U.S. Special Forces are fighting the growing threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadist group in Libya.
In early April, Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Pentagon reporters that the number of ISIS ihadists in Libya who aspire to attack Europe and the United States has more than doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last 12 to 18 months.
“U.S. Special Forces and surveillance flights are operating on the ground and over Libya as the West moves to boost security operations in the country to bolster Libya’s increasingly desperate fight against ISIS,” reports CNN.
The news outlet adds:
Surveillance flights over the country’s 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) coast have been in operation from the remote Sicilian island of Pantelleria for over a year, and Special Forces have recently increased their presence on the ground. Witnesses and Libyan officials told CNN they are in evidence near the city of Misrata, with an estimated dozen soldiers operating out of a base near the city.
Pentagon officials have recently acknowledged that U.S. Special Forces were “meeting a variety of Libyans.”
“The teams are said to be in action around the capital Tripoli, as well as Misrata and the east of the country,” notes CNN.
Early this month, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations troops had been deployed to two outposts in Libya since late 2015.
The Post quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying the U.S. troops were “tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State.”
The Post revealed:
Two teams totaling fewer than 25 troops are operating from around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to identify potential allies among local armed factions and gather intelligence on threats, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive mission overseas.
Gen. Rodriguez pointed out that Libyan militias have managed to limit the Islamic State’s growth in Libya.
He added that the terrorist group’s stronghold in Libya is in the port city of Sirte, located only a few hundred miles across the Mediterranean Sea from the shores of Europe.
The U.S. Special Forces are reportedly operating out of a base near the port city of Misrata, also spelled Misurata, which lies fairly close to Sirte, on the same coastline.
Gen. Rodriguez emphasized that the limited U.S. airstrikes in Libya have focused on targets “that pose an imminent threat to U.S. interests and personnel.”
CNN points out:
The U.S. publicly only supports the latest of the three groups who claim the right to govern the country — the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj and recently installed by the United Nations. But the presence of these Special Forces teams in the strongholds of the other two groups claiming to be the country’s legitimate government shows that America retains wider private contacts.
“It is unclear what precisely the U.S. Special Forces’ scope of operations is in Libya, as airstrikes and other attacks have been limited,” it continues. “But they join an increasingly fraught Libyan battle against ISIS, who are now estimated to control about a tenth of the coastline.”
Recent attacks by ISIS in Misrata, which have been deemed the worst in recent months, prompted the city to declare a state of emergency.
The news outlet states:
CNN joined the Misrata militia along the isolated and dusty road between their stronghold port city and the ISIS bastion of Sirte on a day in which two ISIS suicide attacks, launched using armored cars, pushed the Misratans back at least 29 kilometers (18 miles).
“The attacks caused significant damage in the town of Abu Grein, killing about a dozen people and injuring 110, according to lists of casualties posted outside an over-burdened hospital the next morning,” it adds.
While ISIS in Iraq and Syria has shrunk and lost territory, the terrorist organization has flourished in Libya.
“ISIS is thought to be focusing some of its efforts on Libya as it increasingly comes under pressure in Iraq and Syria,” reports CNN. “While the oil-rich coastal country does not have a ready Sunni-Shia ethnic divide for ISIS to exploit, its chaos and ready supply of jihadists from Africa and neighboring Tunisia has made it very appealing to the group.”
The United States is reportedly considering providing weapons to some of the Libyan forces loyal to the Western-backed Government National Accord (GNA).