The Libyan National Army has liberated the city of Derna, the final militant stronghold outside of its control in eastern Libya, according to the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA).
In a video statement, LNA chief field marshal Khalifa Haftar said the city had been freed after five years of “bitter struggle and great sacrifices.”
LNA sources said the final battle centred on Derna’s Al-Maghar district, where a few militants are understood to be cornered and holed up in derelict houses.
“Thanks be to God, the armed forces control the entire city of Derna,” the LNA said. “We salute on this happy occasion the people of Derna … and those who have been demanding revenge against terrorism and the eradicating of it.”
The rival forces, formerly known as the Derna Shura Council of Mujahedeen (DSCM) and recently rebranded as the Derna Protection Force, have employed suicide bombers at times. The LNA said they remained alert to remnants of the group who could use similar tactics alongside car bombs and militants claiming to be civilians.
Derna has been under siege for over a year but the ground offensive only commenced fully last month. The LNA’s elite Saiqa special forces led the attack on Derna’s surrounding hills before regular units took over the final phases.
In October 2014, Derna was taken over by the Islamic State before being ousted by the DCSM coalition in June 2015. While the DCSM were opposed to Islamic State they nonetheless harboured Jihadi fighters. Al-Qaeda commander Sofiyan Bin Qamu was among those in the last stand of Derna and DCSM head Attiya Al-Shaeri was killed earlier this week.
The LNA now controls all of eastern Libya, reaching south to the borders with Sudan. It is engaged in the fight for the migrant hub city of Sebha, some 1,000 kilometres south of the LNA’s headquarters in Benghazi.
Rival fighters based in the former Islamic State stronghold of Sirte, centred in the middle of Libya’s vast coastline, said LNA fighters were only 30 minutes drive to east.