On Monday, American warplanes hit Islamic State targets in Libya at the request of Libya’s “unity government,” also known as the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said these were “precision airstrikes against ISIL targets in Sirte,” to support “GNA- affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya.”
That curious phrase “GNA-affiliated” is a tacit acknowledgement of just how bad post-Obama, post-Clinton Libya has become. The actual Libyan government doesn’t control all the front-line forces against the Islamic State – they come from militia groups allied with the Government of National Accord.
Also, we’ve been told for the past few months that ISIS was on the ropes in Libya, pinned down in their stronghold of Sirte as the GNA prepared to deliver a knockout blow.
Now we’ve got U.S. warplanes providing air support, which the Military Times notes American officials have been reluctant to provide “until a cohesive government emerged from the country’s chaotic civil war.” Even now, the GNA has not been officially endorsed by the internationally-recognized Libyan parliament, which is not headquartered in the national capital of Tripoli, having been displaced by Islamist gangs long ago.
Also, the U.S. government estimates there are about 1,000 ISIS fighters in Sirte, but five or six thousand in Libya altogether, which would suggest they are not as boxed up in Sirte as Libyan and U.S. governments hoped.
“These new developments follow months of discreet ground operations, as small teams of U.S. special operations troops have moved in and out of Libya, making contact with rebel factions and gathering intelligence about the political and military situations there,” the Military Times reports.
“The U.S. amphibious assault ship Wasp, carrying an element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is standing by in the vicinity of Libya, sources said. That includes AV-8B Harrier attack jets. The Wasp is not accompanied, sources said, by the other two ships of its amphibious ready group,” the report continues.
“The first American airstrikes on precise positions of the Daesh (IS) organization were carried out today, causing heavy losses… in Sirte,” Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said in a televised speech, as translated by the Times of Israel.
Sarraj said government-allied ground forces have been able to “take control of strategic positions” around Sirte.
“I want to assure you that these operations are limited to a specific timetable and do not exceed Sirte and its suburbs… We asked for this support from the international community, notably the United States, but we want to point out that there will be no foreign presence on Libyan soil,” he added, alluding to the possibility of a heavier U.S. ground forces commitment than the small special-ops teams currently at work in Libya.
TOI notes that Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook implied more U.S. airstrikes would be forthcoming, although details were not provided.
Reuters reports that the militia groups fighting ISIS in Sirte aren’t thrilled with the amount of government support they’ve been getting.
“Those forces have complained that assistance from the government in Tripoli and external powers was slow to materialise. At least 350 of their fighters have been killed and more than 1,500 wounded in the campaign,” Reuters reports. “Libyan fighter jets have frequently bombed Sirte, but they lack the weapons and technology to make precision strikes.”