US expands campaign of air strikes against IS, causing "major casualties"

The Pentagon announced that the move had come at the request of the Libyan government

US expands campaign of air strikes against IS, causing "major casualties"

Image: Copyright Eurofighter-Dan Kemsley

*Updated 18.03*

The United Sates has moved to expand its campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, it was announced today. 

The move comes at the request of the United Nations-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), and authorised by President Barack Obama, according to statement from Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook. 

Cook added that the move was designed to lend support to GNA forces in their campaign against ISIS, which has seen them establish a stronghold in Sirte. They noted that this approach was consistent with the work they have done to date by "working with capable and motivated local forces," and that they have been successful in recapturing territory in Sirte as a result.

According to ABC, Prime-Minister of the GNA and Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Fayez al-Serraj, said in a statement that they "made a request for direct U.S. support to carry out specific airstrikes. The first strikes started today in positions in Sirte, causing major casualties."

If IS lost control of Sirte, which it seized in June 2015, it would be a major setback to the insurgent group, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq, as the coastal city is seen as one of IS' most important bases outside of the other two countries. 

Around 280 pro-government fighters and more than 1,500 have been injured in the battle, according to medical sources.

At a press conference in the Pentagon on Monday afternoon, Cook stated that the request had come from the GNA in recent days, without getting into specifics on the timetable.

Cook noted that the requests had been lodged as a result of the U.S. having the capabilities to launch precision attacks and avoid civilian casualties, building on the "significant progress" made by the GNA on the ground. 

"One of the targets truck today was a tank, it is that kind of precision locations that we'll be targeting," said Cook. "The goal for the GNA is to eliminate ISIL from the country, we'll be working closely with them. They'll be determining the pace and the success of this campaign arguably [...] this will be in support of their efforts."

Adding that there were no "high value" targets in Monday's strikes, Cook said: "We don't have and end point at this particular moment in time, and we certainly hope that this is something that doesn't require a lengthy amount of time."

Cook also highlighted that while there is "close coordination with the GNA, there are no U.S. boots on the ground [...] Our military support to the GNA is limited at this point to these air strikes, so that's not part of what we're doing."