Sept. 25 (UPI) — The U.S. military, in coordination with the Libyan government, has launched airstrikes inside the North African nation for the first time under the administration of President Donald Trump, officials said.
United States Africa Command said in a statement that six “precision strikes” were conducted on Friday against multiple terrorist targets on a desert camp 150 miles southeast of Sirte, a former IS stronghold.
Seventeen Islamic State militants were killed in the attack, military officials said.
Officials said the camp was used to move suspected Islamic State fighters in and out of the country, stockpile weapons and equipment, and plan attacks. Three vehicles were also destroyed in the bombing.
The strikes were the first inside Libya under the Trump administration. The most recent attack before Friday occurred Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office. That attack also struck IS camps near Sirte.
U.S. officials say ungoverned areas in Libya have been preyed upon by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
“These terrorists have sought safe haven and freedom of movement in Libya to launch external terror attacks in neighboring countries,” U.S. Africa Command said.
“The United States will track and hunt these terrorists, degrade their capabilities, and disrupt their planning and operations by all appropriate, lawful, and proportional means.”
Although Libya has worked to rid itself of IS militants and terrorist strongholds, but militants have made use of the political instability to create safe havens for recruitment, plotting, and fundraising for future plots. The militant group is believed to have several hundred fighters still in the strife-torn North African nation.
“When we go back and start looking at some of these recent terror plots, a lot of them seem to have had some links to Libya,” Jonathan Githens-Mazar, an associate professor at Britain’s University of Exeter said.
With aid from the United States, Libyan forces were able to recapture Sirte — but still, many attacks have originated from the country, including an Ariana Grande concert attack in May. The accused suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was of Libyan descent and had family fighting with IS in the country.
Libya has fallen into chaos since a U.S.-backed uprising overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Now, three factions compete for power — including the Islamic State. At its peak, officials say, the terror group had 5,000 fighters in Libya alone.
Tim Eaton, a research fellow at Chatham House in London believes the attacks means the Islamic State is regaining strength.
“Now we are hearing reports of IS reappearing and resurfacing,” he said. “These airstrikes could be to do with the militants’ increasing presence and the fears surrounding that.”