U.S. Special Operations forces are providing direct, on-the-ground support for the first time to forces battling the Islamic State in Libya, U.S. and Libyan officials said, coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information to local forces battling to oust the group from a militant stronghold.

The positioning of a small number of elite U.S. personnel, operating alongside British troops, in the coastal city of Sirte deepens the involvement of Western nations in the fight against Daesh’s ‘Islamic State’ most powerful affiliate.

U.S. and British personnel, carrying radios and wearing black body armor and tan fatigues, were seen within Sirte several days this week, according to officers allied with the Libyan government and Western security personnel in the area. U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a mission that has not been announced publicly, said U.S. troops were operating out of a joint operations center on the city’s outskirts and that their role was limited to supporting forces loyal to the country’s fragile unity government.

Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said small numbers of U.S. military personnel would continue to go in and out of Libya to exchange information with local forces but declined to provide details.

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