ISIL has amassed in numbers in critical urban areas where the Libyan government needed help. US warplanes on Monday launched a new round of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya. The campaign is expected to last at least the next several days.
U.S. aircraft struck Islamic State vehicles and a tank in a coastal town of Libya. The US involvement in Libya is the first time American forces have come to the aid of local Libyan forces carrying out a traditional ground offensive. Libya has become a critical base of operations for the ISIL outside its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria
Sirte, located along the Libyan coast, is the scene of prior limited US airstrikes targeting a growing militant presence there. Monday’s strikes were conducted by a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, defense officials said. U.S. intelligence officials raised their estimate for ISIS fighters in Libya to between 5,000 to 6,000.
It is reported that the US amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) is in the vicinity of Libya. The USS Wasp would have AV-8B Harriers as primary strike aircraft within its Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) as part of its Aviation Combat Element (ACE).
Additionally, AH-1W SuperCobras are on board. Reports are that the strikes hit a tank and two ISIL vehicles. The likely weapon of choice for these targets would be the HELLFIRE missile, which would mean the AH-1’s were part of yesterday’s strikes. MQ-9 Reapers are the likely choice for the unmanned component.
“Today, at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States military conducted precision airstrikes against ISIL 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 in a statement, which references one of the Islamic State group’s acronyms.
President Barack Obama approved the airstrikes in response to a formal request for assistance from the U.N.-backed government known as the Government of National Accord.
The US is helping fight ISIL beyond just Iraq and Syria. Denying ISIL the ability to stage and operate in locations beyond their established caliphate is a key US concern.
U.S. Special Operations teams have been functioning in Libya to establish contacts and communication with local forces. Air Power from US warplanes and unmanned aircraft is key to ensuring militia’s are able to defeat insurgent strongholds.
Ismail Shukri, head of military intelligence for the militias said, “We are drawing up our battle plans for the final advance into last districts where they remain.”
The Operation is known as Odyssey Lightning.
Top Photo credit: Sailors secure an AV-8B Harrier on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina/Released.