The US has launched 330 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Sirte, Libya since Aug. 1, according to data released by US Africa Command. Nearly half of the bombings, 150 in total, were carried out during the first 18 days of October.
Operation Odyssey Lightning, which aims to liberate Sirte from the jihadists, began in May. Since then, militiamen fighting as part of the “Solid Structure” operations room have made significant progress, clearing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists from much of the city. But the Islamic State continues to maintain a foothold in Sirte several months into the offensive.
The so-called caliphate has trumpeted its continued presence in the city, even as its safe haven has shrunk. The 50th edition of the group’s weekly Al Naba newsletter, which was released online on Oct. 13, contained an article bragging that the jihadists continue to fight on. Al Naba’s editors reported that three of their enemies’ vehicles were destroyed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the road from Sirte to Misrata, another coastal city. Many of the men fighting as part of “Solid Structure,” which is allied with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), come from Misrata.
Al Naba’s editors added that the GNA, which is supported “by Crusader-American warplanes,” has been trying to take control of Sirte for several months but “has failed.” Al Naba also claimed that Solid Structure has incurred “thousands” of casualties during the battle. The Islamic State is not exaggerating. Independent accounts support this figure. For example, Agence France Presse reported earlier this month that “550 GNA fighters have been killed and 3,000 wounded in the assault.” There have been additional casualties since then. It is not clear how many fighters the Islamic State has lost.
The intense fighting in Sirte is reflected in US Africa Command’s data on the number of airstrikes inside the city.
The US began the air campaign on Aug. 1. As of Oct. 18, according to US Africa Command, there have been a total of 330 airstrikes. Almost half of these bombings, 150 (or 45 percent), were carried out between Oct. 1 and Oct. 18. The remaining 180 were launched in the previous two months. Therefore, the US air campaign has not slowed. If anything, it has accelerated in its third month.
In many instances, the US airstrikes have targeted more than one “enemy fighting position.” For example, US Africa Command’s press releases indicate that 422 “enemy fighting positions” have been struck thus far in October. On average, therefore, each bombing hits between two and three such positions.
In addition, the bombings have targeted command and control facilities, vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and the locations where VBIEDs are built. Five VBIEDs and two VBIED facilities were hit in October, according to US Africa Command’s reporting.
As The Long War Journal previously reported, the Islamic State claimed only one suicide attack in all of Libya between January and April. And that bombing purportedly took place in Benghazi. But the group claimed 26 “martyrdom operations” in and around Sirte between May and the end of August. Some of these may have failed to reach their target. Regardless, the Islamic State was clearly forced to deploy its “martyrs” as its grip on Sirte began to slip.
Amaq News Agency, an Islamic State propaganda arm, has reported far fewer suicide attacks in the city in recent weeks. However, Amaq continues to issue occasional updates on the fighting. On Oct. 20, for instance, Amaq claimed that GNA “fighters sustain[ed] deaths and injuries during clashes.”
The “Solid Structure” operations room continues to provide reports from Sirte as well. The group has posted a series of images on its social media pages this week. Some of the photos depict a city ravaged by war.
[For more on the battle for Sirte, see LWJ reports: Islamic State’s safe haven in Sirte, Libya shrinks to a ‘single neighborhood’, The battle for Sirte, Libya continues, Islamic State claims to still control 4 neighborhoods in Sirte, Libya, Opposition to Islamic State claims more ground in Sirte, Libya, and Libyan forces seize key points from the Islamic State around Sirte.]