Libya’s pro-government forces said they seized a university campus on Wednesday as they press an offensive against the Islamic State group in its stronghold of Sirte, killing at least 20 jihadists.
Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally backed Government of National Accord are battling to oust ISIS from Sirte, a coastal city the jihadists seized in June 2015.
After a series of advances into the city, pro-GNA forces have faced fierce resistance in their push towards the Ouagadougou conference centre, a complex from the era of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi where the jihadists have their headquarters.
“Our forces have taken complete control of the University of Sirte” campus, just south of the conference centre, the pro-GNA operations centre said in a statement.
“The bodies of at least 20 Daesh fighters were found after today’s fighting,” it said, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
The statement said surviving ISIS fighters had fled towards the conference centre and that clashes were continuing nearby.
The press centre also said pro-GNA forces had lost contact with one of their military planes that had flown on Wednesday, without providing further details.
The ISIS-linked Amaq news agency said the group’s fighters had downed a warplane in Sirte, resulting in the pilot’s death.
Pro-GNA forces entered Sirte in June, but their advance slowed as the jihadists hit back with sniper fire, suicide attacks and car bombings.
They have stepped up the fight in recent days, and the Pentagon announced last week it had begun carrying out air strikes on ISIS positions in Sirte at the GNA’s request.
On Sunday pro-government forces said the “countdown” had begun for the final assault on ISIS’s holdout positions in the city.