The US military killed an Islamic State terrorist in Libya’s Bani Walid, a northern village known as an al Qaeda and Islamic State hotbed, in a precision airstrike earlier today. No civilians were killed in the strike, according to a US Forces Africa Command (AFRICOM) press release today.
This marks the first strike in Libya since early June, when the United States targeted both the Islamic State and al Qaeda in separate strikes in Bani Walid. On June 6 and 13, the US killed four Islamic State terrorists and a member of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
AFRICOM has conducted a total of five strikes in Libya this year.
“In coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord, U.S. Africa Command has conducted three (3) strikes against ISIS-Libya and two (2) against AQIM in 2018,” Major Karl J. Wiest of AFRICOM Media Relations told Long War Journal via email.
Strikes against the Islamic State in Libya have declined from last year. In 2017, the US conducted 12 strikes against the Islamic State compared to three so far this year. Strikes against al Qaeda’s network in Libya, however, are the highest in any previous year of the air campaign.
“The United States will not relent in its mission to degrade, disrupt, and destroy terrorist organizations and bring stability to the region. We are committed to maintaining pressure on the terror network and preventing terrorists from establishing safe haven,” AFRICOM’s press release stated.
While the Islamic State and al Qaeda have suffered setbacks in Libya over the past two years, and lost most of the territory they openly controlled, both groups have maintained a significant presence in the country.
A recently released report by the United Nations Security Council estimated that the Islamic State’s numbers “vary between 3,000 and 4,000 individuals dispersed” and that its “central command in Libya may lie in the triangle between Bani Walid, southern Sirte and Jufrah district.”
“ISIL cells persist around Tripoli, Misrata and Sabratah in the west, with a substantial presence in southern Libya around Ghat and Al Uwainat, and Ajdabiya and Darnah in the east,” the UN report said.
The same UNSC report did not provide an estimate of al Qaeda’s strength in Libya, but said the group “continues to resurge in Libya, its ranks composed of elements of its historical component, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, as well as shura councils in Darnah [Derna], Benghazi and Ajdabiya.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Alexandra Gutowski is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.