The United States has had its first “confirmed deployment” of U.S. Special Forces in Libya since June 2014. A group of U.S. Special Forces soldiers were reported to have landed at Wattiya, one of the largest Libyan air force bases, and to have been asked to leave by the residing commanders because they had not received permission to use the base, according to the Guardian.
The Pentagon has confirmed their knowledge of the mission, stating that U.S. Special Forces have been operating “in and out of Libya” for an unspecified amount of time, as reported by NBC, though only in advisory roles, with none involved in “combat operations or training.”
The American special forces troops were said to have arrived and departed on Monday, but the incident did not become apparent until Wednesday, when the Libyan Air Forces posted the photos to Facebook and the media asked for comment from U.S. military leaders.
Former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi ruled the African nation from 1969 until 2011 when he was overthrown in an uprising that resulted in a civil war that left Libya politically fractured, with several rival groups fighting for power. Just on Thursday, the two main rival Libyan parliaments agreed to merge, in a deal brokered by the United Nations, according to the Toronto Star.
— Sa'ka (@BTelawy) December 17, 2015
It has been noted that an important ISIS stronghold, Ajaylat, located outside of Sabratha, is only separated from the air force base by open desert. The ISIS base was where Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi, the perpetrator behind the 2015 Sousse, Tunisia, tourist resort attacks, is reported to have received training.
Going into the U.N.-brokered deal, the elected government, which controls the Wattiya air force base, has been exiled from Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a rival. The presence of armed U.S. Special Forces in Libya, which is already in a state of chaos, was seen as possibly having the potential to upset a balance that appears to have been reached.
The ejection of the U.S. commandos from the base may have been a face-saving move by the commanders with the elected Libyan government who did not wish to appear to be submitting to the United States to the Libya Dawn faction, since they reported that they had received no instructions.
The Libya Air Forces itself seems to be left wondering who is in command in the country, stating, “so many questions about who is dealing with foreign armies under the cover of the [Libyan] army,” on its Facebook page.
It is speculated that with new Libyan political coalition, the United States, Britain, and France will receive a “formal invitation” to mount attacks against ISIS positions in the near feature. It may very well be that the U.S. Special Forces at the Wattiya Air Force base were a part of these operations and that no one remembered to tell the people in charge of the base itself. The entire incident was described as a “mix-up” by both Libyan and U.S. officials.
When the Libyan Air Force personnel asked the U.S. Special Forces members why they were there, the soldiers replied that they were part of a larger operation held “in coordination with other members of the Libyan army.”
The lack of knowledge of the operations by those in command at Wattiya was described as a “stark illustration of the fractured nature of Libyan society.”
Other ISIS bases in Libya, besides Sabratha, include Derna, Sirte, and Benghazi. According to reports, the U.S. and French air forces have been conducting reconnaissance missions, flying over each of the ISIS bases, collecting information in recent weeks.
The concern of Western leaders had been ongoing fighting between the elected Libyan government and Libya Dawn, while the country paid almost no attention to ISIS, allowing the terror group to fortify its existing positions and make advances on oil resources in eastern Libya. Concern for the Roman ruins at Sabratha is said to persist as well.
[Photo via Libya Air Forces/Facebook]