Special Forces from the United States, France and Algeria have been dispatched to Libya’s south to target terrorist networks, The Times newspaper reported Friday.
The U.K. daily quoted Olivier Guitta, Director of Research at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think-tank, as saying the Special Forces’ objective was al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).
Guitta said Western states were inclined more than ever to intervene in the North African state.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian militant believed to be responsible for killing foreign oil workers in Algeria last year, was of particular interest to Western states, Guitta said.
“The issue of terrorism is huge and for the time-being they are looking at getting the south cleaned up as much as possible from Aqim and finding Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” he said.
“But at the same time if they can get the country to be more stable and less inclined to helping other Islamist militias, then they’ll do it,” he added.
There were reports last year Belmokhtar had been killed in a firefight with troops from Chad but The Time quoted security sources as recently confirming he had left Mali and taken refuge in southern Libya.
A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, based in Germany, which has responsibility for Libya, said there were no American troops in southern Libya, the Times report said.
A spokeswoman at the White House also denied the claim, the paper said. “We are not conducting strikes in southern Libya,” she told the daily.
The paper said some 180 U.S. Marines were on standby to provide extra security for the American Embassy in Tripoli. They were sent to Sigonella in Sicily but have yet to receive orders to fly to Tripoli.
On Tuesday, a U.S. defense official said the United States was deploying an amphibious assault vessel carrying 1,000 marines near the Libya coast in case the U.S. embassy had to be evacuated.
Source: The Times; Reuters