CNN reports the United States has carried out air strikes on positions of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Libya, following a request by the UN-backed government there, the Pentagon says.
The strikes targeted positions in the port city of Sirte, an IS stronghold.
Libyan PM Fayez Sarraj, in a televised address, said the strikes caused “heavy losses”.
Western powers have become increasingly concerned at IS’s growing presence in Libya.
The air strikes are the first such US military intervention co-ordinated with the Libyan unity government.
There have been two previous US attacks on IS targets in Libya – last February and in November.
The Pentagon said Monday’s strikes, authorised by President Barack Obama, were in support of government forces currently fighting IS militants.
“These actions and those we have taken previously will help deny ISIL a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and our allies,” the Pentagon statement continued, using another term for IS.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the strikes hit “precision targets”, including a tank, in response to a request from the Libyan administration in the past few days.
Monday’s two strikes, which hit an ISIS tank and two vehicles, were conducted by a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, defense officials said. They were the first to target the ISIS outpost in Sirte, located along the Libyan coast. The ISIS force of fewer than 1,000 militants continues to control the city center, official said.
Two prior U.S. airstrikes hit ISIS militants in other parts of Libya, most recently in February. Since then, however, U.S. officials have been reluctant to authorize more until a cohesive government emerged from the country’s chaotic civil war.
Monday’s strikes were the first to be requested by the Libyan GNA and may signal the start of a U.S. broader mission to support the fledgling Libyan government.
For months U.S. forces have conducted discreet ground operations, as small teams of special operations troops have moved in and out of Libya, making contact with rebel factions and gathering intelligence about the political and military situations there. Those personnel may continue to operate in Libya, but they are not involved in the current operation.
“With regard to this particular operation in Sirte, we do not expect U.S. [ground] forces to be part of this specific operation. I’m not going to speak to other us forces with regard to Libya overall,” Cook said. “We have indicated in the past that we have had forces on the ground getting a picture there, and that has been helpful and successful. But that is separate and apart from this operation.”
U.S. activity is limited to airstrikes and intelligence support, and does not include any weapons sales or nonlethal aid, Cook said. He 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 U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance.”
The attack Monday 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.
The head of U.S. Africa Command, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, has been given authority to approve future strikes in Sirte, Cook said.
Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for AFRICOM, 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.”
The U.S. 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.
Monday’s attack 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 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.
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.
The United States has launched air strikes on Islamic State targets in Libya, the Pentagon said Monday.
The strikes were requested by the Libyan government, Peter Cook, the Pentagon’s spokesman, said in a statement. The strikes targeted the city of Sirte, which has been under ISIS control since early 2015 and serves as the group’s stronghold in the country. Pro-Libyan government forces in recent months have attempted to dislodge ISIS fighters holed up in the city.
The strikes were authorized by President Obama following the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“These actions and those we have taken previously will help deny ISIL a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and our allies,” Cook said in the statement.
Cook told reporters in a news conference Monday the Libyan government requested air strikes “recently,” but would not give a specific timeline.
He [also] declined to answer questions about how the targets were chosen, how many ISIS fighters were killed in the strikes, and whether any U.S. troops are on the ground for this operation.
He said one of the targets was an ISIS tank, but did not offer further details. The strikes were carried out by U.S. warplanes, and not aircraft of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Cook said the U.S. and the Libyan government together would vet future targets.
“We don’t have an endpoint in this particular moment in time,” Cook said of the operation. “We hope that this is something that won’t require a lengthy amount of time.”
The Pentagon believes “under 1,000, possibly several hundred” ISIS fighters are in Sirte.
An ISIS presence began to emerge in Libya in late 2014. The U.S. has beensending small teams of special forces to Libya to aid in the ISIS fight since late last year. Cook refused to say Monday whether U.S. ground troops are involved in the latest air operation.