Benghazi / AP
French special forces have been helping Libyan troops fight IS militants in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi for two months, two Libyan military officials said.
The French combat squad, consisting of 15 special forces, carried out four military operations against IS and other militant groups in Benghazi, the officials said. They said that French forces work with Libyan troops to pinpoint IS militant locations, plan operations and carry them out. They had also been training Libyan forces, they added.
According to the officials, the French forces were setting up an operations room in Banina air base in Benghazi alongside British and US teams. They said that in addition to the special forces, a French intelligence unit is working with Britain and the US units to collect information on the location of IS militants and their numbers.
Similar teams are also operating out of an air base in the city of Misrata, located to the east of the IS stronghold of Sirte, the officials said.
The French defense ministry declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on special forces’ activities.
The Libyan officials said the presence of Western forces was not welcomed by ultraconservative factions, who are allied with Libya’s eastern army and perceive the foreign intervention as an “occupation.”
Washington is counting on the UK, France and Italy to join the international coalition against IS extremists gaining ground in Libya. Last week, the US carried out airstrikes against the extremist group’s position in the western city of Sabratha, killing dozens of fighters as well as two Serbian hostages.
The United Nations brokered a deal last year to unite the country’s various factions. A new unity government is awaiting endorsement by the eastern parliament. The unity government could pave the way international military intervention against the IS group.
Also on Wednesday, IS affiliates in Libya briefly took over the security headquarters of the western city of Sabratha, beheading 12 security officers before being driven out early in the morning, two city security officials said.
The incident highlighted the enduring presence and unpredictable striking power of the local IS militants in the city, which serves as a hub for migrants heading to Europe.
Taher Al Gharabili, head of Sabratha Military Council, told The Associated Press that the gunmen “exploited a security vacuum” by deploying in the city center as the military was occupied conducting raids elsewhere.