For the first time, elite U.S. Special Operations troops are directly helping fighters combat against ISIS in Libya with on-site support, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing U.S. and Libyan officials.
A small group of U.S. Special Operations forces are operating together with UK troops in Sirte, a city on the Libyan coast and ISIS’ de facto capital in North Africa. The role of the U.S. troops is limited to backing forces loyal to Libya’s unity Government of National Accord (GNA), The Post noted, quoting U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Last week, the U.S. launched precision air strikes against targets of ISIS in its stronghold Sirte in order to back the efforts of GNA-affiliated troops to defeat ISIS in the city.
The U.S. strikes have hit nearly 30 militant targets so far, according to The Post.
While Western forces step up their support for fighters against ISIS in Libya, the country continues to be torn by militant attacks at or close to oil infrastructure. In the latest incident, gunmen from the Benghazi Defense Brigades attacked on Tuesday members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) who were guarding the Naga oilfield, local media reported. The insurgents were forced to withdraw after six hours of clashes in which six militants and two army members were killed. In May, the LNA took over the oilfield which is not currently active.
Just last week, another Libyan militia, Operation Dignity, attacked the Zueitina oil terminal near Benghazi. The attack was repelled by Petroleum Facilities Guard forces, which are another militia operating in the country. Depending on sources, the Operation Dignity move was seen either as an attack on oil facilities or as an attempt to secure their reopening as agreed by one of the chiefs of the PFG, Ibrahim Jahdran, and the Presidential Council. The agreement followed years of PFG-led blockades of Libya’s four major oil export terminals, which have a combined capacity of 860,000 bpd.
All that militant activity, however, indicates that the likelihood of Libya’s oil output rising by 600,000 bpd, as Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said last week, is still far from a certainty.