France is currently engaged in covert operations against Islamic State in Libya along its American and British partners, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. The French Defence ministry also confirmed it has recently flown reconnaissance aircraft over Libya.
In fact, members of the Commandement des opérations spéciales —France’s special operations command— and members of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieur (DGSE) —most likely human sources (HUMINT) and technical sensors (SIGINT and satellite imagery)— are conducting specific strikes against terrorist organization leaders. The DSGE is likely conducting clandestine operations while French special operations are operating in uniform.
Authorized by French President François Hollande, the French operations in Libya are secret and “unofficial.” According to Le Monde and reported by specialized bloggers, French special forces soldiers have been seen in Eastern Libya since mid-February. France has set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in northern Niger, near the Libyan border.
Basically, French troops on the ground are preparing air strikes by marking and identifying possible leaders of radicalized groups. A common modus operandi for special operations teams, identifying targets on the ground greatly reduced collateral damage while inflicting maximum damage on the enemy.
France is most likely working on intelligence gathering and striking. First, the DSGE, through his HUMINT and SIGINT assets, identify possible targets and put them under surveillance. Then, the French special forces either conduct a raid to kill or capture that target or mark the position for an air strike. Depending on the ground situation —and this is where having boots on the ground becomes important— France will approve a strike on the identified target, choosing one of the two —or more depending on the situation— proposed method.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was concerned over the breach of operational security and has ordered an investigations to find who leaked the information.
U.S. Struck IS in Sabratha, Libya
Last Friday, U.S. aircraft struck an Islamic State training camp in Libya, killing about 50 people. Two Serbian embassy employees who were hostages were also killed in the raid. Tunisian Noureddine Chouchane, blamed for two attacks on tourists in Tunisia last year in which dozens were killed, was also killed in the air strike.
French ground operations could be behind the successful air strike but nothing has been said about it. Operational security is primordial when it comes to military operations to ensure maximum secrecy and to protect the soldiers involved.
France is willing to act discreetly in Libya but confirmed it wants to avoid any overt military engagement. The French objective is to strike the Islamic State leadership to slow its growth in Libya. Last November, French intelligence —most likely DSGE— was behind an air strike that killed an Iraqi known as Abu Nabil, the senior Islamic State leader in Libya at the time.