On 16 November and 19 November, the Misratan-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces aligned with the GNA suffered losses as ISIS fighters managed to launch commando missions against the forces. With more than 650 BM fighters killed and 3,000 injured since the battle for Sirte began, the BM operations room has largely ceased publishing casualty reports. The death toll for the ISIS fighters is not known. The remaining ISIS fighters in Sirte are held up in al-Jiza al-Bahriya, the final area ISIS enclave, and on 21 November BM forces said that they had managed to dislodge ISIS fighters from a fortified school in the area which the militants had fiercely defended.
On 16 November, ISIS published images which it claims are of an ISIS checkpoint in an open road area south west of Sirte. This indicates that ISIS may have shifted its strategy, dispersing southwards from the siege in Sirte to find refuge in the desert and regroup in order to launch counterattacks. There have long been fears that many ISIS fighters have slipped out of Sirte, meaning that reclaiming Sirte could be a hollow victory. This tactic follows similar ISIS strategies in Syria and Iraq.
In an interview with American news outlet Stars and Stripes last week, AFRICOM’s Gen. Thomas Waldhauser discussed AFRICOM’s ongoing efforts to monitor the movements of ISIS fighters outside Sirte. He said “We need to leverage that success (in Sirte) by watching where these individuals go, keeping track of where they are, because what we don’t want them to do is re-emerge, come back, attack Tripoli, attack the forces who are in Sirte from behind.” He added, “We have to continue to develop those targets and have certainty of who we are seeing and what the activities are. We just need to have that level of certainty if we decide to strike outside the limits of Sirte.”
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