus said it had recaptured the hospitality buildings, where the former regime used to accommodate VIP guests when attending events at the Ougadougou hall, another sign IS was losing its grip on the strategic hideout.
The guest buildings were also used by the jihadists as deadly sniper positions, slowing Bunyan Marsus forces as they attempted to move on IS’s fortified positions. The loss of the strategic four-storey buildings appears to have sped up the advance.
A US bombing campaign on IS has also helped. American fighter jets have carried out dozens of airstrikes, requested by the GNA and authorized by President Barack Obama, since 1 August, speeding up a territory grab.
The latest air strike, according to Bunyan Marsus forces, took place Wednesday, destroying two armed cars and another vehicle.
American drones and fighter jets have carried out a total of 29 strikes, targeting several IS emplacements on Monday and a gun-mounted pick-up truck on Tuesday, according to statements by U.S. Africa Command.
IS first appeared in Libya in October 2014 when preexisting jihadist groups in the eastern city of Derna, who had fought in Syria’s civil war, returned to convince others to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
It was ousted from its Derna stronghold early last year by Al-Qaeda aligned groups and residents but set up in Sirte in the centre of the country. From there it conquered 250 km of territory east along the coast, and encouraged foreign recruitment building an estimated 5000 strong army of soldiers.
The US began conducting airstrikes against IS leadership in November last year killing Abu Nabil, the nom de guerre of Wissam Najm And Zayd Al-Zubaydi, IS’s leader in Derna.
In February the US obliterated an IS safe house in the western city of Sabratha, killing around 50 operatives.