Although the Libyan unity government prematurely declared victory a few weeks ago, fierce fighting against Islamic State (ISIS) forces continues in the city of Sirte, killing more than 60 people on Tuesday alone. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has admitted to having “boots on the ground” in Libya, although their numbers and missions remain secret.
The Associated Press reports 36 Libyan militia fighters were killed in gun battles with ISIS forces in Sirte on Tuesday, in addition to about 140 wounded. An explosion at a depot near Tripoli killed 29 civilians on the same day.
The local municipal government, on its Facebook page, described the Tripoli conflict as a clash between “militiamen in charge of town security and armed local protesters,” reporting that the depot explosion occurred after protesters stormed the militia barracks. The town council also claimed that the depot contained firecrackers, not ammunition.
According to a report at Al Jazeera, violence erupted following “a dispute in a shop between locals and a member of the armed group who was refusing to pay.” The militia group is described as originating in Misrata, which means they would be loyal to the Islamist gang Libya Dawn, which has been squatting in Tripoli ever since it ejected the internationally recognized government.
The bloody chaos of post-Obama, post-Clinton Libya is not a location an American would want to visit, but there are American troops in the country.
The Associated Press reports that on Tuesday, Marine Corps Lt. General Thomas D. Waldhauser, awaiting Senate confirmation to lead American forces in Africa, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. has a small number of troops deployed in Libya, serving in “advisory roles.” He said no more are needed “at the moment.”
Waldhauser also told the Senate that he is not aware of an “overall grand strategy” for Libya, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.
In fact, when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted the U.S. has previously flown airstrikes against ISIS in Libya, but is not conducting any now – when Libyan government forces have finally engaged the Islamic State in pitched battle – and said, “That makes no sense, does it?” General Waldhauser’s response was, “No, it does not.”
Graham asked if it would be wise for President Obama to give Waldhauser the authority to strike ISIS targets that have been identified in Libya and elsewhere across Africa. The general said it would “certainly contribute to what we’re trying to do inside of Libya” if he had such authority.