Map of Murzuq Libya
Murzuq Libya

VOA's Sirwan Kajjo contributed to this report.

A U.S. airstrike Thursday in Libya has killed 17 Islamic State fighters, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The statement from AFRICOM confirmed earlier reporting by VOA that a counter-IS strike by U.S. forces had killed more than 10 militants.

It is the third U.S. strike this month against the terror group in the southwestern Libyan town of Murzuq. 

An airstrike Tuesday killed 11 IS militants, and another last week killed eight, according to AFRICOM. 

The strikes were carried out in coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord to deny "safe haven" for terrorists who "seek to harm innocent Libyans," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, AFRICOM's director of intelligence.

The deteriorating security situation in Libya has allowed militants affiliated with IS to expand their presence in ungoverned spaces of the desert in the country's south.

Troops affiliated with the Government of National Accord have been fighting forces led by strongman Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army. The fighting has left hundreds of people dead in Tripoli and in nearby cities and towns. 

In recent months, IS has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks against Libyan civilians and military personnel.  

But as IS has become more emboldened by the current political chaos in Libya, U.S. officials tell VOA they have also made themselves an easier target.

Some reports say that between 500 and 750 IS fighters are currently active in Libya, but experts think the number is higher than what has been reported.

“I would say at least 2,000 (IS) fighters operate throughout Libya,” said Mahmoud Masrati, a Libyan journalist who closely follows militant groups in the conflict-ridden country.

“With the war on (IS) in Syria nearly over, many of the surviving terrorists there have managed to reach Libya. So, their number is growing significantly,” he told VOA.