The Defense Department announced today that the US bombed two Islamic State camps “28 miles southwest of Sirte” last night. The “precision airstrikes” are the first American bombing missions in Libya since Dec. 19, 2016, when the US announced an end to Operation Odyssey Lightning, which helped clear the jihadists from Sirte. Both B-2 bombers and drones were used in the air raids, according to the Associated Press.
“While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. “This action was authorized by the president as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL [Islamic State] control.”
The strikes were intended to disrupt the jihadists’ attempts to reorganize and establish a new safe haven in Libya. The camps were located in a “remote desert” area, but the Islamic State likely intended to use them to launch operations in more populated areas along the Mediterranean coast, including in Sirte.
The Defense Department did not say how many jihadists were suspected of operating in the camps, however officials told FOX News that an estimated 85 fighters were killed in the attack. But the bombing missions demonstrate that even though Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists lost Sirte, they still maintain a foothold in the North African country.
US forces launched 495 “precision airstrikes” in an around Sirte between August and December of 2016 as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning. The bombings targeted “Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, heavy guns, tanks, command and control centers and fighting positions,” according to United States Africa Command. The airstrikes supported local Libyan fighters aligned with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The Libyan ground forces fought as part of the “Solid Structure” operations room, which brought together militiamen from Misrata and elsewhere in Libya. Special Forces from Western countries also reportedly took part in battle.
Sirte was one of the three most important cities in the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate and the most significant location under their control outside of Iraq and Syria. Prior to his demise in an airstrike last year, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani referred to Sirte as being on par with Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq.
The jihadists have vowed to fight on in Libya despite their loss of Sirte. Late last year, the group published an interview with a man known as Sheikh Abu Hudhayfah al-Muhajir, who was identified as the wali (or governor) of the organization’s self-declared “province” in Libya. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Pentagon: Islamic State has lost its safe haven in Sirte, Libya.]
Muhajir was defiant, saying his men “will not be defeated” and the trials they are enduring in Libya are intended “to separate the good from the evil and the truthful from the claimants.” The Islamic State is making the same argument across the board as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria. Whereas the group once argued that it was “remaining and expanding,” it now says its followers are suffering for a divine cause.
The “detachments of the mujahidin” are “spread today throughout the deserts of Libya,” Muhajir said, and they will make their enemies “taste severe hardship.” He vowed that they “will reclaim the cities and areas once more, by Allah’s power and strength.”
Muhajir was asked about the Islamic State’s strength in “regions outside of Sirte.” He claimed that the number of “mujahid brothers in the Libyan wilayat [province] continue to be … abundant.” Their “covert units are scattered throughout all the cities and regions, and their detachments cruise the deserts both east and west.” He hinted at the Islamic State’s presence elsewhere in Libya by mentioning Benghazi in passing.
The loss of Sirte is merely a “temporary trial,” Muhajir asserted, and these days “will be followed by conquest and consolidation.”
The American bombings last night were intended to disrupt the Islamic State’s plan for a comeback.
For more on the offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte, Libya, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports: