News / Middle East

    Pentagon: US Forces in Libya, Looking for ‘Worthy’ Partners

    FILE - Fire rises from an oil tank in the port of Es Sider, in Ras Lanuf, Libya, Jan. 6, 2016. A Petroleum Facilities Guards blamed the blazes on attacks by Islamic State militants.
    FILE - Fire rises from an oil tank in the port of Es Sider, in Ras Lanuf, Libya, Jan. 6, 2016. A Petroleum Facilities Guards blamed the blazes on attacks by Islamic State militants.

    U.S. military forces are on the ground in Libya looking for potential partners in what could soon be an expanded campaign against the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

    "There have been some U.S. forces in Libya trying to establish contact with forces on the ground," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Wednesday. “Get a better sense of who the players are, who might be worthy of U.S. support and support from some of our partners going forward.”

    Cook described the U.S. contingent as a small group, adding they were in Libya "at the concurrence of Libyan officials.”

    While not the biggest fighting force in Libya, IS has been growing stronger there in recent months, cementing its hold on the city of Sirte and surrounding areas.

    Growing threat in Libya

    A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence recently told VOA about 500 key IS officials and fighters who left Syria and Iraq during the last several weeks of 2015 and moved to Libya in what appeared to be a calculated move.

    Western officials estimate IS may now have upwards of 5,000 fighters in Libya.

    “This is a situation that does cause us concern, and we’re considering what our options might be going forward should that threat, ISIL, become an even bigger threat,” Cook said, using an acronym for the terror group.

    Cook’s comments come just days after the top U.S. military officer warned the Islamic State in Libya posed a pressing regional threat.

    “You want to take decisive military action to check ISIL's expansion and at the same time you want to do it in such a way that's supportive of a long-term political process," Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters Friday.

    "My perspective is we need to do more," Dunford added, saying key decisions about U.S. involvement in Libya could come within a matter of weeks.

    The U.S. has already shown a willingness to strike IS in Libya, killing Abu Nabil, believed to have been the top IS leader in Libya, in an airstrike this past November.

    Training ground

    Islamic State has long used Libya as a training ground for fighters destined for Syria and Iraq, but increasingly it has become part of the terror group’s expansion plans.

    “It now is a destination,” Levantine Group security analyst Michael Horowitz said. “The local branches of ISIS have spared no efforts to promote Libya as a land for jihad.”

    Like in Syria and Iraq, the terror group has taken advantage of large tracts of ungoverned spaces as well as political turmoil.

    “The current fragmentation between and within rival Libyan political camps is also helping ISIS to grow by eroding trust and legitimacy in Libyan politics and politicians as a whole amongst a large swath of the Libyan population, especially the youth,” according to Jason Pack, a researcher of Middle Eastern History at Cambridge University and president of

    Despite the presence of U.S. special forces on the ground in Libya, the Pentagon rejected the notion of sending traditional U.S. forces, or “boots on the ground,” to Libya.

    "Right now, that's not something that's under consideration," said spokesman Cook.

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Seamus
    January 28, 2016 10:54 AM
    There are many professional armies who meet such standards. The real issue is buy in from Nations with their governments and UN approval , who would otherwise cry foul, if unauthorized. However the UK Parliament is unlikely to authorize such intervention and deployment of troops and France? well that is a big question.

    by: jack
    January 28, 2016 9:32 AM
    This is another utter failure policy of US in middle east after Iraq, Syria,Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan .US simply can not solve the problem and should stop policing job in ME.

    by: Anonymous
    January 27, 2016 9:43 PM
    US is pleased to see the mass of Libya. US should be answered for what it had done

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 27, 2016 9:32 PM
    Where were they when our embassy was under attack Secretary Clinton? Who gave orders for them not to be there before the attack, not to go there during the attack. America is still waiting for an answer to the question of who was responsible and why did you lie about the cause being a film when you knew all along it was al Qaeda?

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    January 27, 2016 8:51 PM
    The Libyan people cannot control the criminal element by themselves. The US and UN are doing their best to get a responsible government established. It is a good thing that the bottom has dropped out of the oil market. Otherwise IS would be making millions. IS is beating their brains out trying to make money to try to keep the anti-IS coalition from destroying their non-existent caliphate. Maybe they'll move it to Mali, Nigeria, Indonesia, any place they can get away with the crap they have been doing. Most other places in the world already have their number and won't let them get away with anything.

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    January 27, 2016 8:28 PM
    Saudi Arabia, USA and Europe created mess in Libya, why because they do not like Qaddafi. Peoples were very much happy and secure at the time of Qaddafi. But what is the life of Libyans now, no business, education, life and security.
    The same mistake is doing by this group in Syria. Why they are not learning with their blunder mistakes.
    This is very sad part that rich and powerful countries are creating human killers as to enjoy them self. Who created Daesh, IS, Al Qaida, Taliban and Nusrat Front.
    This is the duty of UN to stop rich countries to make interfere in their affairs.
    After bad experience in Libya, Saudi Arab wants to change REGIME with the help of USA in Syria.
    In Response

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    February 03, 2016 1:01 PM
    Mr.Alexxa sorry to say EU Planes were used DAY AND NIGHT to change REGIME.
    In Response

    by: Alexxa
    January 28, 2016 7:48 AM
    No, EU had no share in creating mess in Libya. I mean, not by their own will. You see, EU is not really independent and not running their own foreign policy. They only follow orders from EU capitol, which is Washington DC. A real question is - who runs Washington / White House ? President of USA ? No, I don't think so.
    In Response

    by: MUFTAH from: LIBYA
    January 28, 2016 3:12 AM

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 27, 2016 7:06 PM
    Remember that famous US president Obama quote after the US led air assault ultimately killed Qaddafi and some of his family in 2011 without US Congressional approval; "We've protected thousands of people in Libya; We have not seen a single US casualty; There's no risk of additional escalation, this operation is limited in time and in scope." .. how naïve he was then? .. and now?

    Hundreds of thousands of innocent Libyans have suffered and died since he made that naïve famous quote; "There's no risk of additional escalation, this operation is limited in time and in scope." .. With an unknown number of Libyan militias everywhere with unknown affiliations, and an unknown number of Libyan innocents being raped, enslaved, tortured and killed, (including US ambassador Stevens and 3 other American), and the terrorists expanding everywhere undefeated and unconquered, you have to wonder what Obama was thinking when he quote said; "There's no risk of additional escalation, this operation is limited in time and in scope."

    by: Alisuda Rahmani from: Secret City
    January 27, 2016 6:45 PM
    Good news, We need to come to a realization, that if we ever gonna win this endless war, we need to plead for help, from both Russia&China, it's otherwise be a waste of time ,money &resources!.
    In Response

    by: Alice from: Canada
    January 28, 2016 2:48 PM
    The Communist Chinese are too smart to get involved in Libya. They will buy the place once there is peace. The Russians are led by a man, Putin who cannot feed his own people three square meals a day yet for no good reason is supporting Syria's Assad with Russian money and blood. Assad has nothing of value to offer Russia. Libya is the last thing on Putin's mind.

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