US air strikes on ISIS to back Libya government

Operation does not indi­cate major expansion in US mili­tary activity in North African country.

Vola­tile situation

2016/08/07 Issue: 67 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

WASHINGTON - In response to a request from the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), US warplanes have launched air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sirte, the home town of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi which has been under ISIS control since June 2015.

The US strikes are intended to support GNA forces by hitting “pre­cision targets”, said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook in a statement released as the operation began. “We don’t have an end point at this particular moment in time… We certainly hope that this is some­thing that does not require a lengthy amount of time,” he said.

US Navy Captain Jeff Davis told the Military Times that “the objec­tive is to help the GNA to take Sirte, [and] the duration of this operation will be measured based upon the length of time it takes for them to do that objective”, which he said could take “weeks.”

US President Barack Obama said he ordered the strikes “to assure that ISIS does not get stronghold in Libya” and to allow the GNA “to finish the job”.

The US strikes, conducted by manned and unmanned aircraft from a US amphibious assault ship, destroyed two Russian-made tanks, rocket launchers and other equip­ment.

US air strikes in Libya in Febru­ary had targeted an ISIS training camp. The current operation is the first direct US military action in sup­port of the GNA. Pentagon spokes­man Cook described GNA forces as “capable and motivated” and said the US strikes would allow them to “make a decisive, strategic ad­vance”.

A victory for the GNA in Sirte would be a major setback for ISIS in North Africa and provide a signifi­cant boost to the fledgling GNA. The GNA’s authority in Libya remains tenuous, however, and the US at­tacks could worsen Libya’s conflict if they cause resentment about Western intervention and fan rival­ry among militias vying for power and territory.

The US operation does not indi­cate a major expansion in US mili­tary activity in the North African country. Pentagon spokesmen em­phasised that Obama’s order was limited to the Sirte operation and does not involve the use of ground forces.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his government would favourably consider any re­quest by the United States to stage operations from a Sicilian airbase. Speaking on Italian television, Gen­tiloni called the US strikes “a very positive fact” that will send a “very strong message not only against ter­rorism, but also for the stabilisation of Libya”.

Italy is concerned about the vola­tile situation in Libya as instabil­ity there fuels the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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