American forces kill senior al Qaeda leader in Libya

Bill Roggio, Alexandra N. Gutowski
28th March 2018 - FDD's Long War Journal

The US military killed Musa Abu Dawud, a high-ranking al Qaeda leader in Libya, in an airstrike last weekend. The strike took place in the southwestern corner of Libya which borders Algerian, Niger, and Chad.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced today that Dawud and another jihadist were killed in the March 24 airstrike in the southwestern town of Ubari (also known as Awbari).

“Now that operational reporting and the battle damage assessment is fully complete, the command is able to confirm the death of Dawud,” AFRICOM reported.

Dawud was an established jihadist who had been in the fight for at least three decades. The US State Department formally added Dawud its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May 2016, and noted that he “began engaging in terrorist activity as early as 1992.” He rose in the ranks of Algeria’s jihadist movement and became a “senior leader” in the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), which merged with al Qaeda in 2007 and renamed itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

He was “appointed commander of the southern zone for AQIM in 2012,” and was “responsible for multiple terrorist attacks” in Algeria and Tunisia, according to State. Dawud was also “in charge of the training and recruitment of new members for AQIM” according to State and in Feb. 2013 he was “put in charge of a mission in Tunisia tasked with recruiting and training new members from across North Africa on the use of weapons.”

Dawud’s role “provided critical logistics support, funding and weapons to AQIM, enabling the terrorist group to threaten and attack US and Western interests in the region,” as per AFRICOM.

US strikes against jihadists in Libya

The strike that killed Dawud is the second of its kind conducted in Libya in 2018, according to USAF Major Karl Wiest of AFIRCOM Media Relations. The date and location of the second strike, which was conducted against the Islamic State, is unknown. Last year, the United States targeted the Islamic State in Libya 12 times, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

The United States conducted a record 497 strikes in Libya in 2016, nearly all of which supported a Libyan operation to dislodge the Islamic State from the coastal city of Sirte. Since the end of that operation, strikes have moved steadily southward. In Nov. 2017, the US forces conducted two separate strikes in Fuqaha, approximately 500 km south of Sirte.

The strike against Dawud is the southernmost strike in Libya so far.

“The United States will not relent in its mission to degrade, disrupt, and destroy terrorist organizations and bring stability to the region. We are committed to maintaining pressure on the terror network and preventing terrorists from establishing safe haven,” added Major Wiest.

While nearly all of the strikes in Libya have targeted the Islamic State, the US has launched at least one other against al Qaeda. In June 2015, US warplanes targeted a meeting that was held by Ansar al Sharia Libya, an al Qaeda front group. While press reports claimed that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran jihadist and top leader in AQIM, was killed, AQIM and its Al Murabitoon affiliate (which is led by Belmokhtar), denied the reports. Ansar al Sharia announced that several of its members were killed.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Follow him on Twitter @billroggio.

Alexandra Gutowski is a Senior Military Affairs Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @angutowski

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Tags

al-qaeda, al-qaeda-in-the-islamic-maghreb, high-value-target, hvt, isis-in-libya, islamic-state, libya