US launches air strikes on Islamic State group targets in Libya

US Air Sstrike

US Air Sstrike

“The first American air strikes on precise positions of the Daesh organisation were carried out today, causing heavy losses… in Sirte,” Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said in a televised speech, using an Arabic term to refer to the IS group.

In Washington, the Pentagon said the raids were launched in response to a request from the unity government.

“At the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States military conducted precision air strikes against ISIL [IS group] targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said, using another name for the IS group.

The strikes targeted an Islamic State group tank and two vehicles that posed a threat to forces aligned with Libya’s GNA.

US strikes in Sirte “will continue”, Cook added without elaborating.

President Barack Obama authorised the bombings following recommendations from top Pentagon officials.

Cook added that the strikes were “consistent with our approach to combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local forces.”

“The US stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya,” he said.

While the Pentagon has previously carried out air attacks on specific high-value IS group targets in Libya, Monday’s action marked the first known US strikes in Sirte itself.

A US strike targeted an IS group training camp in a rural area near Sabratha, outside Tripoli, in February, likely killing one of the group’s leaders, called Noureddine Chouchane, and dozens of other jihadists.

The Tripoli-based GNA launched an operation in May to retake the IS group bastion of Sirte, the hometown of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which the jihadists have controlled since June 2015.

Losing Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli, would be a major blow to the jihadist group, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

The battle for Sirte has killed around 280 pro-government fighters and wounded more than 1,500, according to medical sources at the unity forces’ command centre.

The pro-GNA forces are mostly made up of militias from western Libya established during the 2011 revolt that overthrew Gaddafi.

A militia set up to guard the country’s main oil facilities has also been advancing on IS group positions.

The GNA was the result of a UN-brokered power-sharing agreement struck in December, but it has yet to be endorsed by Libya’s elected parliament based in the country’s far east.