US expands airstrikes to ISIS stronghold in Libya

US expands airstrikes to ISIS stronghold in Libya

The strikes came at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, and targeted specific locations in support of GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIS in its primary Libyan stronghold of the coastal city of Sirte.

By Loree Lewis   
Published
Libya

The strikes came at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, and targeted specific locations in support of GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIS in its primary Libyan stronghold of the coastal city of Sirte.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – The U.S. has conducted airstrikes against the ISIS stronghold of Sirte, Libya and will continue to conduct airstrikes against the militant group at the request of the internationally recognized Libyan government, the Pentagon said Monday.

The strikes, representing a new front in the war against ISIS, came at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. The strikes targeted specific locations in support of GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIS in its primary Libyan stronghold of the coastal city of Sirte. Cook said the request from the GNA happened within the last few days.

Cook said the strikes did not have “an end point at this particular moment in time.” These strikes targeted an ISIS tank and two vehicles, Cook said.

President Barack Obama authorized the strikes, following a recommendation from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. U.S. Africa Command oversaw the actions, and moving forward, AFRICOM commander Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez will be the highest ranking official to sign off on strikes requested by the GNA.

“GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance,” Cook said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.

“The U.S. stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya.”

Sirte has become an ISIS stronghold since the militants seized it last year. The U.S. military estimates that under 1,000 ISIS militants currently occupy Sirte. The North African country of Libya began slipping into chaos following the overthrow of longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The strikes come as the U.S.-led coalition has retaken roughly half of the territory once held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Defense and intelligence officials have publicly worried that as the militants are expelled from the territory, they will reestablish themselves in other areas of instability.

“Although it’s absolutely necessary to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, it is not sufficient to deal with the threat posed by ISIL, the metastases of ISIL,” Cook said. “… We are continuing our effort on that front as well — in places like Afghanistan, in places like Libya. And, we’ll continue to do that because we want to, again, strike at ISIL anywhere is rears its head.”

The U.S. has conducted anti-ISIS airstrikes in Libya in the past, but this marks the first time the strikes came at the request of the Western-backed unity government.

In a statement Monday, Fayez Serraj, who heads the GNA, said the strikes mark another step in the battle against ISIS but said foreign involvement would consist of logistical or technical support only.

“We repeat from here our rejection of interference by any nation or attempts to violate Libya’s sovereignty,” Serraj said in a televised address, according to The Washington Post.

The GNA formed as the result of a U.N.-mediated deal signed in December to end a conflict between two rival governments and armed groups that supported them.

Cook said the strikes were legally sound under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed to allow operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The U.S. has previously conducted two unilateral airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya citing the same authority. In February, the U.S. hit an ISIS training camp near Sabratha, Libya, targeting Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian senior ISIS member. In November, the U.S. targeted Abu Nabil, an Iraqi national who was a longtime al Qaeda operative and senior leader in Libya. The Pentagon said both strikes were carried out to halt the plotting of external operations that could have threatened the U.S. and its allies.

The U.S. has had a small number of commandos on the ground in Libya establishing connections and communication, but Cook said no U.S. boots on the ground have participated in orchestrating the airstrikes.

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