By Aidan Lewis and Ayman al-Warfalli
TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – U.S. forces said they had killed “two terrorists” in an air strike in southwestern Libya on Saturday as part of efforts to deny militants a safe haven in the country’s vast desert.
The strike hit on the outskirts of the city of Ubari and was carried out in coordination with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, the U.S. Africa Command said in a statement.
“At this time, we assess no civilians were killed in this strike,” the statement said.
A witness in Ubari told Reuters by telephone that a large explosion had been heard around midday.
A house in the Fursan neighborhood was hit and two bodies were found there, he said. Residents from the neighborhood said the house was frequented by foreigners, according to the witness, who did not want to be identified for security reasons.
Pictures in local media showed a body on the ground with several limbs and its head missing, and a car with its windows blown out and dozens of holes in one side.
U.S. forces have carried out occasional air strikes targeting militants in Libya over the past few years.
They also launched an air campaign against Islamic State in the group’s former Libyan stronghold of Sirte in 2016, as local forces battled to oust jihadists from the city.
Last year, the United States said it had killed dozens of suspects in air strikes in desert areas south of Sirte as it tried to stop militants regrouping.
Saturday was the first time it had acknowledged a strike as far south as Ubari, which lies about 700 km (435 miles) south of Tripoli, on the road to Libya’s border with Algeria.
Libyan and Western officials have long warned about the risk of militants linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda using southern Libya as a base.
“We are committed to maintaining pressure on the terror network and preventing terrorists from establishing safe haven,” the U.S. Africa Command statement said.
It gave no information about the identity of those targeted.
Libya slid into conflict after a 2011 Nato-backed uprising and has had rival governments based in Tripoli and the east for the past four years.
Competing factions have fought for influence in the country’s south, where the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is aligned with the eastern-based government, recently stepped up military activity.
Communal violence has also flared in recent weeks in Sabha, about 170 km northeast of Ubari, displacing hundreds of families.
On Saturday, LNA jets carried out strikes targeting Chadian mercenary forces southeast of Sabha, air force commander Mohamed Manfour said.
Instability in southern Libya has drawn in fighters from Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region who have battled for opposing sides in Libya’s internal conflict.
(Editing by Dale Hudson and Edmund Blair)