U.S. Africa Command on Saturday carried out its first airstrike against al-Qaeda militants in southwestern Libya over the weekend, two years after it ended a large-scale air campaign against Islamic State in the country.
“In coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), U.S. forces conducted a precision airstrike near Ubari, Libya, on March 24, killing two terrorists,” Africom said in a statement.
“The United States will not relent in its mission to degrade, disrupt, and destroy terrorist organizations and bring stability to the region. We are committed to maintaining pressure on the terror network and preventing terrorists from establishing safe haven.”
No civilians are believed to have been killed in the strike, the statement added.
The strike was first reported on Sunday by The New York Times, which noted that it had not been announced. Africom typically releases strike information to reporters, on its website and via social media.
“Our goal is always to be as transparent as possible while taking into account operational security, force protection and diplomatic sensitivities. Unless operational requirements prevent doing so, we acknowledge all strikes – either by press release or response to query,” Africom spokesperson Major Karl J. Wiest told The Defense Post in an emailed statement.
“When we limit our acknowledgement to responses to query, as we did with the strike on March 24, it is because of a realistic operational security concern, a significant force protection matter, or potential diplomatic sensitivities.”
Africom carried out more than 500 airstrikes against Islamic State in the autumn of 2016 in an operation called Odyssey Lightning. The campaign, carried out in coordination with the Libyan GNA, ended in December 2016 after forces aligned with the government successfully drove ISIS out of Sirte, Africom said at the time.
“This was the first precision airstrike the U.S. has conducted against al-Qa’ida in Libya. This strike was conducted in coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord,” Wiest said on Monday.
“ISIS and al-Qa’ida have taken advantage of under-governed spaces in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring, and directing terror attacks; recruiting and facilitating the movement of foreign terrorist fighters; and raising and moving funds to support their operations.”