US launches first airstrikes against Islamic State in Libya, as local fighters battle for Sirte
The US military began its first campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State in Libya, citing a request from the nascent but internationally recognised government that is pushing to retake Sirte, the coastal city the terrorist group has occupied for about year.
US President Barack Obama has “authorised these strikes moving forward,” Defence Department spokesman Peter Cook told reporters Monday at the Pentagon.
While the initial strikes on Monday were modest - aiming at a tank and two Islamic State vehicles, according to Cook - it was a milestone in expanding US air power against the group beyond its initial strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The US previously conducted individual strikes in Libya that were aimed solely at taking out Islamic State leaders, known as “high-value targets.”
“The biggest difference is that a specific request” came from Libya’s Government of National Accord, Cook said, and further strikes will involve “careful collaboration” with that government. He said the Libyan government is making “great progress” and has reduced Islamic State’s presence in and around Sirte to as few as 1,000 fighters.
There were no US troops on the ground in Libya directing the strikes, Cook said. There have been teams of US special operators rotating into Libya to assess the security situation and establish communications.
Two US Air Force F-15s conducted the strikes.
US-backed forces have recaptured about half of the territory that Islamic State held in Iraq, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters on Monday.
Victory in Sirte would cement recent territorial gains against Islamic State and deprive the jihadist group of its only base outside the Middle East. It would also boost Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s efforts to unite the country under a United Nations-backed administration - seen by international allies as the best chance to stem the violence that has plagued Libya in the five years since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
Additional reporting by Tribune News Service