- Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
US special operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in Libya since late last year to try to enlist local support for a possible offensive against ISIS, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing US officials.
Two teams totaling fewer than 25 troops are operating from around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to seek potential allies and glean intelligence on threats, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the newspaper reported.
ISIS – aka the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh – has been building up forces in Libya as a potential “back-up capital” in case the terrorist group is driven out of its main base in Syria. ISIS is thought to have several thousand fighters in Sirte, but the group has had trouble expanding to other areas of Libya.
Still, ISIS has wasted no time building up its operations in the notoriously unstable country – the group has reportedly set up propaganda “media points” in the city and started imposing its strict laws, like requiring women to wear Islamic veils in public and permitting public executions.
The US special operations forces are trying to help local forces fight ISIS while taking advantage of foreign air power, according to the Post.
“These types of activities can be the difference between success and failure in what the administration refers to as areas outside of active hostilities,” William F. Wechsler, who was a senior Pentagon official overseeing Special Operations activities until last year, told the Post. “You’re mapping local networks, both friendly and unfriendly.”
Local forces are now reportedly preparing for an assault in ISIS in Sirte.
But the political situation in the country is tenuous and could hamper attempts to effectively beat back ISIS. The country is split between opposing factions, which have separate command centers overseeing anti-ISIS operations, according to the Post.
American officials told the Post that if these factions don’t coordinate their assault against ISIS, then the terrorist group could end up growing stronger.
An unnamed senior US official told the Post that the US military has “been working with our allies to urge focus on ISIL and not fueling rivalries across the country.”