David Cameron under pressure to come clean over plans to send British troops to Libya
As EU ministers meet to find way forward for war-torn state, MPs demand truth about reports of UK deployments
A fighter loyal to the eastern regime outside a Benghazi factory set ablaze in clashes on Friday. The civil war is raging amid efforts to form a single government. Photograph: Reuters
Chris Stephen in Tunis
Sunday 17 April 2016 05.14 AEST Last modified on Sunday 17 April 2016 08.05 AEST
The British government is facing new pressure to publish any plans it has for troop deployments to Libya after it was disclosed that five separate international security operations are being considered for the war-torn country.
EU ministers meet on Monday to discuss sending security units to Tripoli. Other missions in the works include bombing Islamic State fighters, training Libyan troops, combating people smugglers and disarming militias. Most are likely to involve British personnel.
Senior MPs are demanding a statement on what part British forces will play, after foreign secretary Philip Hammond insisted last week that no decisions had been made on any operations.
“Clarity is now overdue. We need transparency about the difficulties and the challenges,” Crispin Blunt, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the Observer. “Any deployment would need a parliamentary vote, as would airstrikes on Isis.”
Planning for the missions is taking place amid anxiety that Libya is crumbling, and that the newly installed Libyan government cannot combat the rise of Isis and migrant smuggling without foreign help. A draft of Monday night’s EU closing statement, leaked to Reuters, says the EU “stands ready to offer security sector support” to Libya, probably including police and non-military advisers. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the meeting would discuss “the way forward to the different security assets we have, especially connected to the Sahel and Libya”.
While the EU operation is limited to police units, up to 1,000 British troops may be deployed in a parallel Libya International Assistance Mission, or Liam, led by Italy and tasked with training a new army. Separately, last month it was disclosed that SAS units are already in the country, working alongside American special forces to identify Isis targets for airstrikes. Meanwhile EU naval assets, including Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise, are planning an escalation, backed by David Cameron, of an operation – called Sophia – against migrant smugglers, moving it inshore to intercept craft as they leave the Libyan coast. And Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg last week disclosed willingness to send units to disarm the country’s militias.
Diplomats caution that missions will go ahead only if requested by Libya’s new “government of national accord”, which is struggling to assert itself. But America’s Libya envoy, Jonathan Winer, tweeted on Friday that time was short: “#ISIL #DAESH threat to #Libya @ its people real – #LGNA must decide how to use intl offers to help.”
Washington has not offered troops; it insists that Europe take the lead in fixing Libya’s post-conflict problems. Last week Barack Obama said US failure to support Libya after its 2011 Arab spring revolution was the worst mistake of his presidency. In London, MPs remain at loggerheads with the government over its refusal to make military plans public. Downing Street is worried about a rerun of last year’s contentious parliamentary debate about airstrikes on Isis in Syria. Last week, Hammond exchanged testy letters with Blunt, in which he denied claims that the committee was briefed by diplomats on the Liam plan. Blunt in turn accused Hammond of being “deliberately misleading”, saying details of Liam were given by a UK official at Britain’s embassy in Tunis. “The operation we were briefed on involved setting up shop at Tripoli airport or the port where the coastguard are,” said Blunt.
He said MPs were concerned that the different military options for Libya lack coordination. “In cases like this, where things are difficult, you need a proper policy objective. What are you trying to do? If all you’re doing is opening up a new set of complexities and unknowns, it may be an idea not to do it.”
Britain insists that the new government is making progress, with ambassador Peter Millet joining French and Spanish counterparts in Libya’s capital last week in their first visit since western embassies were evacuated in 2014.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK continues to work with international partners on how to best support the new Libyan government. This includes discussions about a Libyan International Assistance Mission. It is up to the new Libyan government to tell us what sort of help they want.”
A Libyan request for support may come on Monday, when the newly installed prime minister, Fayez Sarraj, is due to speak to EU ministers in Luxembourg by video link.
MPs also want to quiz Hammond on his decision to back the new government and rely on it to channel any military assistance. Sarraj, an affable 56-year-old from Tripoli, is popular with diplomats, who regard him as a neutral figure not aligned to any of Libya’s myriad armed factions. But his nine-member government has not been elected. Instead, it derives its authority from a UN-chaired negotiation committee, which leaves many Libyans questioning its legitimacy.
“The GNA, even if it is supported by the international community and UN security council, is based on an ambiguous and unclear political agreement,” says Libyan activist Hana Gallal. “It is singling out certain players and ignoring the rest.”
Three weeks after arriving in Tripoli, Sarraj is stuck in the city’s naval base, opposed by Libya’s two existing governments, in Tripoli and Tobruk, who are also at war with each other. In Tripoli, the Islamist-led National Salvation government is refusing to cede power, leaving the city divided, with militias loyal to Serraj in eastern and central districts and rival militias elsewhere. Aguila Saleh, president of the Tobruk parliament, has accused UN envoy Martin Kobler of acting like a governor not a mediator in urging support for the Sarraj government.
