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USS San Antonio joins Libya operation

Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Estep watches the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp transit the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 12, 2016. The Wasp is deployed with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.

NATHAN WILKES/U.S. NAVY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 21, 2016

STUTTGART, Germany — The Navy’s USS San Antonio is now serving in the Mediterranean Sea as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning, replacing another warship in a move that will alter the type of air power being brought to the fight in Libya.

The USS San Antonio replaces the USS Wasp as part of a planned switch, U.S. Africa Command said on Friday.

While Marine Harrier fighters have been a part of the operation aboard the Wasp, the San Antonio does not host fighters.

Still, AFRICOM said the mission, which began in August, will continue.

“At the request of the GNA (Libya’s government of national accord), U.S. assets will continue to provide precision airstrikes to the GNA-aligned forces,” Chuck Prichard, an AFRICOM spokesman said.

Prichard added that the San Antonio is “more than capable of sustaining the current mission.”

The USS San Antonio joins the effort with UH-1 Y Hueys and AH-1 W Cobras from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Aviation Combat Unit, VMM-264, AFRICOM said.

The Wasp had played a key role in Navy and Marine Crops efforts in support of Libya’s fragile national government, which is conducting an offensive against Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte.

In nearly three months, more than 200 airstrikes have been carried out in and around Sirte. Prichard said the mission’s focus has not changed and forces have “only been tasked to provide air-strike support and not part of any ground operation.”

The switch at sea could be viewed as a reflection of how the fighting in Sirte has changed in the past month. Out the outset of the campaign, U.S. military officials said Islamic State fighters were spread out across the city.

Now, AFRICOM has said they have been reduced to a small section of Sirte.

While the military has stated there could be as few as 200 Islamic State fighters left in Sirte, rooting those forces out in an urban environment has proved challenging for Libyan forces.

In such close quarters, U.S. attack helicopters aboard the USS San Antonio could prove more effective than fighter planes, which may also be needed against primary Islamic State strongholds in Iraq. 

Since the start of operations on Aug. 1, U.S. warplanes have been conducting regular airstrikes against the militants in support of Libyan ground forces, with the bombing campaign intensifying through the first part of October.

The USS San Antonio, a part of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, is now positioned off the northern coast of Libya, AFRICOM said.

Vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio is underway in the Gulf of Aden on Oct. 10, 2016. San Antonio is deployed with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
ADAM AUSTIN/U.S. NAVY

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