US Airstrikes Target ISIS Fighters near Sirte for Second Time in One Week
Last week, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced in a press release that, “In coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), U.S. forces conducted two precision airstrikes in Libya against ISIS militants on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at approximately 2:50 p.m. local time, killing several ISIS militants. The strike occurred approximately 100 miles southeast of Sirte.” This followed six strikes by unmanned drones in a similar area on 22 September, which reportedly killed 17 ISIS fighters.
An interesting article by Paul Shinkman for US News looks at the legality of this latest round of US airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya. He highlights that:
The latest operation is unique in that it did not take place in an “area of active hostilities,” a term the Obama administration used to clarify where the U.S. is and is not at war and, perhaps more importantly, where military commanders – not the president or his immediate team – would determine whether a drone strike or other deadly operation was appropriate….Until earlier this year, a still-classified portion of Libya was determined to be an area of active hostilities, as is still the case in a part of Somalia outside the capital, Mogadishu. Multiple sources who spoke to U.S. News confirm that designation for Libya has expired….That the military can now carry out such operations raises new questions about the general limits of its power in Africa and elsewhere: What now stops the Defense Department from carrying out drone strikes wherever it wants?
Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio look at the bigger picture of US involvement against ISIS and other jihadist groups in Libya, looking at the impact of Operation Odyssey Lightening against ISIS in Sirte and speculating how many fighters may have fled south based on figures given by AFRICOM and the US State Department.
Between Aug. 1 and Dec. 19, 2016, AFRICOM conducted “495 precision airstrikes” as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning. The bombings took a heavy toll on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists in Sirte, according to AFRICOM. “While we are unable to provide specific numbers, we estimate that between 800-900 ISIS fighters were killed during Operation Odyssey Lightning in Sirte,” AFRICOM recently told FDD’s Long War Journal. The State Department previously estimated that 1,700 Islamic State fighters perished in Sirte. AFRICOM’s estimate covers only those killed in airstrikes, meaning that approximately half of the the jihadists’ casualties came in bombings.