International officials fear that if military intervention is delayed, Isis will grow stronger in the region, launching repeats of last summer’s attacks in which 38 tourists, 30 of them British, were killed in Tunisia’s Sousse resort.
“The fear is that the summer will create better conditions for Islamic State to carry out cross-border attacks,” said US analyst Geoff Porter. Taking advantage of the chaos, Isis last week continued attacks in the oil-rich Sirte basin, with half a dozen oilfields hurriedly evacuated.
Migration from Libya to Europe is meanwhile surging, after the closure of the popular route from Turkey to Greece. Two thousand people a day, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, now make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy and the International Office of Migration is warning that many hundreds of thousands may follow.
Militias in Libya Advance on ISIS Stronghold of Surt With Separate Agendas
By DECLAN WALSHJUNE 1, 2016
Libyan militia fighters firing an artillery cannon at Islamic State militants near Surt, Libya, last year. Credit Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
CAIRO — Fighters aligned with Libya’s United Nations-backed unity government are advancing along the Mediterranean coast toward the Islamic State stronghold of Surt, signaling the first major assault on territory that, since last year, has become the terrorist group’s largest base outside of Iraq and Syria.
Two separate militia forces have fought their way toward the city in recent days, attacking from both the east and the west, in apparently uncoordinated attacks that have reduced the length of Libyan coastline controlled by the Islamic State to 100 miles from about 150 miles. On Wednesday, one of the militias claimed to have seized control of Surt’s power plant, 20 miles west of the city.
Those victories occurred in sparsely populated areas, and it was unclear whether the militias had either the strength or the will to push into Surt, which is thought to be heavily fortified and also harbor several thousand foreign fighters. But the advance did signal a new setback for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at a time when it is already under concerted attack in Falluja, Iraq, and in parts of Syria.
Analysts and diplomats warn that while the offensive addresses the West’s biggest concern in Libya, it also risks destabilizing the fragile peace effort by fostering violent competition between rival groups.
“Only a year ago, these two groups were battling for control of the so-called oil crescent, and lobbying rockets and shells at one another,” said Frederic Wehrey, a Libya specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who visited that country recently. “Now they are converging on a common enemy, but the great fear is what comes next.”
Over the past year, Surt, the hometown of the ousted Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, has become a preoccupation for Western countries worried that it could become a refuge for militants fleeing Iraq and Syria. Islamic State fighters have presided over a brutal rule in the city, with public executions and floggings, as well as shortages of food and medicines.
Since late 2015, small groups of American, British and French special operations forces have quietly deployed across Libya, making contact with friendly Libyan militias in an effort to gather intelligence on the Islamic State. In February, the Pentagon presented the White House with a potential plan for extensive airstrikes against the militant group’s camps, command centers and munitions depots in Libya.
But President Obama has stayed his hand, limiting overt American action to sporadic strikes against a handful of Islamic State targets in an effort to allow a United Nations-led peace process to take root in Libya. That endeavor, however, has faltered badly as the unity government, which arrived in the capital, Tripoli, in March, has failed to gain broad political acceptance.
Now, with the sudden move against the Islamic State, military action on the ground is moving faster than the country’s tangled politics.
The power plant where fighting raged on Wednesday is a significant prize because its loss to the Islamic State last June was seen as a significant step in the group’s domination of the Surt region. The assault was instigated by militias from Misurata, a powerful trading city further west along the coast, in response to Islamic State attacks. Dozens of Misuratan fighters have died in recent weeks, according to Libyan media reports.
Hamza Ahmed Abusnaina, a senior Misuratan commander, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the attackers had captured both the Surt power plant and an area south of the city called Wadi Jaref. Mr. Abusnaina’s claim could not be independently confirmed, but it was echoed by Twitter accounts associated with the Misuratan militias.
On the eastern side of the city, the attack is led by Ibrahim Jathran, a young militia commander who controls a stretch of coast known as the oil crescent, where most of Libya’s oil terminals are. In recent days, his group seized the coastal town of Bin Jawad and claimed on Tuesday to have moved on nearby Nawfaliyah.
That would bring his group, known as the Petroleum Facilities Guard, within 80 miles of Surt.
It is unclear whether foreign forces are playing a direct role in the offensive. In The Times of London last week, a report from Misurata cited a local commander who said that British special forces soldiers had fired a missile to destroy an Islamic State truck packed with explosives during a battle in early May. British defense officials did not comment on the report.
In April, a Pentagon spokesman said that the small group of United States Special Operations forces deployed to Libya — about two dozen troops operating near Misurata and Benghazi — were principally involved in intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.
As the two-pronged assault on Islamic State territory unfolded, several analysts pointed to the role of the unity’s government’s new defense minister, Almahdi Al-Barghathi, who has been trying to bring rival militant factions under a central command that could become a national army. But such efforts are being frustrated by the tribal and personal rivalries that have fueled chaos in Libya since the fall of Colonel Qaddafi in 2011.
“These forces lack crucial capabilities,” said Mr. Wehrey, of the two groups. “It’s one thing to push back I.S. in the surrounding villages and towns but quite another to liberate Surt.”
