US forces say they have killed eleven suspected militants in their second air strike in a week near the southern Libyan town of Murzuq.
Tuesday’s strike, which the military confirmed on Wednesday, comes as rival Libyan factions have been locked in a battle around the capital Tripoli, some 800 kilometres to the north. Forces loyal to eastern-based warlord, Khalifa Haftar, have been trying to capture the area since April.
The US attack, which happened deep in Libya’s southern desert, followed a September 19 strike that Washington said had killed eight suspected militants.
“This air strike was conducted to eliminate ISIS (Islamic State) terrorists and deny them the ability to conduct attacks on the Libyan people,” Reuters reported General William Gayler of US Africa Command as saying.
Some Islamic State militants retreated south into Libya’s desert as the group lost its stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte at the end of 2016.
The US, which has carried out occasional strikes in desert areas, has said it will not allow militants to use the fighting around Tripoli for cover.
The offensive on Tripoli by General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) upended UN-led plans to broker a political settlement in Libya.
UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that the conflict has spread outside Tripoli, with air and drone strikes against the port city of Misrata, Sirte, and Jufra in the centre of the country.
It had also triggered a “micro-conflict” in Murzuq, where more than 100 civilians were reported to have been killed over the past two months, he said.
Libya has been in turmoil since the US-backed military campaign that led to the overthrow and death of long-time ruler, Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The UN-backed authorities in Tripoli, who claim to be the only government of the Libyan people, control little else outside the capital, and have often been under threat from General Haftar’s forces.