US strikes Libya for first time under Trump

(CNN) — The US military conducted airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Libya on Friday, the first time it has struck targets in the North African country since Donald Trump became President.

“In coordination with Libya’s Government of National Accord and aligned forces, U.S. forces conducted six precision airstrikes in Libya against an ISIS desert camp on Friday,” US Africa Command which oversees US troops in the region, told CNN in a statement.

The strikes killed 17 ISIS militants and destroyed three vehicles at the camp, located about 150 miles southeast of Sirte, the statement added.

“The camp was used by ISIS to move fighters in and out of the country; stockpile weapons and equipment; and to plot and conduct attacks,” Africa Command said in a later statement, adding that ISIS operatives in Libya have “been connected to multiple attacks across Europe.”

The strikes were carried out by unmanned aircraft, US military officials told CNN. Trump approved the operation, signing off on it in the last week, one of the officials said.

While the ISIS presence in Libya has been much reduced following a nearly five-month-long US air campaign against the terror group in the final stretch of the Obama administration, small groups of ISIS fighters had begun to reconstitute themselves in remote desert areas, taking advantage of the lingering instability resulting from the Libyan Civil War.

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“The United States will track and hunt these terrorists, degrade their capabilities and disrupt their planning and operations by all appropriate, lawful, and proportional means, including precision strikes,” Africa Command’s later statement added.

The last US airstrike in Libya was carried out on January 19, the day before Trump was inaugurated, part of a mission ordered by then-President Barack Obama that targeted ISIS operatives that were “plotting attacks in Europe,” according to the Department of Defense.

About 80 ISIS fighters were killed in that strike when unmanned aircraft and B-2 Spirit bombers, flying from a base in Missouri, bombed two ISIS training camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte.

The terrorist group had long eyed Libya as a potential base, and ISIS fighters were able to take advantage of the destabilizing years-long Libyan Civil War, seizing the coastal city of Sirte in 2015.

But local militias aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and backed by over 500 US airstrikes were able to recapture the city in December.

Friday’s strike comes just days after the United Nations launched a new push to bring stability to Libya as part of a bid to help reconcile the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, which controls much of the country’s east.

“They don’t want ISIS there, they agree on that,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of US Africa Command, said of the two sides while speaking to an audience at the US Institute of Peace this month.

“We are focused on continuing to support the Government of National Accord,” Waldhauser said. “We also are working to prevent all out civil war in that country. We’ve opened up a line of communication with Gen. Haftar, who is a leading figure of the Libyan National Army.” He added: “We are also of course keeping up the pressure on the counterterrorism fight in that country.”

But when asked in April if he envisioned a US role in helping stabilize Libya, Trump said the US would focus on fighting ISIS.

“I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles,” Trump told reporters at a White House press conference alongside the prime minister of Italy.

“I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS. We’re being very effective in that regard,” Trump added.