The number of Islamic State militants in Libya has doubled during the past year, the top U.S. commander in the region said Thursday.
Army Gen. David Rodriguez told officials at a Pentagon briefing that there are now between 4,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters present in the country, growing by roughly two times during the past 12 to 18 months, The Hill reported.
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Despite the increase, he said the U.S. will continue a limited airstrike campaign in the nation aimed to strike only those who pose an "imminent threat to U.S. personnel and facilities."
Some fighters already present in Libya have switched their affiliation from other extremist groups to ISIS, contributing to the increase, he said. ISIS jihadists from northern Africa, Iraq, and Syria have also migrated to the region.
Rodriguez, who heads the U.S. Africa Command, said the ISIS fighters in Libya want to attack U.S. and Western targets, aspiring to similar goals of the extremists in Iraq and Syria.
He said the militants are most prominent in Sirte, where former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi lived before he was ousted and killed in 2011.
While the presence of ISIS is continuing to grow in the region, Rodriguez said the militants are not as advanced as those in Iraq and Syria because fewer are "homegrown" and Libyans are pushing back in opposition, Military.com reported.
The U.S. conducted an airstrike in February targeting an ISIS training camp and another in November against the top ISIS leader in Libya, The Hill noted.
Top national security aides pressured President Obama in February to send military forces in Libya to combat the growing presence of ISIS in the nation.