US launches airstrikes targeting IS in Libya

The US launched a new military campaign against DAESH in Libya on Monday, bombing the positions of the terrorist organisation in response to the United Nations backed unity government's calls to repulse the terrorists from its former stronghold Sirte. They have been struck by US warplanes in support of local ground forces in both countries.

On Monday, Italy's foreign minister said his government would listen to any United States request to allow the use of a Sicilian air base for strikes on IS in Libya.

President Barrack Obama approved the strikes after the request of the Libyan government of National Accord to support forces trying to suppress ISIS in its main stronghold in Libya, the Pentagon added.

Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, speaking on Libyan television, said: "The first air strikes were carried out at specific locations in Sirte today, causing severe losses to enemy ranks". Monday's airstrikes were the first by the USA on the group's Libya branch since February.

Libya following death of former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 has descended into chaos, with no central government. The power and security vacuum left the country a breeding ground for militias and for militants including the Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates.

The raids, the first such USA military intervention co-ordinated with the Libyan unity government, aim to support pro-government forces "seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya", Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, using another name for IS.

US President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes after recommendation received from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"The Pentagon said the support for the Libyan government could extend beyond the recent strikes".

He also noted that the strikes will not go beyond Sirte and its surroundings.

The New York Times editorial board called the plan "deeply troubling", and said it represented a "significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent".

There were no USA troops on the ground in Libya directing the strikes, he said.

Cook said Libyan forces would identify targets but the USA military would vet them before striking. One of the targets was a tank, Cook said.

The attacks come at a pivotal point in the effort to retake control of Sirte, which militants seized in early 2015 and have sought to transform into an annex of its so-called caliphate. Within weeks, the militias liberated large sections of the seaside city. "The further we advance, the more we're faced by skilful fighters", said Suhaib Jahan, stationed a few hundred metres from the Ouagadougou conference hall.

The strikes send a "very strong message not only against terrorism, but also for the stabilization of Libya", Gentiloni said.

The campaign is expected to last weeks, according to the Pentagon, and marks the most significant US military expansion in the country since the Islamic State group took root in Libya more than a year ago.

The U.S. has been striking ISIS in Iraq and Syria in support of local forces since the fall of 2014.

  • Wendy Palmer