Last Monday, the Department of Defense held a press conference in which Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook disclosed to reporters that the United States military – at the request of the officially recognized governing body of Libya, the Government of National Accord (GNA) – has begun a campaign of precision airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the northern city of Sirte.
“GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL thus far around Sirte,” Cook stated at the briefing, “and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte in order to enable to GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance.”
The GNA is the interim government created by the U.N. and installed back in March in an effort to combat the instability, infighting – both political and military – and all-around chaos that have engulfed Libya in the years following the US intervention in 2011.
That intervention resulted in the death of leader Muammar Gaddafi and forced his family to flee to neighboring regions. One son, however, was captured by rebels in the southern desert of Libya. He was subsequently convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by a Tripoli court.
But none of that is news. Gaddafi’s reign is long over and his son was sentenced over a year ago. As for the turmoil within Libya, it continues unabated, but with no major shifts to report on – save for one.
A WEAKENING ISIL IN LIBYA
Two weeks ago, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford – one of the two men who recommended Monday’s airstrikes against ISIL – stated at a press conference he is “encouraged by developments” regarding ISIL in Libya.
He went even further, however:
“I don’t think that there’s any doubt that the Islamic State in Libya is weaker than it was some months ago; there’s no question about it.”
Additionally, he stated that ISIL’s numbers in Sirte – the very city targeted in the recent airstrikes – have been reduced to just a few hundred.
Given this information, some reporters at Monday’s press briefing felt obliged to ask a very simple question: Why now?
“Could you give us a sense of ‘Why now?,’” one journalist asked Press Secretary Cook, further inquiring as to whether there was “something critical about Sirte right now that the airstrikes could be a game changer?”
Cook responded: “I think what’s changed right now is the specific requests we got from the GNA.”
Which doesn’t answer the question.
Cook would give similarly deflective answers to similarly direct questions regarding timing throughout the briefing. Worse, he refused to divulge details about how those requests were being vetted by the US before agreeing to strike.
LEGAL AUTHORIZATION FOR THE STRIKES
The airstrikes were approved by President Obama, Cook said, and came at the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman Dunford.
When asked about the legal authority under which the strikes are being conducted, Cook…