The coastal city is thought to be home to a majority of the Islamic State fighters in Libya, estimated to number between 3,000 and 6,500. Western officials say that any group attacking Surt would likely face suicide bombers, roadside bombs and the resistance of fighters with few avenues of escape. It is estimated that two-thirds of the city’s population has already fled.
More broadly, there is a danger of deepening divisions between east and west in Libya. One Western official who recently visited the country said the political mood in Libya had become increasingly confrontational during recent months as the United Nations, acting under pressure from the United States and its allies, has struggled to win acceptance for the unity government.
The assault on Surt could further isolate Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a powerful militia commander in the eastern city of Benghazi, who has determinedly resisted all entreaties to join the unity government. Only weeks ago, he boasted that he would be the one to rout the Islamic State from Surt.
In a sign of those divisions, the eastern branch of the country’s central bank this week announced that it had printed 4 billion Libyan dinars through a company in Russia, drawing a furious reaction from the main central bank in Tripoli.
On Wednesday, the Tripoli bank took delivery of its own consignment of new bank notes which, officials said, had been produced by Libya’s traditional currency printer — in Britain.
Libyan forces claim to have ousted Isis from final stronghold
Islamic State may have lost all territory in country as navy says city of Sirte has been secured after three-week offensive
Soldiers from forces aligned with Libya’s unity government rest on the road during the assault on Sirte. Photograph: Reuters
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor and Chris Stephen in Tunis
Friday 10 June 2016 07.11 AEST Last modified on Friday 10 June 2016 07.34 AEST
Libyan forces claim to have reached the centre of the coastal city of Sirte, Islamic State’s key stronghold, meaning the jihadi group may have lost all territorial control in the country.
The speed of the apparent rout of Isis after three weeks of heavy fighting is extraordinary given US intelligence was suggesting only two months ago that the group had 6,000 fighters in the city and was starting to pose a threat to neighbouring Tunisia.
“The armed forces entered Sirte. They are currently in the centre, where clashes continue with Daesh,” said Mohamad Ghassri, spokesman for the forces of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
“The operation will not last much longer. I think we’ll be able to announce the liberation of Sirte in two or three days,” he told AFP.
Although it is still possible that the Isis retreat is tactical, most observers believe the military offensive has revealed Isis to be far weaker in Libya than many had thought.
Thursday’s assault was mounted from three directions, with some aerial strikes on the Ouagadougou conference hall, considered the administrative hub of Isis in Libya. By late afternoon the Libyan navy was claiming the city had been fully taken.
Videos circulated on social media showing triumphant militiamen flashing victory signs and chanting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” as they drove around Sirte. Forces from Misrata, aligned with Tripoli’s UN-backed government, posted photographs showing they had captured the area around a billboard previously used by Isis to display the bodies, clad in orange jumpsuits, of those it had killed. The billboard, at the town’s Zafaran intersection, was torn down as militias pushed towards the city centre.
The territorial gains, as well as the apparent killing of some of the most senior Isis commanders, have come at a price. The UN-backed GNA appealed to the west for urgent medical help for its wounded fighters. It has been claimed that more than 100 Libyans have been killed and 490 wounded while trying to drive Isis out of Sirte.
The attack appears to have been mounted by two militia brigades from Misrata, including Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos, which is able to call up air support. There have also been forces from the Petroleum Facilities Guard from the west of the country and some from Tripoli.
Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert at the European Council of Foreign Relations, said: “If the reports from the joint command are partially true, they at least are in the town centre. If they are fully true, they have reached the administrative headquarters of Isis. If that is the case we are talking about hours from the end, and not days. The rate of progress is far faster than anyone predicted even two days ago.”
Toaldo said it suggested Isis had failed to gain the support of Sirte residents.
He added: “It may well be that the estimates of the number of Isis fighters in Sirte has been greatly exaggerated and talk of 6,000 fighters was wrong, and instead it was closer to 700. If the Misratan forces are making this speed of progress, they will have been helped by western intelligence on the ground.”
He said the forces coming from three different parts of Libya probably had no interest in staying in Sirte longer than necessary and would want to pass responsibility to the town’s elders and former authorities.
He cautioned: “It does not mean that Isis has been ended in Libya if Sirte falls. The example of Isis in Baghdad shows that if they lose territory they resort to terrorism, and it may be they have sent their forces into the desert in order to regroup or prepare to strike later in Tripoli.”
Some observers said there was a chance the heaviest fighting in Sirte may still be ahead, with Isis fighters now potentially trapped with their backs to the sea. “It’s difficult to tell if Islamic State in Libya has been weakened by the offensive because we don’t really know what its troop strength is,” said the US analyst Geoff Porter. “The battle for Sirte may be long and bloody.”
The absence from the offensive of General Haftar, the strong man in the east of Libya and the chief ally of Egypt, is likely to be politically significant; posing a challenge to his effort to present himself to other countries as the chief interlocutor in the east. He has been losing recruits to the GNA Ministry of Defence, but he remains powerful and the single biggest force preventing the formation of a unified army and country.
