The US Army launched this weekend a drone strike targeting jihadists in southern Libya. According to the US military’s Africa Command, the attack killed two militants belonging to Al Qaeda’s branch in northwestern Africa wherein mix of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups operate. These terror groups are also active in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, Mali and Algeria.
A missile fired by the American drone struck a house in Ubari, 435 miles south of Tripoli, in an area close to major oil fields that was wracked by violent ethnic feuding in 2015.
Ubari is at the intersection of the powerful criminal and jihadist currents that have washed across Libya in recent years. Situated between Libya’s borders with Niger, Chad and Algeria, the area’s seminomadic tribesmen are heavily involved in the smuggling of weapons, drugs and illegal migrants through the lawless deserts of southern Libya.
Some have allied with Islamist militias, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates across Algeria, Mali, Niger and Libya.
The area erupted into conflict in 2014 when a century-old peace treaty between the Tuareg and Tebu ethnic groups collapsed over a dispute about control of the fuel smuggling trade.
The US military’s Africa Command said the strike had targeted militants with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate also known as AQIM, and had been carried out in coordination with the United Nations-backed unity government in Tripoli. “At this time, we assess no civilians were killed in this strike,” the statement said.
The strike came as the Trump administration has been reassessing the American military commitment in North and West Africa after the ambush in Niger last fall that killed four American soldiers.
The Pentagon has been preparing to fly armed drone missions from Niger’s capital, Niamey, a step that diplomats and analysts say could further widen the Pentagon’s shadow war in this part of the continent.