CAIRO — Libyan militias backed by American airstrikes said they have cleared the stronghold of the Islamic State in Libya, a defeat that would set back the group’s ambitions in North Africa. The country, however, remains very unstable amid battles between rival militias, and the remaining militants could still undermine a fragile U.S.-backed unity government, analysts say.
Libyan fighters erupted in celebration in the coastal city of Sirte on Tuesday after a nearly seven-month struggle to oust the Islamic State, as the mostly pro-government forces were searching for any remaining militants.
The Islamic State’s hopes of extending its self-proclaimed “caliphate” beyond Syria and Iraq into Libya have been dashed, at least for now. But while their propaganda war and recruiting efforts have also been weakened, analysts said, the group remains active in other parts of the country.
Libya faces the specter of clandestine cells staging terrorist attacks, much like they’ve done recently in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan after battlefield reverses in those countries.
“The retaking of Sirte is certainly a negative blow to Islamic State affiliates in Libya because they will no longer have a territorial stronghold in the country,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group.
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