Gunmen on Saturday attacked an Army outpost near the town of Bani Walid in south-eastern Libya, leaving 15 soldiers dead, reported the state-run news agency LANA.

Five other soldiers were wounded in the attack, which prompted security authorities to close an artery road linking Bani Walid to the town of Tarhuna, some 80 km south-west of Tripoli, added the agency.

The road closure means that Bani Walid, a hilltop town, is virtually under siege, according to security officials.

“I think the assailants are smugglers of illegal immigrants,” said Ahmed Haruda, an Army commander in Tarhuna.

The masked insurgents attacked the soldiers in a pre-dawn drive-by shooting, reported local media. No one has claimed responsibility.

Bani Walid was one of the strongholds of the regime of former dictator Muammar Qadhafi during a 2011 armed revolt against his rule.

Libya’s new leaders have been struggling to assert their authority and re-establish security in the North African country since Qadhafi was overthrown and killed in October 2011.

More In: World | International | News