The Pentagon’s war in Libya appears to be escalating with a surge in reported strikes. And the U.S. Marine Corps — which has played an outsized role in the war — may no longer be alone in attacking the Islamic State faction in and around the eastern city of Sirte.
On Oct. 2, U.S. forces conducted 20 different missions and blew up more than six dozen individual targets, according to an official press release from the Pentagon’s main command for operations in Africa. By that point, American pilots had conducted more than 200 air strikes since the campaign began on Aug. 1.
Marine aviators based aboard Wasp have blasted the Islamic State in Libya since the beginning of the mission, dubbed Odyssey Lightning. Though the Air Force’s drones were involved in the strikes early on, the Pentagon’s released information almost solely concerns the leathernecks’ operations.
However, it is highly unlikely that the Marines could have flown all of the Oct. 2 missions by themselves.
Publicly available photographs from Odyssey Lightning show AV-8B Harrier jump jets carrying only two bombs on each sortie. Pictures similarly show AH-1W Cobra gunship helicopters heading toward the Sirte area armed with only two missiles.A typical Marine Expeditionary Unit, such as the one aboard Wasp, has six AV-8s and four AH-1s. Assuming each carried two weapons at a time and the crews only needed one bomb or missile to destroy each target, these jets and choppers would have each needed to fly nearly four individual missions on Oct. 2.
And on Oct. 3, American pilots hit more than two dozen new targets. Again, the Marines would have had to put each of their aircraft in the air at least once to meet that demand.
As of Sept. 15, the destroyer USS Carney escorting Wasp had not contributed directly to the strikes, according to an email from the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office. It is more likely that Air Force fighter-bombers and drones, flying from bases in Europe, helped out on at least some of these missions.Flying from the United Kingdom, the flying branch’s F-15E Strike Eagles make regular trips to Africa and the Middle East. The Pentagon declined to confirm or deny whether F-15s participated in the recent Libya strikes.Back in Libya, the Pentagon has adopted a similarly obtuse method of grouping strikes regardless of the total number of targets American aviators attack.This means the official tally of strikes for two separate days might be the same even if the attacks on one day destroyed exponentially more Islamic State vehicles, facilities or nebulous “fighting positions.”
And upon closer inspection of the reports, it seems clear that Washington is stepping up air strikes in Libya and committing more American troops to the mission.