STUTTGART, Germany — A series of U.S. airstrikes hit an Islamic State hideout in Libya Friday, killing 17 militants in an attack on a remote desert compound used as a weapons warehouse and place to plot terrorist attacks, U.S. Africa Command said.

The camp, about 150 miles southeast of the coastal city of Sirte, also was used by militants to move fighters in and out of the country, AFRICOM said.

“These terrorists have sought safe haven and freedom of movement in Libya to launch external terror attacks in neighboring countries, and their operatives in Libya have also been connected to multiple attacks across Europe,” AFRICOM said in a statement.

ISIS, along with al-Qaeda, has taken advantage of a security vacuum in Libya, where ungoverned terrain has provided sanctuaries for organizing their efforts, the military said.

Last year, forces aligned with the Libyan government, backed by U.S. airpower, conducted a months-long offense in the city of Sirte, which emerged as a stronghold for the Islamic State in Libya.

AFRICOM’s four-month Operation Odyssey Lightning involved nearly 500 airstrikes in support of local ground forces, who pushed the militants from Sirte.

That operation was deemed a success as government forces regained control of the city. However, elements of the militant group dispersed and continue to pose a threat, AFRICOM said.

The military said Friday’s strike was conducted in coordination with Libya’s Government of National Accord, and that airstrikes in the country will continue as needed.

“Left unaddressed, this would allow for this violent terrorist organization to inspire attacks against America, our allies and American interests around the world,” AFRICOM said.

Since NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which helped overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the country has been in a state of chaos. In the wake of the NATO’s bombardment, heavy weapons once belonging to the old regime flooded out of Libya and into the arms of militants stretching from Syria to Mali and Nigeria. Many fighters that the West hoped would emerge as pro-democracy forces proved to be religious militants.

Since then scores of rival militias have staked out territory in Libya while a weak government attempts to establish more control.

The Islamic State group, under pressure in other regions such as Iraq, has sought a foothold in Libya. So far, however, the group has struggled to carve out significant territory.

“The United States will track and hunt these terrorists, degrade their capabilities and disrupt their planning and operations by all appropriate, lawful, and proportional means, including precision strikes against their forces,” AFRICOM said.

Vandiver.john@stripes Twitter: @john_vandiver

author picture
John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now