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Libyan forces seize last stronghold of Islamic State in Sirte

Libyan forces affiliated with the government in Tripoli rest and reload weapons during the offensive against Islamic State in Sirte in September.
(Manu Brabo / Associated Press)

The last buildings occupied by Islamic State militants in Sirte have fallen into the hands of Libyan fighters, officials said, as anti-militant fighters celebrated in the streets of the group’s final stronghold in Libya.

“This is the last major battle, but it is not the end of military operations, nor the declaration of liberation,” Ahmed Hadiya, the head of the media center for the anti-Islamic State operation, told the Associated Press.

Hadiya said that 12 fighters were killed on Tuesday in “intense fighting.”

The United States threw its support behind the operation in August, helping break weeks of stalemate with dozens of airstrikes.

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Although the extremist group has lost its major base in Libya, Islamic State militants might seek sanctuary elsewhere — such as Libya’s lawless southern regions.

Islamic State and other extremist groups gained a foothold in Libya over the years of chaos that engulfed the North African country in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Kadafi. Militias, originally made up of NATO-backed rebels, quickly filled the security vacuum

The country has been split between rival parliaments and governments, each backed by a loose array of militias and tribes. Western nations view the newly formed United Nations-brokered government as the best hope for uniting the country, but Libya’s parliament, which meets in the far east, has refused to accept it.

Another fight against Islamist militants is ongoing in the eastern city of Benghazi, under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who answers to the parliament.

United Nations Envoy to Libya Martin Kolber told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, “the fight against terrorism has produced results, but the gains are not irreversible.”

He also said that the fragmentation of the country’s security authorities allows “criminal and terrorist networks to flourish. Kidnappings, extortion and theft occur daily.”

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