Italy okays \'protective\' US drone strikes from Sicily

Friday 19/02/2016
Strikes will only be used as \'last resort\'

ROME - Italy has agreed that US forces can use an airbase in Sicily to launch drone strikes against Islamic State targets in Libya on a case-by-case basis, defence minister Roberta Pinotti said in an interview published Tuesday.

Pinotti told the daily Il Messaggero that any strikes launched from the Sigonella base would be limited to operations required to protect US and allied personnel and assets involved in combatting the Islamic State group in Libya and elsewhere.

She said every strike would be subject to an individual authorisation request to the Italian government and that they would only be used as a "last resort".

She added: "To date the drones have not been used in armed operations and there have been no requests for them to be."

A US air strike on an Islamic State training compound in Libya probably averted a mass shooting or a similar attack in Tunisia, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Friday's bombardment of the jihadist camp in Libya killed dozens of people, likely including senior ISIS operative Noureddine Chouchane. Officials say he helped plot two devastating ISIS-claimed attacks in neighboring Tunisia last year.

During the first of those assaults, in March, jihadist gunmen at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis killed 21 tourists and a policeman.

Then in June, a Kalashnikov-wielding attacker opened fire at a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse, killing 38 tourists, including 30 Britons.

The ISIS compound destroyed near the city of Sabratha on Friday was "very focused on training to conduct operations, the type of operations that we saw in Tunisia," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

"We are confident that what happened Friday with that strike prevented a larger tragedy with there being an external attack of some sort," he added. "Both the type of training they were doing there and the proximity to the Tunisian border suggest that some larger plan was in the works."

The training facility hosted as many as 60 jihadists at any one time who were being schooled in carrying out "the types of attacks you've seen in Tunisia," Davis said.

"People working in very synchronized coordinated groups on the ground with small arms; that is the type of training we saw here," he added.

Serbia says two embassy employees kidnapped by the ISIS group died in the strike.

Davis said the United States was still looking into the claim and could not currently confirm it.

"This was a site that we had watched very closely for many weeks and never at any time did we see any indication that there were civilians present or being held there," he said.

The United States has led a coalition air war against the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria for 18 months.

Although the campaign has dealt the jihadists some significant blows, the group has continued to expand its presence in Libya.