Forces loyal to Libyan unity government retake checkpoint south of Misrata: spokesman

Reuters News
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Posted: May 17, 2016 1:01 PM

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan military forces said on Tuesday they had recaptured one of the main checkpoints south of the city of Misrata from Islamic State, reversing some of the gains the militant group made earlier this month.

Three members of the armed forces were killed and 10 wounded in a mine explosion as they took control of the checkpoint at Abu Grain, said Mohamed al-Gasri, a spokesman for an operation room set up by Libya's U.N.-backed unity government.

Islamic State fighters had overrun the Abu Grain checkpoint, town and several nearby villages after carrying out coordinated suicide bomb attacks on May 5.

Abu Grain is about 140 km (85 miles) west of Islamic State's Libyan stronghold of Sirte, on the main road leading south from port city of Misrata.

The military have yet to take full control of the area, however.

"There are skirmishes from time to time against the militants," said Gasri. "We will keep making progress to clean Abu Grain town of those militants".

The unity government arrived in Tripoli in late March. Western states hope it will replace two rival administrations that have competed for power in Libya since 2014, and unite the armed brigades that supported them to take on Islamic State.

The new government has moved to establish itself in western Libya with the backing of key brigades from Misrata, which gained power due to its central role in the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The new government's operations room says it is preparing an offensive to recapture Sirte, which has been controlled by Islamic State since last year.

The unity government has so far struggled to win formal backing from factions in eastern Libya, however, where military forces also say they are preparing for an offensive against Sirte.

Islamic State controls a strip of coast about 250 km (155 miles) long around Sirte but it has struggled to hold ground elsewhere in the country.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Hugh Lawson)