Pentagon: ISIS terrorists in Libya planning 'external attacks' against US interests

Pentagon: ISIS terrorists in Libya planning 'external attacks' against US interests
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Terrorists in Libya targeted by a U.S. airstrike early Friday morning were planning external attacks against U.S. and Western interests, the Pentagon said Friday.  

The U.S. announced Friday morning that it had conducted an airstrike in Libya targeting an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) training camp near the northern Libya city of Sabratha.

The strikes also targeted Noureddine Chouchane, also known as "Sabir," a Tunisian national who facilitated the training camp. 

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"We took this action against Sabir and the training camp after determining that both he and the ISIL fighters at these facilities were planning external attacks on U.S. and other Western interests in the region," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said at a briefing, using another acronym for ISIS. 

Cook declined to clarify whether the "interests" meant targets on the U.S. homeland or overseas, but said the group posed a threat to "Libya specifically, to interests in the region, and posed a national security threat to the United States." 

The Pentagon touted the strike as an example of the Obama administration striking ISIS whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

"We've made clear that we need to confront ISIL wherever it rears its head. They have posed a direct threat to the United States, they have encouraged attacks against the United States and our allies, and we're going to continue to confront it to protect our national security," Cook said. 

"This was an instance where we saw an opportunity to strike at ISIL in Libya and we carried out that strike and we feel confident this was a successful strike," he added. 

However, Cook said the focus of the fight against ISIS remained in Iraq and Syria. 

"We see that the parent tumor of ISIL is in Iraq and Syria and that remains the primary focus for us," he said.

"But as we see ISIL metastasize and spread to other parts of the world, we're going to continue to keep a very close eye on it and when we feel the need to strike, we'll be prepared to do so using all of the tools at our disposal and obviously also working with our coalition partners," he added.  

The administration has come under increasing pressure to target ISIS fighters in Libya, which experts believe is where ISIS wants to establish another major safehaven. The number of estimated ISIS fighters has doubled in the last year, to between 5,000 and 6,500. 

Cook said the U.S. had eyed the training camp for "weeks."

The Pentagon is assessing the results of the operation, which was carried out by manned and unmanned aircraft, Cook said. The airstrike was recommended by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the president, and the president authorized the strike, Cook said.  

He said the strike was consistent with international law and domestic law under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. He added the strike was conducted with the knowledge of Libyan authorities, but did not say who knew about the strike. 

Cook said Chouchane facilitated the movement of potential ISIS-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries

The destruction of the camp and Chouchane's removal will eliminate an experienced terrorist, he said, and is "expected to have an immediate impact on ISIL's ability to facilitate its activities in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and potentially planning external attacks on U.S. interests in the region."