Islamic State’s safe haven in Sirte, Libya shrinks to a ‘single neighborhood’


The Islamic State’s safe haven in Sirte, Libya has been “reduced to a single square kilometer,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today.

Carter’s testimony was echoed by Al Bunyan Al Marsoos (“Solid Structure”) operations room, which draws fighters from militias based in Misrata and is allied with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Al Bunyan Al Marsoos launched an offensive against the Islamic State’s stronghold in May. Earlier today, it posted a map (seen above) showing the jihadists’ shrinking territory.

Al Bunyan Al Marsoos has repeatedly posted versions of this map. The group indicated in mid-August that the jihadists were operating in only a few neighborhoods. That assessment was generally consistent with an infographic produced by the Islamic State’s own Amaq News Agency. The Islamic State has lost even more ground since then.

During his testimony before the Senate, Carter explained that he and other US officials had “expressed concern that if left untended, Libya could be the next ISIL headquarters, as ISIL’s control over the city of Sirte was seen as their contingency plan for where they would go when they lost Raqqa and Mosul.” ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is the US government’s acronym for the Islamic State.

“But because the President authorized us to act,” Carter’s written testimony continued, “ISIL is now under tremendous pressure there, with its territory in Sirte reduced to a single square kilometer.” Carter also described the Islamic State’s remaining safe haven in the city as “a single neighborhood.”

Indeed, Sirte is so important to the Islamic State that the group’s deceased spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, mentioned it alongside Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq in a speech that was released in May — the same month Al Bunyan Al Marsoos began closing in. Raqqa and Mosul are the de facto capitals of the “caliphate” and, as such, the most important cities under the jihadists’ control.

In his speech, titled “That They Live By Proof,” Adnani implicitly conceded that the Islamic State could lose one or all three of these cities. Adnani, who was killed in August, argued that neither the loss of individual leaders, nor the “loss of a city or the loss of land,” would mean that the Islamic State has been defeated as long as the jihadists retained the will to fight. His words were a far cry from the Islamic State’s motto of “remaining and expanding,” which was often evoked during the organization’s rise in power.

Al Bunyan Al Marsoos’ fighters have been receiving American air support as part of “Operation Odyssey Lightning” since Aug. 1. As of Sept. 21, according to United States Africa Command, the US has carried out 161 airstrikes in Sirte. The “precision” bombings often strike enemy fighting positions, weapons, the jihadists’ vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), as well as other targets.

At least four Western nations reportedly have special forces inside Libya: France, Italy, the US and UK. They may not all be operating in Sirte. But in addition to the US, press reports indicate that Libya’s special forces are taking part in the offensive.

As the battle for Sirte heated up, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists were forced to dispatch their “martyrs.” As The Long War Journal previously reported, the Islamic State claimed only suicide attack in all of Libya between January and April. But the group claimed 26 “martyrdom operations” in and around Sirte between May and the end of August.

The Islamic State claims that Al Bunyan Al Marsoos has suffered heavy casualties in the past few days. On Sept. 19, Amaq News Agency, which is one of the so-called caliphate’s main propaganda arms, reported that more than 30 militiamen “were killed and dozens wounded during clashes that took place yesterday in the 3rd Neighborhood, east of Sirte city.” Of course, Amaq’s claims are impossible to verify and the media outfit has an incentive to exaggerate its enemies’ casualties. Still, it is possible that Amaq’s report is more or less true, as the two sides are engaged in heavy fighting in close urban corridors. And while the jihadists appear to be confined to a single neighborhood, they are still able to strike in the surrounding areas.

As Al Bunyan Al Marsoos’ men have cleared the Islamic State’s forces block by block, they have posted on social media some of the oddities found in the city. On Sept. 20, for example, the group published on Facebook images of the Islamic State’s “marriage contracts.” As first reported by Agence France-Presse, Baghdadi’s men agreed to give women guns and “explosive belts” in exchange for entering into wedlock.

Other images depict the horrible effects of war on Sirte, including severely damaged buildings and debris strewn throughout the city.

Note: This article contains sentences published in previous Long War Journal reports on the battle for Sirte.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

Tags: , , , , ,


  • irebukeu says:

    They should be mocked and laughed at. Left to starve to death as they are by the other islamic state members and allah who are both powerless to do anything to relieve their siege, we should give these men a dose of what they seek. Iron age law and discipline. Time to invest the place! Build first a circumvallation so that its “no one out” then build the contravallation so that its “no one in” then deliver copies of the quran and wait. We can blast the call to prayer for them as there is no harm in that. When they lose power and CNN can’t get in to give it to them we can give them an internet line then filter out the things that are not hilarious and just release the funny stuff. You know what I mean by the funny stuff right? Bin laden sitting there with the clicker watching TV in front of the air conditioner, Saddam in his underwear getting his teeth checked like a horse. Knee slappers like that. Might as well have some dark humored fun at this point right? How thin can they get and still have the strength to raise one finger and hold an Ak-47 for the camera?
    You might think I’m joking about a ‘not funny’ subject and well, I am. All that needs to be done is to stand clear and the Libyans will wipe them out like the roaches that they are. A little intel here and an unmanned drone there and the libyans will do the work, take the credit and figure out the rebuild. Stand clear while the men of Libya get the dirty, work done.

  • shah says:


    Your plan sounds like all fun and games till the tables are the other way round. You seem like the type that is disgusted by ISIL inhumane action (which you should be). But here you are activelly advocating a form of “eye for an eye” resolution to the problems.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Adnani’s statement about how ISIS can survive without its 3 major cities reminded me of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Southern Confederacy during the US Civil War (1861-65). As the North captured the capitol of the South, the city of Richmond, Davis said the following on April 4th, 1865;

    Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve. Let us but will it, and we are free; and who, in the light of the past, dare doubt your purpose in the future?

    Let’s hope the end comes as rapidly for ISIS as it did for the South.

  • Evan says:

    I wonder…..

    When IS loses these population centers, all of them, do you think AQ will welcome them back into the fold? If they were weakened enough, do you think they’d accept something like that?

    We need to look to the future, and cut off any possible escape routes for these rats, cause their ship is burning, and it’s sinking fast, we can finish them off, and move on to other threats.

    The danger here is the possibility that they’ll be dealt serious blows, but not fatal ones, and the world will lose interest. They’ll splinter, and then metastasize just like in Iraq, they’ll be gone for 2-3 years, and then come back worse than before. We’ve seen it happen.

  • Genghis Khan says:

    you don’t know what you murmured in your madness kid!

  • Moose says:

    Humiliating your enemy is a big part of Arab culture, but Westerners don’t understand these things.

  • irebukeu says:

    I will recap the important points.

    “…stand clear and the Libyans will wipe them out like the roaches that they are.’
    ‘Stand clear while the men of Libya get the dirty, work done.’

    So…whatever happens there, stand clear of it.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram