An American military strike in Libya over the weekend that killed a high-ranking al-Qaeda member marked a notable expansion in the U.S. campaign there.
While previous airstrikes inside Libya have targeted ISIS, the latest strike was the first to go after the al-Qaeda affiliate called al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.
Saturday’s strike near Ubari in the country’s southwest, killed two al-Qaeda terrorists, including Musa Abu Dawud, a high-ranking AQIM official who trained recruits inside Libya for attack operations in the region, U.S. Africa Command confirmed in a statement on Wednesday.
“[Dawud] provided critical logistics support, funding and weapons to AQIM, enabling the terrorist group to threaten and attack U.S. and Western interests in the region,” AFRICOM said.
The U.S. assessed no civilians to be have been killed in the strike, which was done in coordination with the U.S.-backed Libyan Government of National Accord.
The strike was only the second conducted by the U.S. military in Libya this year. In 2017, seven airstrikes were conducted — all against ISIS targets, AFRICOM told ABC News.
“We’re not going to discuss any future operations,” AFRICOM said in an email. “That said, we have repeatedly stated that the U.S. will take all appropriate and effective measures to protect the United States, defend its partners and interests, and deny safe haven to terrorist groups.”
AQIM, which operates in the greater African Maghreb and Sahel regions, took advantage of the security vacuum left in Libya after the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
U.S. intelligence found individuals affiliated with the group planned the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in 2012.
This past year, the group conducted major attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso.
“Al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have taken advantage of under-governed spaces in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring, and directing terror attacks; recruiting and facilitating the movement of foreign terrorist fighters, and raising and moving funds to support their operations,” AFRICOM said in a statement.
“Left unaddressed, these organizations could continue to inflict casualties on the civilian populations and security forces, and plot attacks against U.S. citizens and allied interests in the region,” it continued.