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Libyan Forces, Fighting ISIS in Surt, Free 13 Foreign Captives
Libyan pro-government forces fighting Islamic State militants in Surt have freed 13 foreign captives after a battle to recapture a part of the city held by the militants, a spokesman for the pro-government forces said Saturday.
The Libyan forces freed 11 Eritrean women, a Turk and an Egyptian, said Rida Issa, the spokesman. On Thursday, five foreign captives held by the Islamic State — two Turks, two Indians and a Bangladeshi — were freed after fighting that killed 20 militants.
After a six-month campaign of street-by-street fighting backed by American airstrikes, Libyan forces have retaken most of Surt, where the Islamic State is holding out with snipers, booby traps and car bombs, Mr. Issa said.
Surt fell to the Islamic State more than a year ago, when militants expanded their territory and took advantage of infighting among Libya's rival factions after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011.
The forces fighting the Islamic State in Surt are mostly from nearby Misurata, whose militias are among the most powerful in Libya. They are allied with the unity government in Tripoli, the capital, which is trying to unite competing factions with the backing of the United Nations.
Western governments back the unity government, hoping that it will restore stability and help counter the Islamic State and migrant smugglers. But the leaders of that government have struggled to extend their influence against hard-liners.
Defeating the Islamic State in Surt would leave the militant group without its main stronghold outside the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria just as Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by an American-led coalition, move to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the militants.
It is unclear how many Islamic State militants are left in Surt. At the start of the campaign, some estimates put the number at 600. Some Islamic State commanders and fighters escaped before Surt was encircled, officials from Misurata said.
[Source: The New York Times, Reuters, Tripoli, 22Oct16]
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