(CNSNews.com) -- The United States evacuated an unspecified number of its troops from Libya after fighting broke out near the country’s capital over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. Africa Command put out a press release that stated, “Due to increased unrest in Libya, a contingent of U.S. forces supporting U.S. Africa Command temporarily relocated from the country in response to security conditions on the ground.”
The press release described the troops’ mission as providing “military support to diplomatic missions, counter-terrorism activities, enhancing partnerships, and improving security across the region.”
U.S. withdrawal occurred following a rapid escalation of tensions that began late last week. On April 4, forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar launched an attack on Tripoli, the capital of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord. Haftar is the commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army and enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and France.
CNSNews.com reached out to U.S. Africa Command for details about American ground presence in Libya. A press spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command told this reporter that the United States has had boots on the ground in the country since 2015. However, CNSNews.com was not able to learn what types of troops were deployed to Libya or the size of U.S. forces there.
“U.S. Africa Command had a limited and dispersed presence in Libya,” the press spokesperson said. “At this time, I can tell you that a contingent of U.S. forces supporting U.S. Africa Command temporarily relocated in response to security conditions on the ground. We will continue to monitor conditions on the ground in Libya, and assess the feasibility for renewed U.S. military presence, as appropriate.”
General Thomas D. Waldhauser, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, previously confirmed an American ground presence in Libya during a March 2017 press conference. Luis Martinez of ABC News asked the general about reports that U.S. special forces assisted Libyan troops in the 2016 Battle of Sirte against ISIS.
“What is the U.S. presence in that part of Libya today? What is their role? What future activities do you plan for them,” Martinez said.
In response, Waldhauser stated that it would be highly difficult to conduct air operations in Libya without also having boots on the ground.
“When you conduct precision airstrike, close-air support operation in an urban environment with the requirements to not have civilian casualties, with the requirements to be careful about infrastructure, destruction, and the like, I don't think -- you can't do an operation like that without somebody on the ground to interface, to work,” he said.
“I think it's fair to say that we have some people on the ground and you couldn't do these things without that,” Waldhauser added.
The head of U.S. Africa Command also confirmed to Martinez that the United States intended on keeping ground troops in Libya for the foreseeable future.
“We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required or to us to be able to assist if required again with the Government of National Accord to take out ISIS targets,” the general stated.