The Pentagon's Quiet Drone War In Libya

Bullet Points

Amid gradually escalating U.S. military involvement in countries like Yemen and Somalia, a new analysis suggests that the Department of Defense has conducted 550 drone strikes in Libya since 2011, a wave of airstrikes that eclipses those conducted in Yemen, Somalia, and even Pakistan.


  • The analysis — conducted by The Intercept and the Italian-language newspaper la Repubblica using a combination of open-source military data and expert interviews — observes that U.S. aircraft have been heavily in the fight against ISIS fighters in Libya. The Air Force even bragged that from August to December 2016, U.S."remotely-piloted aircraft" conducted "a significant percentage" of the 495 strikes (roughly 300, the report says) against targets in near Sirte, Libya, as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning — an op that earned personnel eligibility for a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.
  • According to data collected by the non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, those approximately 300 RPA missions are far more than the 42 confirmed strikes conducted in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan — roughly seven times the number of drone strikes in just one country and a third the time.
  • It's worth noting that while this uptick in Libya airstrikes was conducted toward the end of the Obama administration, it has likely continued under Trump. While Intercept/la Repubblica analysis found the Trump administration likely only carried out some 18 airstrikes since "last fall," U.S. Africa Command failed to publically acknowledge at least half of them in line with "new Trump administration policies limiting disclosures of attacks [that] have made already opaque operations even more secretive and difficult to track."

One little historical note in the Intercept/la Repubblica story that I found fascinating: While I knew that Libya has enjoyed its fair share of U.S. military interventions in recent years, I did not know that the first modern air strike was actually conducted in Libya back in 1911. From BBC News:

During fighting in November 1911 between Italy and forces loyal to the Turkish, Ottoman Empire, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti wrote in a letter to his father: "Today I have decided to try to throw bombs from the airplane.

"It is the first time that we will try this and if I succeed, I will be really pleased to be the first person to do it."

And soon afterward Lieutenant Gavotti did indeed hang out of his flimsy aircraft and fling a bomb at troops in a desert oasis below.

Forget Rome: All roads lead to Libya, apparently.

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