Policy & Strategy

Obama nominee supports sending special operators to Libya

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The general nominated to lead U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) said Wednesday he supports putting commandos on the ground in Libya to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We’ve already identified some formative organizations that we hope to be working with in the future,” Lt. Gen. Raymond Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing to be commander of SOCOM.

The Obama administration has been struggling with how to deal with the rise of ISIS in Libya, which is seen as the terrorist group’s most dangerous branch outside of Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon has previously acknowledged it sent a “small group” of U.S. military personnel to Libya to make contact with local groups and get a clearer picture of the situation on the ground.

But administration officials have said their main goal right now is to support the U.N.-led effort to form a unity government in Libya, which has been in disarray since the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

Estimates place the number of ISIS fighters in Libya at somewhere between 5,000 and 6,500, double the number a year ago.

On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee, pressed Thomas on the need for special operations forces in light of ISIS’s growth in Libya.

“It seems to me this argues for more special forces presence on the ground, especially in a country like Libya,” McCain said.

Thomas agreed.

“That particular part of ungoverned space requires potentially unique special operations solutions, and we’re attempting to provide those options to the chain of command,” Thomas said.

The special operators’ main goal would be to work in concert with the efforts to form a unity government, he said.

“It’s completely synchronized with that effort,” he said. “In fact, it’s informed by the State Department.”

But, he added, there would be opportunities for “kinetic” operations, a term used to refer to lethal force.

“There are opportunities for kinetic — you categorize them as dash and run type operations — but there are some kinetic opportunities there,” Thomas said.

Tags Islamic State in Iraq and Syria John McCain libya
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