A new weapon has been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State in Libya: the AH-1W SuperCobra, the Marines' twin-engine attack helicopter.
SuperCobra gunships attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit began supporting precision airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Sirte, Libya, within the past few days, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, Charles Prichard, told Military.com. The news was first reported by Military Times.
The attack helicopters, attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (Reinforced) aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, have joined efforts with Marine AV-8B Harriers to prosecute the airstrikes, which began Aug. 1 at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord, a U.S. effort known as Operation Odyssey Lightning.
"We have a range of capabilities at various locations in the region that will allow us to carry out these airstrikes," Prichard said in an email to Military.com. "The AH-1 Cobras provide precision airstrike capability and close air support to better enable [Libyan government] ground objectives."
Prichard said he could not go into further detail about why the attack choppers had been called in to support this particular mission for operational security reasons.
Since the first of the month, U.S. forces have completed 77 airstrikes in support of the Libyan government's fight against Islamic State militants, Prichard said. Both manned and unmanned assets, including Marine Harriers and Cobras, have been used in the strikes.
On Monday alone, three airstrikes wiped out a supply truck and 10 enemy fighting positions belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as Daesh, according to an AFRICOM news release published today.
"The U.S. stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya," AFRICOM officials said in the statement. "These actions, and those we have taken previously, will help deny Daesh a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and our allies."
Libyan ground forces in recent weeks have made advances in reclaiming the Islamic State-held city of Sirte following a three-month offensive that began in May. Air strikes maintained intensity as Libyan forces gain ground; since Aug. 14, U.S. forces have carried out 29 strikes, more than three per day.
The new air offensive over Libya and the addition of Cobras to the fight all come less than a month after the arrival of Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser as the new commander of AFRICOM and may signal a more aggressive approach for the command under his leadership.
The 22nd MEU deployed aboard the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group in late June -- the first extended deployment since 2004 for the Wasp, which at 27 is the oldest ship in her class.