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Vijay Prashad: It’s more likely that ISIS fighters have fled the city of Sirte

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. This week, the recently formed and UN supported Unity government of Libya announced that it succeeded in driving out Islamic state fighters out of the town of Sirte. It achieved this success with the help of US airstrikes which the Obama administration approved on August 1st. With the increasing pressure on the Islamic state, Syria, and Iraq, it would seem that it is defeated in Sirte, is another blow of course to the organization. Joining us now to discuss all of this is Vijay Prashad. He’s a George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of some twenty books including, Arab Spring Libyan Winter, and the forthcoming–actually now published book The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution. Thanks for joining us Vijay. VIJAY PRASHAD: Pleasure. PERIES: So Vijay what happened in Sirte this week and what does it mean for Libya? PRASHAD: Well it [tricky] here what happened. But from what is being reported from Sirte, the [Bunya and Marsus] Operation Center, which is essentially the renamed militia from the town of Misrata, claims to have taken the Ouagadougou Center, which is the main conference type hall in the center of Sirte which is a highly militarize building with bunkers and such like. They also say they’ve taken the university. Now helped along of course by 28 US air strikes on the town of Sirte. What’s interesting about what is being reported because after all, even the government of National Unity in Tripoli has even said that Sirte has been taken by the Misrata militia. But nonetheless, what has been reported suggests that the fighting was minimal in the final stages. This is something I think people need to bear in mind. The Misrata militia had held Sirte before ISIS fighters came from Tunisia and from the eastern side of Libya to cease the town and declare it the main city of ISIS in North Africa. And now the Misrata militia has taken the city back. It seems to me, rather than having killed a large number of ISIS fighters, one more under the cover of massive aerial bombardment, ISIS fighters have fled the city and they’ve gone elsewhere. This has been exactly what they’ve been doing in large parts of Iraq and Syria. And this is what they had done in Syria previously when they were confronted in parts of Libya. So it seems likely that Sirte has been taken by the militia of Misrata. But it’s unlikely that ISIS has been obliterated. PERIES: Now the US bombing assistance here, apparently of course, helped all of this. How involved is the US in all of this? PRASHAD: Well there were 28 bombing raids that were declared. The United States said in briefings that the targets that they were going after were mainly heavy artillery. For instance, ISIS had control of some tanks and had used those tanks to block the advance of the Misrata militia, so that the US airstrikes were essentially used to take out tanks and other fortifications of ISIS. So you know, we don’t really know what indeed has happened on the ground. There’s very little independent verification. We’ll wait till reporters start entering Sirte to better understand what the bombing had done. But certainly what it appears is that the ISIS fighters have left Sirte, rather than made some kind of final stand to defend the city. As I said, this is the modus operandi of ISIS. They haven’t made a final stand anywhere. Anytime they get bombed, they’re like a pendulum. They shift and sway. They are highly mobile and they haven’t been waiting to fight the final battle at this point. You know in ISIS literature, they say that in the northern town of Syria in [Dubik] which has residences in Islamic mythology and then in the Quran they say that there they will take their final stand against the west. But thus far, whether it’s been in Palmyra in Syria or elsewhere, they basically, when they come under attack and they feel that the odds are against them they quit their positions and go elsewhere. So I think we should have a sober understanding of what has taken place in Sirte. I think it’s premature to say that ISIS has been defeated in Libya. What is clear is that Sirte is most likely been taken by the Misrata militia. But it’s not clear where ISIS has gone. PERIES: Alright Vijay, thank you so much for that insight and it was good to have you. And we’ll look forward to your report next week. PRASHAD: Thanks a lot. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.