US campaign in Libya enters second month as local forces make IS gains


Washington (AFP)

The US air campaign targeting the Islamic State group's former Libyan stronghold entered its second month Thursday, with the steady pace of strikes continuing as local forces advanced on the jihadists' last remaining holdout.

When the Pentagon announced its latest front in the war against IS on August 1, officials said the campaign to help local forces push the jihadists from the coastal city of Sirte would likely be quick, taking "weeks, not months."

The military action came following a request by the UN-supported Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), and the Obama administration has stressed that US involvement would continue to be framed by the interim Libyan government's needs.

As of September 1, the US had conducted 108 strikes via drones, bombers and helicopter gunships in Sirte.

"Though operational security precludes us from speculating on a timeline, the US will continue to support the GNA as they look at options for Libya's future once Sirte is liberated," Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman for the US military's Africa Command, told AFP.

The Tripoli-based GNA launched an operation in May to retake the IS bastion of Sirte, the hometown of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi which the jihadists have controlled since June 2015.

Libyan pro-government forces this week said they were advancing on the last remaining IS holdout in Sirte -- an area known as district Number Three.

Many of the strikes are being launched from the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean. The vessel can launch Marine Corps AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters and Harrier jets.

Mack said the pace of strikes remained "steady," and noted that it takes time for the United States to vet target requests from the GNA to ensure no unwanted casualties occur.

The fall of Sirte, 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Tripoli, would represent a significant blow to IS, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.