Pounded by US airstrikes and vastly outnumbered by fighters loyal to Libya’s “unity government,” the offensive against the main ISIS city of Sirte turned seemingly decisively against ISIS and in short order, the group has said to be on the verge of being wiped out, trapped in a small area along the shore.
That was early August, and months later, that small area is still heavily contested, with ISIS fighters taking to tunnels, bunkers, and heavily fortified rooms to resist the offensive, and proving surprisingly effective at holding out despite heavy amounts of pressure.
Between snipers, booby traps, and car bombs, the advance has been very slow going, and an attempted coup back in Tripoli a couple months into the Sirte offensive no doubt shifted priorities a bit. Either way, ISIS is stubbornly dug in, and not so easily disposed of.
This matters not just because it means Libya’s would-be government is still left talking about how great it will be in the future when they control Sirte, but because ISIS is expected to use many of the same tactics, only with far greater numbers on all sides, in the offensive in Iraq’s Mosul. While there’s not a huge amount of attention on the Sirte offensive anymore, it being a relatively small city by comparison, it’s hard to imagine Iraq could live with parts of Mosul being contested for months on end, and at the same time, not much anyone seems to be able to do about this tactic.