7 August 2016

U.S. Releases Video From New ISIS War in Libya

By Paul D. Shinkman 
Aug. 4, 2016

It remains unclear who can order airstrikes designed to defeat the Islamic State group in Sirte.

A military vehicle used by fighters loyal to Libya's Government of National Unity (GNA) is seen near ammunition casing on Wednesday in Sirte, during an operation against the Islamic State group.(MAHMUD TURKIA,STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Defense Department on Thursday offered a peek into how it sees its new war in Libya by releasing a video of one of its first strikes of Operation Odyssey Lightning, designed to defeat the Islamic State group at the port city of Sirte.

Germany-based U.S. Africa Command, which is overseeing the campaign, also released some details on the eight other strikes that have taken place since it began on Monday, trying to provide some clarity into U.S. military involvement that, like corresponding operations in Iraq and Syria, will likely be defined mostly by remote airstrikes and some secretive special operations forces on the ground.

The need for American involvement in Libya follows reports that as many as 8,000 Islamic State group fighters, largely foreigners, exploited widespread violence and political turmoil to establish a stronghold at Sirte following losses in Iraq and Syria. War planners now estimate their numbers there have decreased to fewer than 2,000.

Military leaders, including Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had previously said the U.S. would not get involved militarily in Libya until a unity government could begin to repair deep political tensions dividing the country's east and west, and further fueling fighting among hundreds if not thousands of warring militia.

The U.S. has justified its presence in Libya through continued use of the 2001 congressional approval to strike al-Qaida across the globe – despite a widely reported rift between the extremist network and the Islamic State group – as well as a direct request for American help from the shaky new Libyan unity government known as the Government of National Accord, or GNA.

The Defense Department announced earlier this year that special operations commandoshad begun operating in Libya to identify potential partner groups. It has since said these forces are not participating in the new airstrikes.

The nine strikes so far have destroyed two tanks and three other fighting vehicles, as well as enemy weaponry and a fighting position.

It remains unclear specifically how the U.S. will identify targets on the ground, and who grants the ultimate authority to destroy them and ensure there are no risks of inadvertent casualties. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed on Monday that Gen. Peter Waldhauser, the new commander of U.S. Africa Command, must approve every strike that takes place, but declined to say whether American pilots could also strike targets they see during missions as enemy positions, known in military parlance as "targets of opportunity."

"It will be...a careful, collaboration, coordination with the GNA in terms of specific targets. I can't get into hypotheticals right now, but right now these first strikes were selected by the GNA working closely with us," Cook said Thursday at a press conference.

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