MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libya forces allied with UN-backed government who last year defeated Islamic State in Sirte are increasing patrols to stop the militants regrouping and threatening to launch attacks on the port city of Misrata, a military commander said.
The forces, mainly brigades from Misrata drove Islamic State from Sirte at the end of last year after a six-month campaign backed by U.S airstrikes. Islamic State took over the city in 2015 taking advantage of Libya’s political chaos.
“We have spotted movements by Daesh (Islamic State) in the south of Sirte, where they are trying to regroup and break through our forces’ lines in the south,” said Mohamed Ghasri, spokesman for the “Al-Bunyan al-Marsous” forces in Misrata.
Ghasri gave no details of numbers of fighters estimated in the south of Sirte. But he said Misrata forces had lacked support from the international community since defeating Islamic State last year.
French officials fear Islamic State militants and other jihadists could try to exploit any power vacuum in Libya to regroup after losing ground in Syria and Iraq.
The Misrata forces took the fight to Sirte after Islamic State took over the city nearly two years ago and launched attacks on nearby oilfields and threatened Misrata, a major port city and home to one of Libya’s most powerful armed factions.
Militants took advantage of Libya’s steady descent into turmoil after civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Rival brigades of former rebels backed by competing political factions turned against each other in a fight for control.
A U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is trying to extend its influence, though it is facing resistance from some armed rivals. Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and eastern commander Khalifa Haftar agreed to work on a ceasefire and elections at talks in Paris on Wednesday.
Reporting by Ayman Al-Sahli in Misrata; writing by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; editing by Patrick Markey and Richard Balmforth