Isis lost its base at Derna, in north-east Libya, to local forces last year, and in February its western Sabratha base was destroyed by militias and US airstrikes, leaving Sirte as its last remaining stronghold.
Libyan forces claim Sirte port captured from Isis as street battles rage
Government advance succeeds in seizing key areas after month-long campaign, leaving jihadis pinned down in city centre
Soldiers from forces aligned with Libya’s new unity government, near Sirte. Photograph: Reuters
Emma Graham-Harrison and Chris Stephen in Tunis
Sunday 12 June 2016 06.16 AEST Last modified on Sunday 12 June 2016 09.03 AEST
Libyan government forces fighting to oust Islamic State from Sirte, its last stronghold in the north African nation, have taken the strategic port area and pinned militants into a small part of the city centre.
After capturing the airport last week and the seaport on Friday, troops loyal to the UN-backed unity government, mostly militias from Misrata in western Libya, were battling for control of the massive Ougadougou conference centre on Saturday. Artillery and mortar rounds have been hammering the building, with Isis snipers shooting back.
Units from Misrata have pushed Isis back more than 100 miles, last week entering Sirte itself, at a cost of 105 dead and more than 500 wounded.
US and UK forces are providing logistics and intelligence support in the battle for the city, the hometown of former *dictator Muammar Gaddafi, where the militant fighters have collapsed far more quickly than expected.
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“The British and US experts are helping us with logistical and intelligence to deal with Daesh suicide bombers and tactical and strategic planning,” the Libyan army spokesman, Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Ghasri, told AP, using a common Arabic name for Isis.
Isis fighters were expected to put up a bitter fight for control after the group’s western Sabratha base was destroyed by militias and US airstrikes in February and local forces took over its base at Derna, in north-east Libya, last year.
Just two months ago western experts warned that the group had expanded its control in Libya, had up to 6,000 fighters, and could even pose a threat to neighbouring countries.
However, the militants have crumbled so rapidly in the face of the latest offensive that both the west and Libya’s UN-backed unity government are questioning the former assessments of its strength. “The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be,” a government official said. “Maybe we exaggerated their numbers.”
About two-thirds of Sirte’s 80,000 inhabitants are thought to have fled since Isis took control, but the city’s rapid collapse suggests that the group made little headway winning the confidence of those who remained.
Government troops managed to repel an Isis assault to take back the port, and say they are now bracing for street-to-street fighting over the final two square miles, through roads likely to be laced with mines and booby traps.
“We are fighting between houses, on the streets, and we won’t back down before we eliminate them,” said one government soldier.
It has been a grim advance so far. In the two years Isis has occupied Sirte, it has carved out a gruesome reputation. In February last year it carried out the ritual beheading of 21 Christians on the Sirte waterfront, then posted the film online. Troops have found the handcuffed bodies of murdered militants at barracks in the city, AP reported. They had been shot in the head and were possibly fighters who wanted to flee. Isis leaders are believed to have fled the city to regroup.
Even if the final battles are hard, Isis has lost almost all of the self-proclaimed caliphate that, until last month, stretched for 140 miles along the coast and deep into the Sirte basin oilfields.
“Libyans prove they know how to wage war,” tweeted the US envoy to Libya, Jonathan Winer, yesterday. “Hope they also wage peace and win that too.”
Winer’s caution is well-placed. The coalition of forces attacking Sirte – Misrata from the west and a militia from the east – were last year fighting one another for control of Libya’s oil ports. Many fear that they will do so again. The parliament in Tobruk has refused to cooperate with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Tobruk’s military commander, Khalifa Haftar, has held his own troops back from the battle for Sirte, with many Libyans now wondering whether the crushing of Isis will be the prelude to renewed hostilities between the forces of west and east Libya.
US Conducts New Round of Airstrikes Against ISIS in Libya
Andrew Tilghman, Christopher P. Cavas, Jeff Schogol, David Larter and Oriana Pawlyk, Military Times 12:49 p.m. EDT August 1, 2016
(Photo: MC1 Eric Garst/Navy)
This story was originally published Aug. 1, 2016, at 11:10 a.m. EST.
US warplanes on Monday launched a new round of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya, a campaign that is expected to last at least the next several days, the Pentagon has confirmed.
"Today, at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States military conducted precision airstrikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement, which references one of the Islamic State group's acronyms.
Sirte, located along the Libyan coast, is the scene of prior limited US airstrikes targeting a growing militant presence there. Monday's strikes were conducted by a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, defense officials said.
Defense officials will not say whether there are any U.S. forces on the ground in Libya.
There are believed to be about 1,000 ISIS fighters in Sirte, defense officials said. The last round of airstrikes there were conducted in February. Since then, US officials have been reluctant to authorize more until a cohesive government emerged from the country's chaotic civil war.
These new developments follow months of discreet ground operations, as small teams of US special operations troops have moved in and out of Libya, making contact with rebel factions and gathering intelligence about the political and military situations there.
The attack was authorized by US President Barack Obama on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Cook said.
Cook called the attack "consistent with our approach to combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local forces. GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance."
Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for US Africa Command (AFRICOM), told Military Times: "We are employing a variety of platforms to provide key information to the GNA-aligned forces. As well, we have the ability to conduct manned and unmanned airstrikes against [ISIS] targets in Sirte to help enable the GNA-aligned forces to make a decisive and strategic advance."
The US amphibious assault ship Wasp, carrying an element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is standing by in the vicinity of Libya, sources said. That includes AV-8B Harrier attack jets. The Wasp is not accompanied, sources said, by the other two ships of its amphibious ready group.
The attack Monday was part of a comprehensive series of operations planned and controlled by AFRICOM. The first element of this three-phase plan is Operation Odyssey Resolve, consisting of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights designed to counter violent extremism in Libya.
The second phase, Operation Junction Serpent, provided targeting information. The third element, Operation Odyssey Lightning, includes strike aircraft hitting those targets. That operation reportedly began over the weekend, Pentagon sources said.
In February, U.S. intelligence officials raised their estimate for ISIS fighters in Libya to between 5,000 to 6,000, up from previous estimates of 2,000 to 3,000.
Obama Orders Air Campaign Against ISIS in Libya, Escalating ‘No-Boots War’
A U.S. Air Force F-15. In February, F-15s dropped bombs on targets in Libya.
By Ben Watson
1:38 PM ET
U.S. Air Force
There’s no projected end to the strikes, which U.S. officials say have been requested by the new Libyan government.
The U.S. military has launched an air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, bombing positions in its coastal stronghold of Sirte and opening up a third major front against the group.
There’s “no end point at this point in time” to the “precision airstrikes,” which began on Monday “at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord,” or the GNA, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters.
“After careful consideration, we’re prepared to carry out more strikes in careful preparation with the GNA,” Cook said. “I don’t want to predict the pace.”
Cook said the strikes were carried out by authority of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda, the same authorization used for the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
He said no American troops were on the ground aiding in these targeted strikes, but said they have been “in and out” of Libya, declining further detail.
The U.S. military has been dropping bombs on suspected ISIS fighters in Libya for months, including one series of strikes in April that killed nearly three dozen, and another strike in November that the Pentagon believed killed the head of the affiliate, Abu Nabil.
The difference between those strikes and what occurred Monday? The Libyan government asked for Monday’s strike in Sirte. “They have not up until now requested this kind of assistance,” said Cook.
ISIS’ Libyan affiliate is believed to have “under 1,000—possibly several hundred” fighters in Sirte, Cook said. But the group could have anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 fighters across the country, drawn from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Mauritania, according to a UN Security Council report Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referenced in mid-July.
U.S. intelligence estimates put the total between 4,000 and 6,000 as of April, about double last year’s estimate, according to the commander U.S. military forces in Africa, Gen. David Rodriguez.
Cook said Monday’s strikes hit a tank and two ISIS vehicles. He gave few additional details and offered no estimates on the number of fighters that may have been killed.
He said the GNA government had requested the strikes “in recent days.”
“These strikes were authorized by the president following a recommendation from [Defense Secretary Ash Carter] and Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph] Dunford,” Cook said. “They are consistent with our approach to combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local partners.”
News of the strikes follows weeks of stalled fighting after advancing government-backed forces were stopped by snipers, suicide bombers and roadside bombs in an offensive begun more than two months ago. It also comes just two weeks after the UN said the group is facing the “distinct possibility” of defeat in Sirte, and could scatter across North Africa as a result.
“GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance,” Cook added in an open-ended preview of what’s to come.
Key points in Libya’s fight against ISIS, via the Atlantic Council, July 11, 2016. Also see this ISIS regional control map, including Libya, from the Institute for the Study of War back in May.
Indeed, at least some ISIS fighters in Sirte have seen this coming. The Telegraph reported in June that many militants had begun shaving off their beards to blend in with civilians ahead of the government-backed offensive.
Reported sightings of British special forces have emerged from Libya in recent weeks. That follows France’s mid-June confirmation of the involvement of its special operators in the country, and December’s operational security headache for U.S. special forces, photographs of whom made their way to the Libyan Air Force’s Facebook page, and thence promptly to multiple social media platforms
Italy Reportedly Sends Special Forces to Libya
Tom Kington, Defense News 12:57 p.m. EDT August 11, 2016
(Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
ROME — Italy has used a new law to send special forces to fight the Islamic State group in Libya without informing Parliament, according to Italian reports.
A few dozen Italian special forces soldiers are currently taking part in operations to flush ISIS fighters out of the Libyan city of Sirte, media reports on Thursday claimed.
ISIS fighters based in the city, including many Tunisians and veterans of fighting in Syria, have controlled a long stretch of Libyan coast for months. But their grip on the city has weakened following US air raids in support of ground forces made up of militias loyal to a unity government backed by the United Nations.
Italy has already given the US permission to launch strikes from the Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, which is home to US aircraft.
Libya has collapsed into lawlessness in the last two years following a split in the government, which saw rival administrations set up in Tripoli and Tobruk.
The UN-backed government has won support from Tripoli but not from politicians in Tobruk, who are in turn supported by neighboring Egypt.
