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Libya PM says only united military can defeat IS

Libya's Prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj chairs a Presidential Council of the Government of National Reconciliation meeting with local mayors inside the naval base in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 3, 2016. / AFP / AHMUD TURKIA

Libya’s Prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj chairs a Presidential Council of the Government of National Reconciliation meeting with local mayors inside the naval base in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 3, 2016. / AFP / AHMUD TURKIA

The head of Libya’s unity government said Sunday that only a united military bringing together all the country’s armed factions would be able to defeat the Islamic State group.

“We are convinced that the only way to end this organisation (IS) is through a united military command that brings together all Libyans from every region of the country,” prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj told AFP in a written response to questions.

He also for the first time said his forces were receiving “limited assistance” from foreign countries, but did not name them.

Forces loyal to Sarraj’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have been fighting since mid-May to oust IS from Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.

Backed by the international community, the GNA set up base in Tripoli at the end of March but has struggled to assert its control over all of Libya.

It has support from some military units and armed groups mainly from western Libya.

But forces based in eastern Libya, including local militias and units of the national army loyal to a controversial general, Khalifa Haftar, have not joined with pro-GNA fighters in the battle against IS.

Loyalist fighters made significant early advances in the battle to take Sirte, but the offensive has slowed in the face of a fierce IS counter-attack.

Sarraj said a key reason was care that pro-GNA forces were taking for some 30,000 civilians estimated to still be inside the city.

“The slowdown in the advance of pro-government forces is due to our concern for the security of civilians who IS has not hesitated to use as human shields,” he said.

– ‘No magic wand’ –

“Victory is only a matter of time. We hope it will come very soon,” Sarraj said.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed strongman Moamer Kadhafi, with the country awash in weapons and rival factions vying for power.

IS took advantage of the chaos to seize control of Sirte, Kadhafi’s hometown, in June last year.

Sarraj said IS was able to gain a foothold in Libya due to “a succession of errors these last five years, particularly the international community’s refusal to complete its assistance to Libya in the face of its post-conflict challenges”.

Despite widespread public opposition to a foreign military intervention, Sarraj said he would be willing to accept more help from abroad in battling IS.

“There is limited assistance — expertise and logistics — and we have said in the past that we are ready to accept the help and support of brotherly and friendly countries,” he said.

But he added that any assistance would need to be provided “in the framework of a request by the GNA and in coordination with it, in order to preserve national sovereignty.”

As well as battling IS, the GNA is struggling to revive an economy devastated by years of conflict and the collapse of Libya’s oil industry.

“All we can do is work, by all means possible, to bring our country out of these crises. But there is no magic wand, all we can do is try,” Sarraj said.

“I am confident that we can overcome this challenge but if one day I lose that faith, I will not stay one more minute,” he said.




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