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U.S. Stealth Bombers Strike ISIS Training Camps In Libya

The Pentagon says many of the ISIS fighters targeted in Wednesday's strike escaped from the former ISIS stronghold of Sirte, shown here during fighting in September.
Manu Brabo

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

U.S. B-2 stealth bombers struck two ISIS training camps in the Libyan desert Wednesday night, the Pentagon said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the camps housed ISIS fighters, many of whom had escaped the group's former stronghold in Sirte, on Libya's central coast. He added that officials are still working to assess the impact of the strikes, but they believe more than 80 ISIS fighters were killed.

"Importantly, these strikes were directed against some of ISIL's external plotters, who were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe," Carter told reporters Thursday. He added that the targets "may also have been connected with some attacks that have already occurred in Europe."

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the precision strikes 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte were part of a mission that lasted more than 30 hours. As NPR's Philip Ewing reports, the Pentagon picked stealth bombers that took off from Missouri "as opposed to American units already in Europe — because they had so many targets to hit, and wanted to strike them all at once."

The mission was requested by Libya's Government of National Accord, Cook added. The GNA is recognized by the United Nations and is one of several rival governments hoping to rule Libya.

Cook played surveillance video of individuals that he described as ISIS members moving rocket-propelled grenades and shells in the targeted area.

"This certainly dealt a significant blow to ISIL's presence in Libya," Cook said. "Was it a death knell for them in Libya? We'll have to wait and see."

Libya slid into chaos since the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The disarray has allowed militant groups such as ISIS to gain a foothold in the country. The U.S. military started attacking ISIS targets in Sirte last August at the request of the U.N.-backed government, as The Two-Way reported.

The U.S. launched 495 precision airstrikes during the nearly five-month operation, dubbed Odyssey Lighting, according to the U.S. African Command. Cook referred to this mission as an extension of that operation.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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