CAIRO: US forces said on Wednesday they killed 11 suspected militants in their second airstrike in a week near the southern Libyan town of Murzuq, as the UN envoy warned of a growing risk of armed escalation and rights abuses in the country.
The strike comes as rival factions have been locked in a battle around the capital Tripoli, about 800 km to the north, which forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to capture since April.
The US attack, carried out on Tuesday deep in Libya’s southern desert, followed a Sept. 19 strike that the US said had killed eight suspected militants.
This airstrike was conducted to eliminate Daesh terrorists and “deny them the ability to conduct attacks on the Libyan people,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, director of operations for US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, said in a statement.
AFRICOM said the Murziq area was also targeted in Thursday’s airstrike, which killed eight Daesh militants. Some Daesh militants retreated south into Libya’s desert as the group lost its stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte at the end of 2016.
The US, which has carried out occasional strikes in desert areas, has said it will not allow militants to use the fighting around Tripoli for cover.
The offensive on Tripoli by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) upended UN-led plans to broker a political settlement in Libya and soon stalled in the capital’s outskirts.
The conflict has spread outside Tripoli, with air and drone strikes against the port city of Misrata, Sirte, and Jufra in central Libya, UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday. It had also triggered a “micro-conflict” in Murzuq, where more than 100 civilians are reported to have been killed over the past two months, he said.
“The conflict risks escalating to full-blown civil war,” Salame said by video link. “It is fanned by widespread violations of the UN arms embargo by all parties and external actors.”
“Serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been committed with total impunity, including increased summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment as well as conflict-related sexual violence.”
Libya has been divided between rival factions based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, three years after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Qaddafi’s four-decade rule.
Haftar’s LNA is battling forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA), which was set up in 2016 following a UN-brokered deal.
At least 128,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since April, according to UN estimates.