American Special Operations troops have, for the first time, started directly supporting Libyan forces battling the Islamic State (IS) group in their key stronghold of Sirte, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Citing unnamed officers allied with the Libyan government and Western security officials, the Post said American and British personnel had been seen in Sirte several times.
US officials told the Post the troops were working from a joint operations centre on the outskirts of the coastal city.
The Pentagon announced last week it had started an air campaign in Sirte following a request for help from the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).
Helicopters and fixed-wing jets operating from USS Wasp and unmanned drones have been carrying out air strikes.
Speaking at the White House on 2 August, Obama said: “At the request of [the Libyan] government, after they had already made significant progress against ISIL [IS] and had essentially pushed ISIL into a very confined area in and around Sirte, it is in America’s national security interests in our fight against ISIL to make sure that they’re able to finish the job.”
The Post said the US troops are helping to coordinate American air strikes, and providing intelligence to partner forces.
The Pentagon would not comment on the specifics of the Post story, but has previously acknowledged that small US teams are helping gather intelligence in Libya.
“The US is providing unique capabilities – notably intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and precision strikes – that will help enable GNA-aligned forces to make a decisive, strategic advance,” Pentagon spokeswoman Henrietta Levin said in a statement.
“A small number of US forces have gone in and out of Libya to exchange information with local forces, and they will continue to do so as we strengthen the fight against ISIL and other terrorist organisations,” she added, using another acronym for IS.
The Pentagon said the Libyan government has established joint operations rooms, but stressed they are away from the front lines.
Libya spiralled into chaos after longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in October 2011, with two governments vying for power and armed groups battling to control vast energy resources.
Exploiting Libya’s power vacuum, IS militants established a foothold in Libya, especially in Sirte. The Pentagon estimates fewer than 1,000 IS militants are in Sirte.
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