CAIRO — At least 38 Libyan forces were killed as the Islamic State group dispatched a dozen suicide bombers to stop their final push to drive the extremists out of their last major bastion in the country, officials said Monday.
Akram Gliwan, a spokesman for the Misrata hospital, told The Associated Press that the dead and wounded from fighting in the nearby city of Sirte had flooded in over the last 24 hours. He says at least 185 people were wounded, with 20 in critical condition.
Reda Issa, a media official with the anti-IS operation, says the extremist group set off 12 suicide car bombs on Sunday, with three hitting their targets. Five of the bombs were destroyed by airstrikes, and the other attacks were foiled by ground forces. He said the militants are cornered in two neighborhoods.
“It was fierce yesterday. After nearly 100 days of the battles, IS is now fighting its last battle,” said Issa. “Full control over Sirte is hours from now,” he added.
The Libyan forces — mostly from the adjacent city of Misrata— support a United Nations-brokered government based in Tripoli. They have driven IS out of most of Sirte over the last two months with help from U.S. airstrikes.
Over the past week, pictures posted on the Facebook page of the anti-IS operation showed sacks of cash, jewelry, mobile phones, and other personal belongings of IS members who either fled or were killed in the fighting.
IS and other extremist groups gained a foothold in Libya during the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
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 U.N.-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.