The amphibious assault ship Wasp, seen here in late July, is in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya. It’s carrying a contingent of US Marines and AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft.(Photo US Navy)
The Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed today that US warplanes on Monday launched a new round of airstrikes against IS in Libya.
“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,” Cook said as quoted by Military Times.
Pentagon officials said the strikes were conducted by a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, defense officials said. Sirte had been a target to US airstrikes before.
The attack was authorized by President Obama on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Cook said.
Military Times said Cook called the attack “consistent with our approach to combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local forces. GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte, and additional US strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance.”
Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for US Africa Command, told Military Times “We are employing a variety of platforms to provide key information to the GNA-aligned forces. As well, we have the ability to conduct manned and unmanned airstrikes against [ISIS] targets in Sirte to help enable the GNA-aligned forces to make a decisive and strategic advance.”
According to Military Times, the US amphibious assault ship Wasp, carrying an element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is standing by in the vicinity of Libya, sources said. That includes AV-8B Harrier attack jets. The Wasp is not accompanied, sources said, by the other two ships of its amphibious ready group.
The attack Monday was part of a comprehensive series of operations planned and controlled by AFRICOM. The first element of this three-phase plan is Operation Odyssey Resolve, consisting of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights designed to counter violent extremism in Libya, the publication reported.
The second phase, Operation Junction Serpent, provided targeting information. The third element, Operation Odyssey Lightning, includes strike aircraft hitting those targets. That operation reportedly began over the weekend, Pentagon sources said as quoted by Military Times.
In February, U.S. intelligence officials raised their estimate for ISIS fighters in Libya to between 5,000 to 6,000, up from previous estimates of 2,000 to 3,000.
As pro-GNA militias advanced on Sirte during the last few weeks, they estimated the number of IS fighters was around 300 deeply entrenched within the center of the city of Sirte and they were mainly relying on snipers and booby-traps to inflect more causalities on the attacking forces.