By Lucas Tomlinson
The Pentagon said Monday that a new round of airstrikes against ISIS in Libya today are being conducted at the request of the Libyan government, and the Libyans will tell the US military when to conduct airstrikes going forward.
“They'll be determining the pace and the success of this campaign,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in a press briefing Monday.
“We don't have an end point at this particular moment in time. But we'll be working closely with the [Libyan government] and we certainly hope that this is something that does not require a lengthy amount of time,” he said.
Cook told reporters that one tank and two vehicles belonging to ISIS in the coastal town of Sirte were struck in the US airstrike today. Cook would not readout what type of US military aircraft were used or where the aircraft were based.
Cook said US airstrikes in the future would be limited to the area of Sirte and be done only at the request of and in “close coordination” with the new UN-backed Libyan government, known as the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Cook said the number of ISIS fighters has been “reduced” in Libya, but did not offer any numbers to support the claim.
He said the number of ISIS fighters in the ISIS stronghold of Sirte has been reduced to under 1,000, but did not have an estimate for the entire country.
Estimations vary, but the intelligence community has assessed ISIS to have more than 5,000 fighters inside Libya, double the number from a year ago. Some estimates range as high as 6,000 ISIS fighters inside Libya.
Future airstrikes in Libya will be determined by the commander of the US military’ Africa command based in Stuttguart, Germany.
A Pentagon statement announcing the new airstrikes against ISIS in Libya released before the briefing said President Obama had authorized the strikes today.
For months, top Pentagon officials have said they would wait for a new government in Libya before ramping up operations against ISIS in Libya.
Cook said no US troops participated in the strikes against ISIS today in Libya, but would not rule out the presence of US troops elsewhere in the country.
Pentagon officials confirmed recently that teams of special operations forces had been going in and out of Libya in the past few months to meet local forces on the ground.
The US airstrikes in Libya today were the third since November.
In February, US Air Force F-15s flying out of the United Kingdom bombed an ISIS training camp outside the Libyan capital of Tripoli killing up to 50 ISIS fighters.
In November, one day after the horrific Paris attacks that killed over 125 people, American jets killed the top ISIS leader in Libya, Abu Nabil in the port city of Darnah (also spelled “Derna”)
Asked about the potential for an increase in the number of strikes in Libya going forward, Cook said, “We are prepared to carry out more strikes.”
Cook said the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) was the legal authority used to launch the strikes today.
Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has long sought a new authorization against ISIS and has introduced bipartisan legislation to make one, but the bill stalled in Congress.