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Libyans Advance on Sirte With More US Airstrikes

A fighter from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government fires a shell with a Soviet-made T-55 tank at Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya, Aug. 2, 2016.

The U.S. military launched more strikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday as Libyan forces said they were advancing inside the terror group’s stronghold of Sirte.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis, told reporters the U.S. had conducted five strikes Monday and two so far Tuesday in support of forces affiliated with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

"The finish line is in sight," Davis said, "and we are helping [the GNA] get there."

President Barack Obama, speaking at the White House, said, "It is in America’s national security interest in our fight against ISIL to make sure that [the GNA is] able to finish the job." ISIL is another acronym for Islamic State.

Sirte, Libya
Sirte, Libya

Davis said the air operation, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, was limited to the U.N.-backed government's fight to retake Sirte from IS and would probably last weeks rather than months.

“This is a finite period of time and a very finite mission," Davis said.

The strikes Tuesday hit an IS rocket launcher and a heavy equipment excavator. Strikes on Monday hit two T-72 tanks, an insurgent fighting position and two construction vehicles.

Davis said one of the tanks struck Monday had been a “menacing problem” in the al-Dular neighborhood in southwestern Sirte. It had been used against civilians and had repeatedly beaten back advances by GNA-aligned forces.

“We have already seen, since we struck it just yesterday, GNA forces have moved into that neighborhood,” Davis said.

The GNA-aligned forces have spent several months whittling down IS territory along the coastline of the Gulf of Sidra from Tripoli to near Benghazi. Davis said that thanks to GNA-aligned fighters, IS control in Libya has essentially collapsed to the city center of Sirte.

Forces associated with the Government of National Accord have faced improvised explosive devices, small arms and sniper fire in their fight to retake the city. The Pentagon estimates IS fighter numbers have been reduced from thousands in the city to fewer than 1,000.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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