PENTAGON - A high-ranking al-Qaida official was one of two terrorists killed in a joint U.S.-Libyan airstrike Saturday in southwestern Libya.
U.S officials had previously acknowledged the strike, near the town of Ubari, but had said only that two terrorists were killed.
U.S. Africa Command confirmed Wednesday that the strike, the first of its kind to target al-Qaida in Libya, killed Musa Abu Dawud, who trained members of the Libyan branch of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
AFRICOM also said Dawud provided AQIM with weapons and logistical and financial support, enabling the group to “threaten and attack U.S. and Western interests in the region.”
An al-Qaida-aligned jihadist also confirmed Wednesday the death of Dawud in a U.S. strike, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threat alerts.
In May 2016, the United States named Dawud a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, a designation reserved for those who have committed, or are at risk of committing, terrorist acts against the U.S.
Previous U.S. airstrikes in Libya have focused on the Islamic State terror group, which at its peak numbered in the low thousands.
Still, U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long warned that despite its rapid rise, IS was always a smaller player in Libya, dwarfed by terror groups like AQIM, which have older ties to the region.
“Al-Qaida has taken advantage of areas in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring and directing terror attacks,” a U.S. defense official said Wednesday.
Former AQIM operatives from Libya, acting under the banner of Al-Mourabitoun, were previously tied to the 2013 attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria that left 67 people dead.
Defense officials also blame al-Qaida for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans.