Pentagon has presented 44 with the most detailed set of military options yet for attacking the growing Islamic State threat in Libya, including a range of potential airstrikes against training camps, command centers, munitions depots and other militant targets.
Airstrikes against as many as 30 to 40 targets in four areas of the country would aim to deal a crippling blow to the Islamic State’s most dangerous affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria, and open the way for Western-backed Libyan militias to battle Islamic State fighters on the ground. Allied bombers would carry out additional airstrikes to support the militias on the ground. The military option was described by five American officials who have been briefed on the plans and spoke about them on the condition of anonymity because of their confidential nature.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined this option to 44’s top national security advisers at a so-called principals meeting on Feb. 22. But the plan is not being actively considered, at least for now, while the administration presses ahead with a diplomatic initiative to form a unity government from rival factions inside Libya, administration officials said.
Even so, the United States military is poised to carry out limited airstrikes if ordered against terrorists in Libya who threatened Americans or American interests, just as it did against an Islamic State training camp in western Libya last month.
But the broader scale of the airstrikes option prepared by the Pentagon’s Africa Command and the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command illuminated differences in perspectives and short-term goals within the administration. The scope of the military plan surprised some senior administration officials, and it drew warnings from some State Department officials that such airstrikes, if not coordinated properly, could jeopardize the United Nations-led effort to forge a unity government from Libya’s fractious political actors.
The detailed military planning does expand the choices available to 44 in the coming months as he and his advisers, along with allies like Britain, France and Italy, try to manage a tricky balancing act: nurture a fragile political process to form a unity government in Libya but not wait so long that the Islamic State grows too big for defeat by a limited — and politically acceptable — military action.