By Ayman Amzein and Maha Sulaiman.
Benghazi, 24 January 2016:
Following continued fighting in Benghazi’s Sabri district today, the Libyan National Army announced . . .[restrict]this evening that it had been taken and was now free of Islamic State (IS) forces. There are also reports that the neighbouring Suq Al-Hout district has also be liberated, but these are unconfirmed.
Responding the news, the deputy mayor of Benghazi has warned Sebri residents had had fled the district not to return yet as it was too dangerous. There could be booby traps, unexploded ordinance dead bodies. The area had to be de-mined and decontaminated first.
During the day, the Chief of Staff of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Major General Abdul Razzaq Al-Nazhuri, visited font lines and areas in the city now liberated to met with troops who have borne the brunt of the fighting in the past four days.
Earlier in the day, a top military official told the Libya Herald that some 30 soldiers had been killed in the Benghazi offensive since Saturday. Another 40 had been seriously injured.
He also repeated the much-used Hafter declaration that the liberation of the entire city would be announced within just a few days – except that this time it looks as if it might finally just happen. Despite the fact that IS and its allies are not completely destroyed – fighting continued today not only in Sabri and Suq Al-Hout but also in Garyounis – they have hit hard and been driven out of many places they had managed to hold for over two years.
Anticipating an imminent declaration, the official said that it was still being decided if the next focus of LNA attention would be Derna or Ajdabiya.
IS and other militants continue to remain in the outskirts of both places.
Meanwhile, claims circulating for the past fortnight that French forces are working with the army have been reinforced by a report to that effect in the reputable French daily Le Monde. In an article published today it says that forces from the French Directorate-General for External Security have been involved in secret operations against IS in eastern Libya.
The article provides no proof for the claim. However, although the French government has neither denied or confirmed it, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has launched an inquiry into the article. He as quoted saying that “when secret operations take place, the aim is that they should be disclosed in order to ensure the security of the men and the operations”.
For its part, the LNA continues to insist that no foreign troops were involved in the offensive codenamed “Blood of the Martyrs”. The House of Representatives has also put out a statement declaring the same.
Questions, however, are being asked as to how the LNA, after failing to dislodge the militants in a year and nine months of continuous fighting, suddenly, in four days, managed to all but smash them. The spectacular turnaround has resulted in intense speculation that the LNA had foreign help. [/restrict]