US denies airstrike near Ubari, contradicting GNA
TUNIS - The US military denied taking part in a raid on an al-Qaeda camp south of the southwestern Libyan town of Ubari, contradicting a statement by the spokesman of the Tripoli-based government.
The spokesperson for Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Presidency Council of its Government of National Accord, said in a statement late Wednesday that a site with a number of al-Qaeda members outside Ubari was "raided" by joint US-Libyan forces.
"This joint work between the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord and the US Government coincided with the meeting of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala at the Global Coalition To Defeat Islamic State meeting last week," spokesperson Mohamed El Sallak said in the statement.
However, US Africa Command (Africom), which is responsible for American military involvement across the continent, said that although the United States supported what it describes as counterterrorism efforts of the UN-recognised Libyan government, US forces were not involved in the raid.
"US Africa Command was not involved in the reported raid of an al-Qaeda site in Ubari, Libya, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019," it said in a statement. "US Africa Command has not conducted any air strikes in Libya in 2019."
On February 13, four fighters said to be members of al-Qaeda encamped south of Ubari were killed in an air raid. Two were said to be Algerian, one Malian and one Libyan.
The group had reportedly been based in Ubari but fled when the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) arrived in the town the previous week. Once the LNA arrived, it began searching house-to-house for suspected terrorists.
The attack, according to some unconfirmed reports, was carried out by French fighter jets.
France, though officially denying any military intervention in Libya, has aggressively sought to halt the flow of terrorists and weapons from southern Libya into Niger and Chad, and further afield to Mali. It has forged an effective alliance with the LNA, led by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
There have been numerous reports of French bombing raids over the past three years. In September, France was reported to have launched three strikes in the Ubari area.
The US, as well, has carried out strikes targeting al-Qaeda and ISIS operatives in Libya.
Last March, a US airstrike in Ubari killed numerous al-Qaida militants, including a top recruiter, Africom said at the time.
Three months later, the US confirmed it had killed ISIS-affiliated targets in the northern town of Bani Walid.
Islamic extremists filled a power vacuum in much of the Libya after the country fell into civil strife following the 2011 uprising that ousted former dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Michel Cousins is the editor-in-chief of the Libya Herald.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.