The US Marines are dropping the hammer on ISIS in Libya

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Flushing out IS fighters in Libya's Sirte

Beginning in early August, the US Marines aboard the USS Wasp have conducted air strikes against ISIS' Libyan stronghold of Sirte from the Mediterranean. This has forced the group to retreat to a point where the Marines can now use the big guns — AH-1w SuperCobra attack choppers.

For weeks now, unmanned drones and Harrier jump-jets launched from the deck of the USS Wasp helicopter carrier have been attacking ISIS targets in Libya, but the use of the SuperCobra represents a change in tactics.

Images of the Islamic State's last stand in Sirte

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Islamic State's last stand in Sirte, Libya
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Islamic State's last stand in Sirte, Libya
Smoke rises during a battle between Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government and Islamic State fighters in neighborhood Number Two in Sirte, Libya August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government fire a shell at Islamic State fighters' positions in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government looks through a pair of binoculars during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government hold their weapons as they patrol during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government receive ammunitions for their tank during a battle with Islamic State fighters in neighborhood Number Two in Sirte, Libya August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government hold their weapons as they patrol during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Fighters ride a pickup truck as smoke rises during a battle with Islamic State fighters in neighborhood Number Two in Sirte, Libya August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government holds his weapon as he patrols during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government rest during a battle with Islamic State fighters in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government fire an artillery cannon at Islamic State fighters' positions in Sirte, Libya August 15, 2016. Picture taken August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
A wounded fighter from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government, who was injured during a battle with Islamic State fighters, receives treatment in a field hospital in Sirte, Libya August 16, 2016. Picture taken August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
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Because helicopters can hover, loiter, and maneuver easily, they are ideal for seeking out hidden targets in urban areas. ISIS has been forced to retreat as Libyan and US forces drive the group into the "densest, most built-up part" of the city of Sirte, the birth place of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and an important port city in the divided nation, a Defense Department official told the Washington Post.

But the SuperCobras are vulnerable to rocket fire, and shoulder-fired anti-air platforms have become common in North Africa and the Middle East. The choice to use manned helicopters suggests that US Marines are confident they have weakened and chased down ISIS fighters in their former stronghold.

USS Wasp activity infographicPublic Domain

The SuperCobra attack choppers are guided by US Special Forces on the ground in Libya, as well by other allied and Libyan forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) — a UN-backed government that has requested US assistance in riding the country of ISIS.

However, the Libyan parliament recently passed a vote of no confidence on the GNA, further complicating the situation.

Before the US air campaign, ISIS was estimated to have 6,000 fighters in Libya mainly massed around Sirte.

Sirte's position in the Mediterranean means it could potentially be a staging point for ISIS looking to mount attacks in Europe. Additionally, the power vacuum left over from the death of Gaddafi, as well as internal disagreements in Libya, has caused the country to become a hub of crime and human trafficking.

libya flagPublic Domain

Although Libya remains divided, the ousting of ISIS can only be a good thing. A recent statement from US AFRICOM said that only a few hundred or so ISIS fighters remain in Libya.

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