US air strikes on ISIS to back Libya government
WASHINGTON - In response to a request from the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), US warplanes have launched air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sirte, the home town of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi which has been under ISIS control since June 2015.
The US strikes are intended to support GNA forces by hitting “precision targets”, said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook in a statement released as the operation began. “We don’t have an end point at this particular moment in time… We certainly hope that this is something that does not require a lengthy amount of time,” he said.
US Navy Captain Jeff Davis told the Military Times that “the objective is to help the GNA to take Sirte, [and] the duration of this operation will be measured based upon the length of time it takes for them to do that objective”, which he said could take “weeks.”
US President Barack Obama said he ordered the strikes “to assure that ISIS does not get stronghold in Libya” and to allow the GNA “to finish the job”.
The US strikes, conducted by manned and unmanned aircraft from a US amphibious assault ship, destroyed two Russian-made tanks, rocket launchers and other equipment.
US air strikes in Libya in February had targeted an ISIS training camp. The current operation is the first direct US military action in support of the GNA. Pentagon spokesman Cook described GNA forces as “capable and motivated” and said the US strikes would allow them to “make a decisive, strategic advance”.
A victory for the GNA in Sirte would be a major setback for ISIS in North Africa and provide a significant boost to the fledgling GNA. The GNA’s authority in Libya remains tenuous, however, and the US attacks could worsen Libya’s conflict if they cause resentment about Western intervention and fan rivalry among militias vying for power and territory.
The US operation does not indicate a major expansion in US military activity in the North African country. Pentagon spokesmen emphasised that Obama’s order was limited to the Sirte operation and does not involve the use of ground forces.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his government would favourably consider any request by the United States to stage operations from a Sicilian airbase. Speaking on Italian television, Gentiloni called the US strikes “a very positive fact” that will send a “very strong message not only against terrorism, but also for the stabilisation of Libya”.
Italy is concerned about the volatile situation in Libya as instability there fuels the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean.