- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2016

U.S. forces are reportedly on the ground in Libya, conducting patrols and advising local militias fighting to oust Islamic State fighters from the country.

Local forces claim the small American military team is working closely with Libyan militia leaders near the northeastern coastal city of Misrata, roughly 130 miles west of the country’s capital of Tripoli.

“There are some U.S. troops on the ground here, near the front line,” a Libyan militiaman based in Misrata told independent news outlet Middle East Eye. “Everyone here has seen them, but they are not fighting, they are just observing and doing patrols.”

The U.S. military team has been close coordination with senior militia commanders in Misrata as those fighters and other moderate groups are fighting to push the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from its base in Sirte.

The reports of American troops conducting operations in Libya come as senior U.S. and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the country and elsewhere across the Mideast.

Islamic State’s ongoing efforts to gain a foothold in Libya is forcing Washington to consider a bigger deployment there, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said earlier this month.

The terror group’s ongoing exploitation of the power vaccum in Libya caused by infighting among the country’s numerous militias after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 have created “the circumstances that … now have caused us to act,” Mr. Carter told reporters during a May 3 visit to U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

An updated United Nations report in March put the number of Islamic State fighters in Libya at nearly 6,000, Reuters reported.

For the first time in February, the Italian government gave the Pentagon the green light to begin armed drone strikes against Islamic State targets in Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa from U.S. and NATO bases in southern Italy. A U.S. airstrike in the eastern city of Derna in November reportedly killed Abu Nabil, the group’s top commander in Libya.

“If there is a threat against the homeland or U.S. personnel, we’re going to act, and … we’ve passed the threshold for that,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said during the May 3 visit.

U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. David Rodriguez has met with members of Libya’s Government of National Accord, the country’s governing body officially recognized by the U.S. and United Nations, Gen. Dunford said.

“They want assistance … [and] you know that a number of countries, including the United States … are prepared to do that,” the four-star general added.

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