By Terri Moon Cronk
U.S. precision airstrikes on two Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant training camps near Sirte, Libya, are estimated to have killed more than 80 enemy fighters, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.
On the eve of leaving his position as defense secretary, Carter told reporters at the Pentagon the airstrikes were vital in the American and coalition forces’ campaign to “deal ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.”
The secretary said many of the estimated dead were fighters who had converged on the camps after fleeing from local partner forces that cleared Sirte last month with U.S. help. Sirte is nearly 28 miles southwest of the training camps that were struck last night.
Strikes Targeted External Plotters
The operation involved the United States in conjunction with its partners and Libya’s Government of National Accord, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.
“The fighters training in these camps posed a security risk to Libya, its neighbors, our allies in Africa and Europe, and to the United States and its interests,” he said.
“Importantly, these strikes were directed against some of ISIL’s external plotters, who were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe,” Carter noted. “These were critically important strikes for our campaign and a clear example of our enduring commitment to destroy ISIL’s cancer — not only in Iraq and Syria, but everywhere it emerges.”
Strikes Help Sirte’s Liberation
As the U.S. assessment of the airstrikes in Libya continues, Cook said, the initial analysis is the strikes were successful in destroying the camps, and their destruction will degrade ISIL’s ability to threaten the Libyan people or disrupt efforts to stabilize Sirte after its liberation.
Two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers, which took off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, primarily conducted the joint direct attack munitions hit both camps, the press secretary said.
“The use of the B-2 demonstrates the capability of the United States to deliver decisive precision force to the Air Force’s Global Strike Command over a great distance,” he noted, adding that the use of the bombers was a decision by commanders, given the capabilities of the platform and the requirements of the mission.
The spokesman showed surveillance video at one of the camps where he described ISIL members as moving equipment such as homemade bombs and shells.
“We have been watching [the training camps] for some time,” he added.
Counter-ISIL Progress in Iraq, Syria
The secretary said while the airstrikes in Libya were carried out, gains were made in Mosul, Iraq, by the Iraqi security forces.
“Our local partners in Iraq, with our advice and assistance, managed to secure all critical areas in eastern Mosul, Carter said. “As they now prepare to clear the western part of Mosul, I’m confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered.”
Cook said work to clear pockets of resistance remains, but nearly all of Mosul east of the Tigris River is in Iraqi hands for the first time in two-and-a-half years.
“Iraqi security forces now control the eastern ends of all five bridges linking east and west Mosul. And Prime Minister [Haider] al-Abadi and Iraqi military commanders have hailed this as a major accomplishment,” he said.
Senior ISIL Leader Killed in Raqqa
And, while partner forces continue to isolate the city of Raqqa, Syria, Cook confirmed the death of Abu Anas al-Iraqi, a member of ISIL’s senior leadership council, following a raid on Jan. 8 as the terrorist traveled to Raqqa.
“Al-Iraqi was a long-time associate of ISIL’s senior leadership, dating back to its origins of Al-Qaida in Iraq. He oversaw media and financial operations and was a member of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s inner circle,” Cook said.
Before 2007, al-Iraqi was chief propagandist for al-Qaida in Iraq and incited and directed attacks against U.S.’ and coalition forces in Iraq, the press secretary added.
“His death is a reminder to ISIL’s leadership that they will find no shelter anywhere on the battlefield. And as Secretary Carter just described, the coalition and our local partners have seized every opportunity to accelerate ISIL’s defeat. The events of the last 24 hours certainly demonstrate that,” Cook said.