WASHINGTON, February 19, 2016 —
The U.S. military’s airstrike on an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant training camp early today near rural Sabratha, Libya -- a strike that also targeted a senior ISIL facilitator -- was conducted after surveillance showed both were threats to U.S. national security, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a news conference today.
Following up on a written statement he had issued this morning, Cook told reporters the airstrike was a success in targeting the camp and high-value operative Noureddine Chouchane, also known as "Sabir," a Tunisian national.
Chouchane was a suspect in the deadly March attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Cook said, and he reportedly moved potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and other countries. He was associated with the Sabratha camp in particular, Cook added.
The press secretary emphasized that officials determined removing Chouchane as an ISIL leader “would make a difference to the organization of ISIL in Libya.”
Defense Secretary Recommended Strike
President Barack Obama authorized the manned and unmanned aircraft strike based on Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recommendation after the camp was monitored for weeks and showed training was underway with as many as 60 leaders and trainees at a time, Cook said.
The airstrike was consistent with domestic and international law, and Libyan government officials were advised of the attack ahead of time, he noted.
“We took this action against Sabir and the training camp after determining that both he and ISIL fighters were planning external attacks on U.S. and other Western interests in the region,” the press secretary said.
“At this point, we feel good that both were taken out in this strike,” he said, adding that while the number of deaths is yet to be determined, a significant number of ISIL fighters were there at the time.
‘Ill Intent’ Detected
“We watched this fairly new facility [during] a few weeks, and we were able to strike before it became an even more significant threat,” he said, explaining that Sabir and the camp had shown “ill intent” toward the United States.
The airstrike is evidence the United States is doing everything possible to make sure ISIL does not have the ability to strike the U.S. homeland, Cook told reporters.
As the U.S.-led coalition continues to work with local ground troops to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria, officials want to make sure ISIL does not gain safe havens anywhere, the press secretary said.
Strike Shows Counter-ISIL Commitment
“This action is a clear demonstration of the secretary’s continued commitment to go after ISIL’s metastases wherever they emerge,” Cook said, adding that the strike was fully consistent with the broader U.S. campaign plan to counter ISIL and prevent new safe havens.
The United States will continue working with its coalition partners in the overall counter-ISIL campaign, he said, and he thanked coalition nations. “We appreciate their support and the continued contributions from all of our coalition partners to destroy ISIL,” he said.
“We believe there are other [ISIL] training camps in Libya similar to this [one], and we’ll continue to monitor them carefully,” Cook said. “When we see opportunities or the need to take this kind of action, we will be prepared to do so, because we want to prevent ISIL from getting a foothold in Libya, or a foothold anywhere else.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)