By Bijan Razzaghi
US forces have struck Al Qaeda affiliated forces in Southern Libya this past week killing an unknown number of militant’s. The strike was the first time that US led forces have attacked Al Qaeda in Libya as all pervious strikes since the fall of Ghaddafi were focused on combating the Islamic State and previously Ansar Al Sharia. Unmanned Combat Areal Vehicle’s were used in this latest strike but it is unclear if they were MQ-1 Predator’s or MQ-9 Reapers. The strike also shows an expansion in military operation’s against Al Qaeda in Africa just days after US Forces came under attack from Al Qaeda affiliated forces in Somalia resulting in the death of 1 US Special Operation’s Soldier.
Just a year earlier Stealth B-2 Bombers and Marine Corp AV-8B Harriers conducted a series of major airstrikes directed against Islamic State Forces in Sirte. Those high profile operations allowed Libyan Security Forces to regain control of those strongholds. As the power vacuum opens up the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the region is likely to increase. Remote areas of the country as well as some of the denser urban population’s have the risk of becoming hotbeds for terrorist forces. The strike was designed to disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability to operate in the region.
Libya’s operational environment has presented a significant challenge for allied forces due its isolation from major US military bases in the Persian Gulf. The exception I Aviano Air Base in Italy and Joint Base Djibouti. The past strikes in Libya against the Islamic state were carried out by Carrier Born Aircraft and Helicopters or long-range strategic bombers. The UAVs offer an advantage of being able to loiter over suspected targets for long durations without burning to much fuel. It is likely coordination between US Forces and Libyan Security Forces will continue to weaken Al Qaeda and ISs presence in Libya.