Italian special forces from the country’s Army, Navy and Air Force have reportedly joined British special forces helping militias from the city of Misrata retake Sirte from ISIS.
In the wake of last year’s terror attacks in Paris, the Italian government passed a law allowing for special forces to be deployed in anti-terror operations outside Italy under the control of Italy’s secret services, rather than under military control.
That switch in the command structure meant the operations did not not require a parliamentary signoff, as would be the case with military operations.
“We do not have a military mission in Libya. If we did, Parliament would have been informed," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Thursday.
Asked if that also applied to secret service activity, Gentiloni said: "By definition, I do not comment on operations of a classified nature."
Reports on Thursday of boots on the ground in Libya drew criticism from opposition parties in Italy, where support for an armed intervention in Libya is limited.
One report suggested the Italians were not engaged in combat with ISIS, but were helping anti-ISIS militias defuse the mines and booby traps left by ISIS as it retreated.
The Italian military has built up experience clearing mines thanks to the fact so many mines around the world are Italian-made.
Italian firm Valsella Meccanotecnica exported mines around the world in the 1980s before Italy introduced a moratorium on anti-personnel mine production in 1994 and a law banning their sale in 1997.
Stocks were retained by the Italian military to allow it to train on mine clearance.
The anarchy in Libya has allowed human traffickers to dispatch hundreds of thousands of African migrants from Libyan beaches in dinghies into the Mediterranean — headed for Italy.
With 100,000 arriving in Italy so far this year, and with France and Switzerland blocking their borders with Italy to stop migrants heading for northern Europe, a buildup of migrant numbers in Italy is underway.
This week, as authorities in the Italian city of Milan gave temporary shelter to 3,300 migrants, Italy’s Ministry of Defence gave initial permission for the use of a disused Army barracks in the city as a dormitory.
What is the U.S. intelligence picture in Libya?
By: Mark Pomerleau, November 14, 2016
The United States opened its fourth front against the Islamic State group on Aug. 1. Operation Odyssey Lightning, as the campaign is known, is focused on Libya, specifically the coastal city of Sirte, thought to be of immense importance to the group. At the time of this writing, there have been 368 U.S. strikes in Libya as reported by U.S. Africa Command in support of the Government of National Accord*—*one of two national governments in Libya but the only one internationally recognized.
U.S. special operators have been on the ground in Libya for more than a year setting the stage for the air campaign against ISIS' Libyan area of control. Currently there are a mix of U.S. forces providing assistance to GNA-linked fighters in the way of targeting data, as well as U.S. aircraft providing ISR and strike. The Libyan front has been overlooked in light of other global counterterrorism operations, notably the counter-ISIS efforts in Iraq and Syria*— the group's central area of command, or " parent tumor," according to*Defense Secretary Ash Carter*—*as well as the continuing fight against the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS militants in Afghanistan.
To this end, what is the intelligence apparatus the U.S. is relying on to develop targets and support its operations in Libya against ISIS in support of the GNA? On a broad level, a spokeswoman from AFRICOM told C4ISRNET that the U.S. is “providing support to GNA-aligned forces, to include key information about the fight in Sirte, and manned and unmanned airstrikes against ISIL-Libya targets inside Sirte. We have a range of capabilities at various locations in the region that will allow us to carry out these airstrikes, and are done so with proper notification and coordination of our partner nations.” ISIL is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.
The spokeswoman also noted that a small number of U.S. forces have gone in and out of Libya for the purpose of exchanging information with local forces in established joint operations centers and joint operations rooms established by the Libyan government away from the forward line so as to facilitate coordination among counter-ISIS forces.
AFRICOM did confirm whether forces entering Libya to coordinate with local forces in joint operations rooms use a variety of satellite communications terminals to tie into commercial and Department of Defense satellite architectures. The Defense Information Systems Agency is currently supporting local U.S. forces through its Unified Video Dissemination System*program, which provides full-motion video to the war fighter. Within the program runs a commercial software program by TeraLogics, a subsidiary of Cubic, called Unified Video, a secure, cloud-based video management platform.
“Defense and Intelligence Communities rely on the Defense Information System Agency’s (DISA) SIPR cloud application, Unified Video Dissemination System (UVDS), to access and view large amounts of AISR video intelligence from anywhere in the world, requiring only a web browser,"*according to a DISA brochure.*"UVDS is a user-friendly video management tool for enterprise and tactical users that simplifies analyst workflow, enables collaboration and creates mission opportunity by pairing real-time video with geospatial and viewer-added context.”
Moreover, a DISA spokesperson told C4SIRNET that UVDS "i s both a portal and a network service which aggregates and disseminates high-bandwidth live full motion video (FMV) feeds from manned and unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, whether by land, air, or sea vessels. The data is relayed on DOD desktops, laptops, and mobility devices. UVDS service provides the capability to include metadata, map overlays, and chat sessions."
This portal and network service is provided by DISA to aggregate and disseminate the data in the video feeds supplied by mission partners, they said.
