The U.S. military has ended its bombing campaign against ISIS in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte after three months of round-the-clock airstrikes beginning on Aug. 1, multiple U.S. defense officials tell Fox News. When the strikes were first announced, the Pentagon said they would last for “weeks.”
Multiple officials said ISIS has been decimated inside Sirte, another reason to “pause” the strikes, as one official put it, while consultations with the Libyan government take place. The officials did not rule out strikes in the future.
“The reality is there are fewer targets to hit right now without risk of civilian casualties,” said a senior defense official.
The U.S. military conducted a total of 367 airstrikes since August 1, according to the last press release issued by the U.S. Africa Command, tasked with running the air campaign. No American airstrikes have taken place since Oct. 31 when the current authorization expired, according to officials.
President Obama approved two month-long extensions to the bombing campaign, but has not reauthorized strikes for this month yet, according to one official.
New orders were issued from U.S. Africa Command to units on Nov. 1 which “ends offensive and collective self-defense strikes,” against ISIS in Sirte, located halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi.
A U.S. official with knowledge of the order says only President Obama can authorize additional strikes in Libya, which the U.S. military says it reserves the right to do going forward against targets of interest.
The U.S. military has conducted the ISIS bombing campaign unilaterally, but at the request of the UN-backed Libyan government known as the GNA, or Government of National Accord.
Beginning in August, USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, conducted flight operations using Marine Harrier jets and Cobra attack helicopters. But a majority of the strikes were carried out by drones from bases in the region.
But Wasp departed the area recently and was replaced by USS San Antonio, which does not have the capability to launch Harrier jets. USS Carney, Wasp’s escort ship, had been firing illumination rounds over Sirte as part of the effort to disrupt ISIS movements in the city. Carney has since sailed to the Black Sea and returned to the Mediterranean, but is no longer taking part in the Libya operation.
A senior defense official said the U.S. military would “continue to provide military support to the GNA…ISIL-held territory in Sirte is down to a few hundred square meters. We'll continue to discuss with the GNA leadership what additional support they may need moving forward including air strikes.”
The Pentagon has acknowledged in the past that U.S. special operations forces have been going in and out of Libya to support the GNA.
Before the air campaign against ISIS kicked off in early August, the U.S. military had conducted two separate airstrikes in Libya since November 2015.
In March 2011, the U.S. took part in an international military coalition to destroy government forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi and implement a no-fly zone to protect anti-Qaddafi forces and civilians near Benghazi.
The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes in seven countries in 2016.
In April, President Obama told Fox News’s Chris Wallace the biggest mistake of his presidency was “probably failing to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya.”