The US military is closely monitoring efforts by the jihadist organisation calling itself the Islamic State group to train a couple of hundred fighters in eastern Libya, the commander of US forces in Africa said on Wednesday.
The insurgency now stretches across much of northern Iraq and Syria, and has attracted thousands of foreign fighters from around the world, including Europe. Its leadership is flush with financial support from illicit donations and black-market oil sales.
Army General David Rodriguez, head of the US Africa Command, said it was not yet clear how closely aligned the trainees were with the Islamic State (IS) group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, or whether the training camps should be targeted by US forces.
He said he had not recommended action in the chaotic North African country at this point.
“We’re watching it very carefully to see how it develops,” Rodriguez told reporters at the Pentagon. “Right now it’s just small and very nascent and we just have to see how it goes.”
Rodriguez said the trainees appeared to be members of Libyan militias who were “trying to make a name or trying to make a connection.” It was unclear whether they might join IS militants elsewhere once their training was complete, he said.
“It’s mainly about people coming for training and logistics support right now, for training sites, and that’s what we see right now. As far as a huge command and control network, have not seen that yet,” Rodriguez said.
“The numbers are somewhere around a couple hundred … but again we don’t have a specific precise assessment of that right now,” he said.
Libya itself is caught in a conflict between two rival governments, one which is self-declared and was set up in Tripoli after forces from group known as Libya Dawn took over the capital in the summer, and another, internationally recognized government which operates from the eastern city of Tobruk.