An interesting, investigative Newsweek article appeared on 5 February, covering current US special operations in Libya and outlining the concern of US and allied governments toward ISIS activity in the country. According to the report, US commandos have been gathering tactical evidence, conducting frequent flights from the Italian airbase at Pantelleria to Libyan air bases, and holding meetings with Libyan anti-ISIS militias. Despite current initiatives, the Obama administration has not yet called for a direct military action. Pentagon and military officials suggest that the US will likely pursue a two-pronged approach consisting of targeted anti-jihadi airstrikes and support for a unity government that the US could then provide military aid. However, during these deliberations and preparations, ISIS continues to threaten the security of Libya, Europe, and Africa. The Pentagon is pushing for more action – airstrikes and training militias who support the GNA – while the Obama administration has been more reticent. To read the full article, click here.
Days before the Italian president’s visit to the White House on 9 February, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reportedly told media that the Italians have indicated that they want the lead in Libya, an impulse the US is willing to support. While the US is currently focused on supporting the fledgling Libyan political process, Carter added, the US is wary of the rapid expansion of ISIS in Libya, and is watching closely.
Meanwhile Russian media is reporting that Russian Ambassador to Libya Ivan Moltokov has unveiled his country’s intention to fight terrorism, also saying that Russia has approached the UN Security Council with a request to lift arms sanctions against Libya to enable its fight against ISIS. He also pointed out that Libya must reunify its institutions to facilitate support from the international community for this purpose, reaffirming that Russia will be unable to supply arms to a country with fragmented authorities. If the current presidential council, he posited, is able to attain a unified GNA, then Russia will be able to support Libya in many ways.
On 8 February, Tunisia’s former foreign minister, Al Munji Al Hamdi, said that Tunisia will pay a costly price for any future international intervention in Libya. He expressed his support to the Tunisian president’s calls, and that of the foreign ministry, for prudence regarding a possible intervention in the near term. The Tunisia Defense Minister Farhat Al Harshani also publicly stated that Tunisia has already informed international partners of the importance of coordinating any action against ISIS with his country, and that airstrikes are not conducted without the explicit agreement of the Libyan government.
In Eastern Libya, in the early hours of Sunday morning 7 February, unidentified aircraft carried out three separate air raids on residential locations in the Bab Tubruq area of Derna, killing civilians and fighters affiliated with the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC). The air strikes also hit a hospital, a mosque and a residential flat causing excessive damage. The DMSC released a statement denouncing the attack, reiterating their claims of collusion between Haftar’s LNA forces and the ‘criminal IS regime’. They also said that Bab Tubruq was a key defense post for MSCD forces against IS, and that the airstrikes took place simultaneously with two IS attacks on the ground; heavy artillery shelling on Bab Tubruq and outflanking of MSCD forces in Al Fatieh. The statement also blamed local antagonists for inciting the airstrikes and leaking coordinates of MSCD fighters to the LNA aircraft. However, the LNA spokesperson Ahmed Manfour categorically denied any involvement of the LNA in the airstrikes.
On 8 February an LNA aircraft targeted ISIS locations in Al Hajjaj in the hills overlooking the eastern coastal area of Derna (Al Sahel). As the aircraft was on its return flight to Labraq airbase (70 km west of Darnah) it was targeted with anti-aircraft guns by members of Ansar Al Sharia in the city.
AAS managed to down the plane, while the pilot managed to eject to safety beforehand. ‘Al Raya institution’, Ansar Al Sharia’s main media arm in Libya issued a statement to confirm that air defense unit of AAS downed an Operation Dignity Jet.
In Benghazi, militants presumably affiliated to Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC) have published images of the arrival of very expensive Armasight thermal imaging devices and other advanced equipment on 8 February, indicating the extent of BRSC arms supply.