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US air strikes target Islamic State in Libya

Libya’s UN-backed government requested US air strikes against Islamic State in its former coastal stronghold of Sirte, and the first strikes were carried out on Monday, Prime Minster Fayez Seraj said.

“The first air strikes were carried out at specific locations in Sirte today causing severe losses to enemy ranks,” he said in a statement broadcast on state TV.

Forces aligned with the UN-backed government have been battling Islamic State in Sirte since May. The militant group took complete control of the city last year, turning it into its most important base outside Syria and Iraq, but is now besieged in the city centre.

The US has acknowledged several air strikes in Libya before, the last one targeting an Islamic State training camp in the western city of Sabratha in February.

In his statement Seraj said the government’s leadership, or Presidential Council, had decided to “activate” its participation in the international coalition against Islamic State.

“The Presidential Council as the Supreme Commander of the army has decided to request the United States to carry out targeted air strikes on Daesh (Islamic State),” Seraj said.

“I want to assure you that these operations are limited to a specific timetable and do not exceed Sirte and its suburbs.”

Seraj said international support on the ground would be limited to technical and logistical help.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement that the strikes had been approved by President Barack Obama.

“GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte, and additional US strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance,” Cook said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

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