PENTAGON - The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya, the Pentagon said Monday.
The strikes were conducted in the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte at the request of the U.N.-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), according to U.S. and Libyan officials.
The Pentagon says the president authorized the strikes in support of GNA-affiliated forces after they were recommended by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday one strike hit an IS tank that had directly challenged GNA-aligned forces and indiscriminately targeted civilians in the area. Another strike hit two IS vehicles.
Goal to deny IS safe haven
U.S. strikes will continue to target Islamic State forces in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to “make a decisive, strategic advance” and to help deny IS a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the U.S. and its allies, the Pentagon announced in a statement Monday.
"We want to strike at ISIL anywhere it rears its head," Cook said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
WATCH: Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook on US airstrikes
The militant group has been trying to expand in Sirte for more than a year. U.S. Africa Command's Deputy for Military Operations, Vice Admiral Michael Franken, told VOA in an interview at Africom headquarters in Stuttgart last December that “if Raqqa [Syria] is the nucleus, the nearest thing to the divided nucleus is probably Sirte.“
Fighter numbers reduced
Pentagon press secretary Cook praised the progress made by the GNA-affiliated forces in Sirte, saying that IS fighter numbers have been reduced from thousands in the city to less than 1,000.
"We hope these airstrikes can be conducted over a short amount of time and that their forces forces will be able to move even faster in terms of removing ISIL from that area," Cook said.
Monday's strikes mark the third American attack on IS in Libya since November, but the previous two had targeted high-value IS targets and were not requested by the GNA.
In February, U.S. warplanes attacked an IS training camp in western Libya that was near the border with Tunisia, killing dozens of terrorist recruits. Defense officials in Washington said the airstrike most likely killed senior Islamic State figure Noureddine Chouchane.
A U.S. airstrike last November in the city of Derna killed Abul Nabil, the head of the Islamic State militant group in Libya, according to the Pentagon.