PENTAGON - Islamic State forces have been reduced to just three neighborhoods in Sirte, Libya, a city once considered to be a stronghold for the group, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday as the U.S. extended its air campaign over the city for up to another 30 days.
The U.S. military estimates that IS forces in Sirte now number fewer than 200, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
“They’re literally with their backs against the ocean at this point,” Davis said. Libyan ships have secured the waters around Sirte in case IS fighters try to escape by sea, he added.
The U.S. started conducting airstrikes in and around Sirte on August 1 at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). These strikes — 108 in total as of Thursday — have aided forces aligned with the U.N.-backed government in Libya as they push IS out of the city.
Unlike strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, “each and every one of those strikes” was requested by the GNA, Davis said.
U.S. authorization to conduct the strikes over Sirte initially lasted until August 30, but a defense official told VOA the strike authorities had been extended into September.
Two U.S. Navy warships, the USS Wasp and the USS Carney, will remain off the coast of Libya to continue striking IS targets, an official told VOA.
One of the U.S. warships had been scheduled to begin airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria from the Persian Gulf, according to a U.S. official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity. The other ship had been scheduled to deploy to the Black Sea before the extension of Libyan airstrike authority, the official said.