Paris: Decisive military action is needed to halt the spread of Islamic State in Libya, the top U.S. military officer said on Friday, warning the group wanted to use the country as a platform to coordinate activity across Africa.
General Joseph Dunford said he believed the U.S. military leadership owed President Barack Obama and the U.S. defence secretary ideas about the “way ahead” for dealing with the militant group`s expansion in Libya.
He described it as an “immediate imperative”.
“Unchecked, I am concerned about the spread of ISIL in Libya,” Dunford, using an acronym for Islamic State, told a small group of reporters travelling with him in Paris.
“You want to take decisive military action to check ISIL’s expansion and at the same time you want to do it in such a way that`s supportive of a long-term political process.”
Islamic State militants have exploited a prolonged power vacuum in Libya, nearly five years after the overthrow of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, and have managed to establish a foothold in the city of Sirte.
Islamic State militants set fire on Thursday to oil storage tanks in a fresh assault on Ras Lanuf terminal in northern Libya.
The United States says it killed Islamic State`s senior leader in Libya, known as Abu Nabil, in a November air strike by F-15 aircraft.
It believes he was operating in Libya with the support of Islamic State`s core leadership in Iraq and Syria, in a likely sign of the country`s strategic importance to the group.
“So as I look at Libya, I look at Libya as an ISIL platform from which they can conduct malign activity across Africa,” Dunford said.
The chairman of the U.S. military`s Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to say what measures he was considering but stressed that it would need to be “more than we`re seeing now”.
“My perspective is we need to do more,” Dunford said, saying he would examine a range of factors, including the ability to identify the right forces on the ground to support.
Western powers hope a new government announced on Tuesday will deliver stability to Libya, deeply fractured since Gaddafi`s fall in 2011, and tackle the growing threat from Islamic State militants. Still, divisions over the U.N.-backed plan for a political transition remain.
“Anything we do has got to be supportive of a political end state,” Dunford said.