Pentagon acknowledges US ground forces supporting ISIS fight in Libya

Pentagon acknowledges US ground forces supporting ISIS fight in Libya
© Getty Images

The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that a "small number" of U.S. forces are going in and out of Libya in support of an expanded air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

"As with any military operation supporting another force, coordination and synchronization of effort is essential. To that end, a small number of U.S. forces have gone in and out of Libya to exchange information with these local forces in established joint operations centers, and they will continue to do so as we strengthen the fight against [ISIS] and other terrorist organizations," said Deputy Defense press secretary Gordon Trowbridge. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Those forces are based in joint operations rooms, away from the forward line, to facilitate coordination among Libyan forces fighting ISIS, he said. 

The Pentagon announced on Aug. 1 that it had expanded its air war against ISIS into Libya, where its fighters have established a foothold in Sirte. 

At the time, defense officials said there were no U.S. forces on the ground supporting the air operations, but did not deny there were U.S. forces on the ground there. 

The acknowledgement came after The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that U.S. special operations were "providing direct, on-the-ground support for the first time to fighters battling" ISIS in Libya. 

"I can tell you those [reports] are not true," said Trowbridge. "They are not on the front lines, nor are they on the ground in Sirte." 

Rather, he said, those forces are providing "unique capabilities."

"Notably intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and precision strikes — that will help enable GNA-aligned forces to make a decisive, strategic advance," he said.  

"These strikes are targeting key ISIL military infrastructure such as tanks, high-caliber weapons, and command and control nodes using precision ordnance," Trowbridge said, using another acronym for ISIS. 

The U.S. has conducted 29 airstrikes against ISIS in Libya since Aug. 1, according to Africa Command.