October 22, 2016 / 12:14 PM / 3 years ago

Libya forces free 13 foreign captives from militants in Sirte battle

A military vehicle for Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government is stationed in front of ruined buildings at the eastern frontline of fighting with Islamic State militants, in Sirte's neighbourhood 650, Libya, October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan pro-government forces fighting Islamic State in Sirte have freed 11 Eritrean female captives, a Turk and an Egyptian after a battle to recapture a part of the city held by Islamic State, a spokesman for the forces said on Saturday.

After a six-month campaign of street-by-street fighting backed by U.S. air strikes, Libyan forces have taken back most of Sirte, where Islamic State is holding out with snipers, boobytraps and car bombs.

“The forces have completely recaptured the 600 block area in Sirte from gangs of Daesh, and now the Ghiza Bahriya area is the last pocket of resistance,” said Rida Issa, a spokesman for the pro-government forces, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.

Sirte fell to Islamic State more than a year ago after militants expanded their territory and took advantage of infighting that emerged among Libya’s rival factions following the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Forces fighting Islamic State in Sirte are mostly from nearby Misrata, whose brigades are among the most powerful in Libya. They are allied with the U.N.-backed unity government in Tripoli that is trying to unite competing factions.

Western governments back the unity government hoping it will bring stability and help counter Islamic State and the migrant smugglers. But Tripoli leaders have struggled to extend their influence against hardliners.

Defeating Islamic State in Sirte will destroy the militant group’s main stronghold outside its Iraq and Syria territory just as Iraqi forces move to retake Mosul. But some militant commanders and fighters escaped before Sirte was encircled.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; writing by Patrick Markey Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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