The Pentagon said today that the U.S. carried out “precision airstrikes” against ISIS in the town where Moammar Gadhafi died at the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord.
The Libya Herald reported last week that government forces were making headway in the months-long fight against ISIS in Sirte — clearing a key residential district of the terrorists — but took heavy casualties in the process, including a field commander and a Libyan photojournalist trying to expose the crimes of ISIS.
Fighter jets from Misrata have been conducting bombing runs on Sirte in support of ground forces and dropping leaflets intended for ISIS fighters to read. The message? “As they look back and see you dying, your commanders are fleeing from the battle. Do you really think they are telling you the truth and have been honest about their plans in this fight? We see more and more of your commanders sneaking away and providing us with information on your locations and your movements.”
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters the U.S. support was authorized by President Obama “following a recommendation” from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. Last month, Dunford estimated there were “just a few hundred fighters left in Sirte itself” thanks to the Libyans’ fight, noting the terror group has “suffered significant casualties.”
Cook called the airstrikes “consistent with our approach of combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local partners.”
“GNA aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte and enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance,” he said.
Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, the head of the GNA, said he requested the strikes.
“As we’ve said for some time, the United States supports the GNA; we would be prepared to carefully consider any request for military assistance. We have now responded to that request, and will continue to work closely with the GNA to help the government restore stability and security in Libya,” Cook said, noting that the request was submitted by the GNA “recently” but refusing to get into specifics.
“As you have heard the secretary say many times, combating ISIL’s spread, along with defeating it in Iraq and Syria, and defending the homeland against external ISIL attacks are the three primary goals of our military campaign plan. That campaign is showing results.”
Obama will meet with his National Security Council on Thursday at the Pentagon for an update against the campaign against ISIS.
“The requests will be carefully coordinated. They are specific requests from the GNA, and they will be closely coordinated with the GNA going forward. And again, this — this all stems from their request for this assistance, and this specific area here will be the area around Sirte, where Sirte — where ISIL has maintained its most significant presence,” Cook said, adding the strikes followed “an ongoing conversation with the Government of National Accord.”
“One of the targets struck today was a tank. It is that kind of precision location, precision target, that we’ll be targeting that the GNA at this point felt like that would be a helpful support for their efforts.”
Asked if there are Americans on the ground vetting targets, Cook replied, “There is a collaborative process. Very closely coordinated process that we’ve engaged with the GNA in terms of assessing and determining the precise locations to hit. And, yes, the United States military will be rigorously involved in every step of this process. We will be reviewing and deciding those list of targets after, again, close consultation with the GNA.”
The spokesman added that the campaign doesn’t “have an end point at this particular moment in time.”
“But we’ll be working closely with the GNA and we certainly hope that this is something that does not require a lengthy amount of time,” he said. “We’ve seen again great progress by the GNA on their own and in the fight against ISIL.”