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A U.S. airstrike targeting a major Islamic State (IS) operative, Noureddine Chouchane, may have killed upwards of 40 IS trainees in Sabratha, Libya. It is currently unconfirmed if Chouchane was among the dead.

Chouchane was a Tunisian operative of IS working out of Libya. A Western official claim reconnaissance of Chouchane’s location suggested he was involved in training recruits for what appeared to be an attack on a foreign target. The airstrike targeted a barn that is believed to have been used as the trainees’ barracks.

Aside from training foreign recruits, Chouchane was believed to have helped organize two major attacks in his home country, Tunisia. The first attack last March on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis killed 20 to 22 people. The second attack, last June, targeted a Beach Resort in Sousse killed 39.

IS has begun to establish a highly effective branch in Libya amid infighting between the Libyan Dawn, factions which seized control of the capital of Tripoli and claims political authority and the internationally recognized government in Tobruk. IS has proven to be a thorn in the side of both, as they have launched attacks on Tripoli as well as government oil terminals.

IS has established a stronghold in the towns of Sirte and Sabratha. They have held territory in the towns of Derna, Benghazi, and Ajdabiya.

The growing threat of IS has not gone unnoticed, with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates  launched successful airstrikes against IS positions in February 2015. The strikes were later criticized for the high collateral damage against Libyan civilians.

While Egypt and the U.A.E. targeted fighting positions, the U.S. has predominately targeted key terrorist leaders in Libya, both Al Qaeda, and Islamic State. Last November, U.S. launched an airstrike killing the IS leader in Libya, Abu Nabil.

The U.S. has been considering increased military action for some time. The Guardian reported on photos of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Libya who were reportedly on the ground to make contact with Libyan militias in order to determine whom to work with against IS within the divided country.

The two governments in Libya are currently engaged in talks that would unite the government. The self-proclaimed government in Tripoli ousted the legitimate government in August 2014 after losing the democratic elections. The UN has been brokering a unity agreement that would reunite these two governments, but it may be a dangerous move.

Two of the current leading parties in Tripoli, Justice and Construction Party and the Loyalty to Martyrs Bloc, are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. This becomes dangerous when there is rumors of a potential cooperation council between the Muslim Brotherhood, IS, and Al Qaeda within Libya. Also, Libya Dawn, the government in Tripoli’s military arm, is allied with Ansar Al-Sharia, AQ’s Libya branch.

The U.S., Egypt, Turkey, Germany, Russia, and China along with 16 other countries have signed an agreement to cut off aid to militias who do not support the deal.  The U.S. and Egypt do not want to pledge significant military support against IS until the government unites, yet IS may be gaining a position in the government if the mega-merger takes hold.

IS has been able to extend its reach all through North Africa. It is believed they have recruited upwards of 7,000 Tunisians to the fight in Syria, and these recruits are more than willing to come back home to fight. The vast numbers that IS can pull from has made targeted killings less effective.

Libya serves as a major hub for recruit training and transport of fighters throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Allowing any terrorist organization to maintain their stronghold would pose significant threats to neighboring countries, Europe, and the Middle East.

While the death of Chouchane may serve as a major morale boost for Libya and foreign governments fighting IS, it is unlikely to have any major impact on IS operations.

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