Ryan Wallace, UVDS project manager at TeraLogics, told C4ISRNET in an interview that UVDS consists of two key parts: the routing backbone that disseminates all airborne ISR video; and the application stack, or TeraLogic’s Unified Video. Wallace said this backbone fuses sources and consumers into a single hub. Where as video dissemination was once stovepiped with customers having to individually connect into each ISR source, UVDS involves just one connection to which all sources and all customers connect.
“We developed the application, and now anyone who doesn’t have the ability to establish a network connection, they can just choose their common SIPRNet terminal, for example, and log into this web interface to stream live through their web browser,” he said of Unified Video.
Analysts can customize their browser page to view any number of ISR feeds for a particular region and send this information down to war fighters at the tactical edge to be viewed on mobile devices. War fighters at the tactical edge can also send video they collect back up to the analysts through this platform. Wallace said his program recently received approval through DISA’s mobility security program, DoD Mobility Classified Capability, to allow mobile devices to access the UVDS portal and thus the Unified Video software anywhere.
“Anyone who has a mobile device through this program and is allowed into the classified networks can actually view the video on their mobile device,” he said.
AFRICOM confirmed that troops are able to leverage several additional technologies such as the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), which provides full-motion video and precise position location. According to a more in-depth description of ATAK from the GEOINT App Store*—*which “provides online on-demand access to GEOINT content and services through mobile apps, web apps, web services, and provides a conduit for submitting general app ideas”*—*it is a mapping application developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to enable users to navigate with GPS coordinates and map data from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Furthermore, ATAK allows users to share target situational awareness information, text chat, broadcast notifications, conduct route planning, conduct white-boarding, conduct real-time unit topology on a moving map, and share photos and video.
Joint terminal attack controllers can also leverage this technology to call in airstrikes. The GEOINT App Store describes “Targeting/Fires” as one of the app’s capabilities, elaborating parenthetically that this is “pretty much everything a JTAC would deal with.”
A spokeswoman from Special Operations Command told C4ISRNET via email that while they could not provide specifics regarding locations, platforms or types of units using ATAK, they could confirm it is used by Android end-user devices operated by special operations forces across the globe.
U.S. personnel additionally “have a variety of ground mobility platforms to set up mobile command and control nodes in addition to quick reaction packages to provide command and control services for 1 to 1,000 users,” according to AFRICOM, which would not provide further details.
AFRICOM does not provide information regarding aerial platforms used to carry out strikes against enemy fighting positions, command and control facilities, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and weapons caches, among others, in daily news releases related to Operation Odyssey Lightning. While daily releases from Central Command detail airstrikes as part of Combined Joint Task Force*—*Operation Inherent Resolve, the global anti-ISIS coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria provide the types of participating aerial platforms in general terms. AFRICOM said that with a different area of responsibility comes different operational security concerns. As referenced earlier, however, the AFRICOM representative did offer that the U.S. carries out manned and unmanned airstrikes.
The Washington Post reported late last month that the DoD has expanded its global network of UAS bases to the North African country of Tunisia to support operations in Libya. As the report notes, officials have referred to Libya as an intelligence blind spot for Western intelligence services, hastening the need for more ISR sorties to keep tabs on ISIS’ operations there. In the past, the U.S. has had to leverage its UAS bases from Niger and Djibouti to fly MQ-9 Reaper ISR sorties, which was problematic in that these aircraft had to travel greater distances, limiting their time on target*—*referred to as loiter time in military parlance. As leaked documents published by the Intercept indicate, UASs, despite their extended endurance compared to manned platforms, distance to and from a target creates problems, which officials referred to as the “ tyranny of distance.”
Reapers flown out of Tunisia are conducting unarmed ISR missions while the armed Reaper missions are conducted from Naval Air Station Sigonella, on Sicily, the Post reported, adding that while Sigonella is relatively close to Sirte, cloud cover over the Mediterranean and other weather issues have frequently led to canceled missions.
While the extent of reliance on UAS in Libya for strike or ISR is unclear*—*as is the role of manned surveillance platforms*—*it appears as though manned platforms are conducting the majority of strike missions.
“From August to mid-October, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Wasp (LHD-1) launched AV-8B Harriers to conduct the strikes,” Katherine Wolff, program assistant with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Peace and Security Initiative, told C4ISRNET in an email. “In mid-October, the smaller USS San Antonio (LPD-17) replaced the USS Wasp in the Mediterranean. The USS San Antonio has conducted precision air strikes with AH-1W Super Cobras, as reported on October 31. The USS San Antonio’s UH-1Y Venom helicopters are also providing air support, although the AH-1W Super Cobras are the primary source of air strikes now.”
B-2 bomber hits Islamic State sites in Libya
19 January, 2017 SOURCE: Flightglobal.com BY: Leigh Giangreco Washington DC
Two US Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers killed at least 80 fighters across Libya on 19 January, marking the stealth aircraft's first combat mission since 2011.
Together with the interim Libyan government, the bombers destroyed two Islamic State camps 45km southwest of Sirte, according to the air force. The two bombers launched over 100 Boeing GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and USAF MQ-9 Reapers employed Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles following the initial strike, a service spokesman says. Each B-2 has the capacity to carry 80 226kg (500lb) JDAMs or an equivalent 18,100kg payload.
