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French special forces on ground fighting Daesh — Libya officials

By AP - Feb 25,2016 - Last updated at Feb 25,2016

Libyan men practise kite boarding in the eastern city of Benghazi, on Sunday (AFP photo)

BENGHAZI — French special forces have been helping Libyan troops fight Daesh militants in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi for two months, two Libyan military officials said Wednesday.

The French combat squad, consisting of 15 special forces, carried out four military operations against Daesh and other militant groups in Benghazi, the officials told The Associated Press. They said that French forces work with Libyan troops to pinpoint Daesh militant locations, plan operations and carry them out. They had also been training Libyan forces, they added.

According to the officials, the French forces were setting up an operations room in Banina Air Base in Benghazi alongside British and US teams. 

They said that in addition to the special forces, a French intelligence unit is working with Britain and the US units to collect information on the location of Daesh militants and their numbers.

Similar teams are also operating out of an air base in the city of Misrata, located to the east of the Daesh stronghold of Sirte, the officials said.

The Libyan officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.

The French defence ministry declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on special forces’ activities.

The Libyan officials said the presence of Western forces was not welcomed by ultraconservative Salafist factions, who are allied with Libya’s eastern army and perceive the foreign intervention as an “occupation”.

Washington is counting on the UK, France and Italy to join the international coalition against Daesh extremists gaining ground in Libya. Last week, the US carried out airstrikes against the extremist group’s position in the western city of Sabratha, killing dozens of fighters as well as two Serbian hostages.

Libya’s chaos, five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime autocrat Muammar Qadhafi in 2011, has allowed Daesh to take control of several cities. The divided country is ruled by two parliaments: an internationally recognised body based in the eastern city of Tobruk and a rival government, backed by Islamist-allied militias, that controls the capital, Tripoli.

The United Nations brokered a deal last year to unite the country’s various factions. A new unity government is awaiting endorsement by the eastern parliament. The unity government could pave the way international military intervention against the Daesh group.

Also on Wednesday, Daesh affiliates in Libya briefly took over the security headquarters of the western city of Sabratha, beheading 12 security officers before being driven out early in the morning, two city security officials said. The incident highlighted the enduring presence and unpredictable striking power of the local Daesh militants in the city, which serves as a hub for migrants heading to Europe.

Taher Al Gharabili, head of Sabratha Military Council, told The Associated Press that the gunmen “exploited a security vacuum” by deploying in the city center as the military was occupied conducting raids elsewhere.

A second security official said that the militants used the headless bodies of the officers they killed to block the roads leading to the security headquarters — which they occupied for about three hours. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the total number of officers killed in the occupation and ensuing clashes reached 19.

Sabratha has become the latest Libyan power centre for the local Daesh affiliate.




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