In a move designed to turn up the heat on the Islamic State, U.S. military forces launched 57 air strikes against the terrorist group’s Libya branch in just over two weeks.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) began striking ISIS in Libya Aug. 1. The operation, known as Operation Odyssey Lightning, began with the intention of bolstering Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) by destroying ISIS’s main staging area in the coastal city of Sirte.
AFRICOM’s strikes have resembled those seen in Iraq and Syria through Operation Inherent Resolve, with U.S. forces destroying a variety of ISIS targets in support of local ground forces. One of the first strikes was conducted on an ISIS T-72 tank that was wreaking havoc on both GNA-aligned troops and civilians.
GNA forces drastically increased their progress against ISIS since the U.S. strikes began. Libyan forces took control of most of the city’s districts and are currently in the final push to retake the area.
“This advance is a testament to the determination of those GNA-aligned forces who have been aided by the precision air power and the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of the U.S. military,” the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary Gordon Trowbridge told reporters last week after Libyan forces took a key ISIS stronghold in Sirte.
Sirte, the birthplace of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has served as ISIS’s main base of operations since 2015, and is considered the terrorist group’s premier stronghold outside of Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon was quick to assure the public that operations against ISIS in Libya will not be a permanent third front. Despite those assurances, the frequency of the strikes and targets involved are remarkably similar to those in Iraq and Syria, albeit on a much smaller scale.
“This is a finite period of time and a very finite mission,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters during a press briefing Aug. 3, two days after Odyssey Lightning began. Strikes against ISIS in Libya are a support action for the GNA, and are separate from other operations, said Davis. He claimed that the strikes are likely to last weeks, as opposed to months.
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