Pentagon: Bombs struck Islamic State’s ‘external plotters’ in Libya

During his last press briefing as Secretary of Defense on Jan. 19, Ash Carter discussed the recent airstrikes targeting two Islamic State camps in Libya. One Defense Department video, seen above, shows surveillance of fighters at one of the “potential” training camps.

Carter said the group’s “external plotters” were among these fighters, claiming that they were connected to operations in Europe.

“Initial estimates indicate that the air strikes killed more than 80 ISIL [Islamic State] fighters, many of whom had converged there after fleeing from local partner forces who had cleared Sirte last month with our help,” Carter said. The jihadists were ejected from Sirte, formerly their North African stronghold, in December after months of fighting.

“Importantly,” Carter continued, “these strikes were directed against some of ISIL’s external plotters, who were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe.”

Carter was asked if the jihadis killed southwest of Sirte posed “imminent threats” to the West.

“Well, they certainly are people who … were actively plotting operations in Europe,” he responded. “And [they] may also have been connected with some attacks that have already occurred in Europe.”

The Defense Department has not identified the specific Islamic State operatives who were killed, or provided details concerning their ties to plots in Europe. But this isn’t the first time the Pentagon has connected jihadists in Libya to the Islamic State’s external operations arm.

In Feb. 2016, the US military bombed a training camp near Sabratha. The Defense Department said Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Islamic State facilitator also known as “Sabir,” was “associated with the training camp.” Chouchane was tied to the deadly Mar. 18, 2015 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis and may have also played a part in the July 2015 shooting spree at a beach in Sousse, Tunisia. The Pentagon suggested that Chouchane could “potentially” be involved in “planning external attacks on” American “interests in the region,” in addition to recruiting new members for Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s global operation and “establishing bases in Libya.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US airstrike targets Islamic State operative, training camp in Libya.]

The Pentagon released a series of videos from the airstrikes southwest of Sirte. In addition to the video included above, a second can be seen below. The short clips were first posted on the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System’s website.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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