The United States on Friday conducted air strikes in Libya, a country described as having “all but collapsed” since the NATO military intervention there five years ago.
Local officials say that at least 40 people were killed from the strikes in the early morning, with others critically wounded, news agencies report. The location of the strike was a reported Islamic State training camp in the northern Libyan city of Sabratha.
The Pentagon said that it was not clear yet whether the target of the attack, Noureddine Chouchane, was among those killed.
Chouchane, a Tunisian national, has been linked to attacks in 2015 on a Tunis museum and a beach in the resort town of Sousse.
“He facilitated the movement of potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries,” the Associated Press reports Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook as saying.
The Guardian reports that the new
airstrike, the third by the US in Libya since June, raised questions about the US opening another front against an enemy whose strength in Libya has grown in the chaos resulting from Nato’s 2011 war aiding the revolutionaries that killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But some officials suggested that the strike on Chouchane was a target of opportunity, rather than the inaugural shots of a long-telegraphed initiative. The two previous strikes hit an Isis base in Derna in November and an al-Qaida gathering at Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in June.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald and professor of international relations Vijay Prishad both indicated in early-morning tweets, Friday’s bombing should be read as an indication of the Obama administration’s failed strategy in Libya:
Last month, after speaking with his French counterpart, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “It’s fair to say we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya] in conjunction with a legitimate political process.”
The strikes come just days after President Obama said, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al Qaeda wherever they appeared.”
“We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind. And we are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”
But this reflects an approach akin to “a game of whack-a-mole spanning multiple unstable foreign countries,” argues Paul Pillar, professor at Georgetown University for security studies.
Opening up a real military front against [ISIS in Libya] with Western armed forces might seem to be an appropriate going to where the action is, but it also would perpetuate a fundamentally flawed conception of counterterrorism as revolving around military offensives against whatever presence on the ground has been established by whatever radical group currently worries us the most.