France confirms it has special forces in Syria 
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, the wreckage of burned vehicles is seen at the site of a bombing, in the coastal towns of Tartus, Syria, Monday, May 23, 2016

BAGHDAD: The Latest on the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

A French official has confirmed that French special forces are offering training and advice to fighters in northern Syria.

The official with the French Defense Ministry said Thursday the forces are with the Syria Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition that is fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He did not provide other details.

In a round-table interview last week, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French forces were participating. “We are helping with arms, we are helping with aerial support, we are helping with advice,” he said.

The U.S. also has around 300 Special Forces embedded with the SDF in northern Syria

A media official with forces allied to the U.N.-brokered government in Libya says Islamic State group militants are being cornered inside their headquarters, a conference center in the central Libyan town of Sirte.

Ahmed Hadiya, the head of the media center of the anti-IS operation, told The Associated Press Thursday that forces advancing from the west and south most recently dismantled the main stage in Zafarana square, where according to Human Rights Watch at least 49 people were shot, beheaded or crucified by the militants.

Hadiya says that the forces — which are mostly from the western city of Misrata — are preparing for an offensive to seize the Ouagadougou conference center.

Hadiya and the U.N.-backed government say at least 130 people have been killed and 400 injured in the battle for Sirte.

U.S.-backed fighters have closed all major roads leading to the northern Syrian town of Manbij, a stronghold of the Islamic State group, and have surrounded it from three sides.

A statement by the Military Council of the City of Manbij, which is part of the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces, said Thursday that all roads from the east, north and south have been cut.

The group says they are now close enough to target IS inside the town but they are holding off storming Manbij to avoid civilian casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says SDF fighters are about 800 meters (yards) from the last main road linking Manbij with the city of Aleppo, saying that road is now closed by fire.

Libyan media officials say a former minister was among the 15 militia fighters killed while trying to push toward the center of the Islamic State group stronghold of Sirte in central Libya.

Ahmed Hadiya, head of the media center of the anti-IS operation room, said Thursday that some IS fighters were shaving off their beards and long hair in order to flee the central Libyan city under cover.

The fight against IS in Sirte, which has been led by militiamen from the coastal city of Misrata, has intensified in recent weeks. Libyan forces said Wednesday that they had advanced deep inside the IS-held city.

Abdel-Rahman al-Kissa, a former minister of martyrs, was among those killed.

Iraqi officials say a car bombing in a commercial area of a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad has killed at least 15 civilians.

A police officer says Thursday’s explosion in the district of New Baghdad in the Iraqi capital also wounded up to 35 civilians. He says that the explosives-laded car was parked in a crowded area and that the casualty figures could be higher.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the press.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group, often targets Iraq’s Shiite majority. The Iraqi capital has seen near-daily attacks in recent weeks.

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