U.S. Air Force B-2 bombers attacked a pair of Islamic State military camps in Libya, killing more than 80 fighters.
The militants targeted in the airstrikes included Islamic State members "actively planning operations against our allies in Europe," Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday. He would not say more about the nature of the threat.
"These were critically important strikes for our campaign and a clear example of our enduring commitment to destroy ISIL's cancer not only in Iraq and Syria but everywhere it emerges," Carter said on his last full day as secretary of defense. ISIL and ISIS are acronyms used to refer to the Islamic State group.
Among the questions facing the administration of President-elect Donald Trump is how to counter the Islamic State in places like Libya, where extremists have vast swaths of ungoverned territory to hide, train and prepare attacks.
The Pentagon's Africa Command announced Dec. 19 the official end of air operations against the Islamic State in Sirte, the group's coastal stronghold, after conducting 495 strikes against truck bombs, heavy guns, tanks and command bunkers there.
Carter defended efforts by President Barack Obama's administration to extinguish the Islamic State threat, while acknowledging that it has spread from Iraq and Syria to North Africa, Afghanistan, Europe and parts of Asia. He said extremists will remain a concern in Libya as long as that country is embroiled in a civil war.
The Islamic State, he said, "has little nests, sometimes of people who rebranded themselves, who were there already and received inspiration and sometimes support."
The B-2 bombers flew more than 30 hours round trip from Missouri and dropped about 100 munitions of a type known as a Joint Direct Attack Munition, which is equipped with GPS guidance control to help it find its target with precision. Each B-2 is capable of carrying up to 80 of the munitions.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said it was the first time the B-2s were used in combat since the 2011 air campaign that forced Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power and led to his killing.
The U.S. military has other aircraft based much closer to Libya than Missouri, but the Pentagon chose the B-2s for their ability to drop many bombs in a short time span and loiter overhead for a long time, said Col. Patrick Ryder, an Air Force spokesman.
Air Force MQ-9 drones known as Reapers also participated in the attack, dropping Hellfire air-to-surface missiles at the same sets of targets, officials said.
The Pentagon showed reporters a video clip from aerial surveillance of one of the camps before the attacks. A number of men could be seen carrying weaponry from the back of a partially camouflaged vehicle. Weapons at the camp included rocket-propelled grenades and unspecified shells, Cook said.
The camps were about 28 miles southwest of of Sirte, Cook added. He and Carter said the mission was undertaken in cooperation with Libya's government of national accord, which has been unable to assert control over the whole country.
Cook said some of the militants had fled to the desert camps from Sirte to "reorganize."
"They posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests," he told reporters.
The initial assessment is the strikes were successful, he said, adding that the U.S. was prepared to further support Libyan efforts to defeat the Islamic State.
The country remains divided between east and west, with no effective government and a multitude of rival factions and militias.
Information for this article was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post and by Eric Schmitt of The New York Times.
A Section on 01/20/2017