The Northrop Grumman B-2’s ability to loiter over an area for long periods of time, carry massive amounts of ordnance and multiple strikes at once made the aircraft ideal for the mission over Libya, the USAF says.
The Spirit of Pennsylvania and the Spirit of Georgia took off from Whiteman Air Base, Missouri for a 34h round-trip mission. Fifteen aerial refueling aircraft accompanied the bombers during an air bridge from the US to Libya, with multiple refuelings throughout the mission, a USAF spokesman says.
The USAF has 20 B-2s in its fleet and the recent strike on ISIL marks the aircraft’s fifth combat operation. The B-2 flew its last combat mission in March 2011, when three bombers struck the Libyan air force as part of a multilateral enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya. During Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, the bomber dropped 45 920kg GBU-31 JDAMs on hardened aircraft shelters, destroying aircraft inside.
The B-2 conducted its first combat mission in March 1999 when it struck Serbian targets in Kosovo. The bomber emerged again in the opening hours of the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq and as one of the first aircraft to attack Taliban targets in Afghanistan following attacks on New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001.
EU navies find training Libyan coast guard no easy task
By: Tom Kington, March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)
ROME*—*On March 3, European rescue vessels were hard at work, 20 nautical miles off the North African coast, saving migrants from ramshackle vessels dispatched from Libyan beaches by human traffickers.
It was a day like many others in the Mediterranean, as migrants headed for Europe, some hoping to build new lives, others trying to flee the violence in Libya and all part of a surge that saw a record 181,000 make the trip in 2016.
What made the day different was the appearance of a fast motor boat flying the Libyan flag and identifying itself as the Libyan coast guard, which shadowed the rescuers, waiting for the European rescue personnel to save the migrants from the boats before helping themselves to the outboard motors.
It was a troubling sign that the coast guard officers might be preparing to sell the engines back to the traffickers, making them complicit in a traffic they are meant to be halting.
That presents a problem for Europe’s navies, which have been training Libyan coast guard personnel to fight the traffickers.
”Now it is time to close down the route from Libya to Italy,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Union’s European Council, said last month, as EU members gathered in Malta to pledge €200 million (U.S. $215 million) to fight people trafficking in Libya.
The promised money will go toward coast guard training and new detention camps in the lawless nation, which acts as a conduit for migrants heading from sub-Saharan Africa.
Signatories said the deal would “break the business model” of traffickers, who have thrived since the overthrow of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
After 14 weeks of training by the Italian and Dutch navies on vessels in the Mediterranean, 93 Libyan coast guards were dispatched back to Libya last month following a graduation ceremony attended by Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti.
The training mission, overseen by the EU, then launched a two-week course for 20 Libyan officers in Crete as well as a separate officers’*course in Malta. Ten Libyan coast guard vessels, which have been stored in Italy since 2011, will be handed back for operational use in Libyan waters.
Next, planners want to reach a total of 500 recruits trained up by the summer, with further training provided by European officers, on board the vessels, in Libyan waters.
The EU training deal was struck with the United Nations-backed, Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Serraj, who is currently having a difficult time asserting his authority much beyond his headquarters, thanks to militia fighting in Tripoli.
A greater concern for Serraj is a rival government in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, which is allied with military leader Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control swathes of eastern Libya.
Haftar has twice visited Moscow, signaling Russia’s decision to intervene in Libya and raising fears it will get involved in hostilities as it did in Syria, aiming to rebuild its influence in the Mediterranean.
On March 14, the speaker of the Tobruk parliament, Agila Saleh, said Russia had promised to supply military assistance.
As Serraj’s grip on Libya gets shakier, European officials trying to stem the flow of migrants to the continent will wonder if he will ever get a reliable Libyan coast guard off the ground.
Moreover, reports emerging from Libya point to widespread collusion between coast guard units already in operation and the traffickers handling the migrant flow.
Analysts believe that Abdurahman Milad, the coast guard chief in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, is a key figure in the local trafficking trade.
“The brother of Ibrahim Jadran, the former head of the militia guarding Libya’s oil facilities, controlled the migrant boats leaving Benghazi,”*said Gabriele Iacovino, an analyst at the CESI think tank in Rome.
A European naval official linked to the coast guard training admitted that the Libyan coastline was full of semiofficial coast guard outfits, some linked to militias.
But he insisted there was no danger of EU funding ending up in their hands.
“The difference is that we have been working through the Libyan Navy, which is answerable to Serraj, and all our recruits are from the Navy,”*he said.*“When you see Libyans in uniform on a grey boat you shouldn’t assume that’s the Navy."
Recent events in Tripoli suggest traffickers do genuinely see Serraj and his EU-funded coast guard as more of a threat than an accomplice.
“The Tripoli militia leader Haitham al-Tajouri, who is probably linked to traffickers, stopped supporting Serraj when Serraj signed the deal to fight traffickers,” Iacovino said.
“In general, the deal among militias to let Serraj into Tripoli was overturned when he signed that deal — that is no coincidence."