|Heavy black smoke rises from an oil facility in northern Libya's Ras Lanouf region on January 23, 2016, after it caught fire following attacks launched by Islamic State group jihadists. AFP Photo
WASHINGTON — The United States has not decided whether to launch military action in Libya, where the Islamic State group is exploiting political instability to expand its operations, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said on Thursday.
But he added: "We're watching the situation very carefully, and there's a lot going on there right now. But we haven't made any decisions to take military action there."
"We're looking to help them (the Libyans) get control over their own country and, of course, the United States will support the Libyan government when it forms," he said.
World powers have urged Libya's warring factions to endorse the unity government formed last week under a UN-brokered deal aimed at ending the political paralysis that has fueled the rise of IS jihadists.
Libya has been in political turmoil and rocked by violence since the ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 revolution.
It now has two governments and parliaments, with the recognized authorities based in the eastern city of Tobruk and a militia-backed authority in Tripoli.
The internationally recognized parliament on Monday rejected an initial cabinet line-up, in a major setback to peace efforts. A new government is expected to be proposed in 10 days, an official said on Tuesday.
The Islamic State jihadists have exploited the turmoil in Libya to expand their influence in the country and launch attacks on key oil facilities.
The group first appeared in the North African nation in 2014 and has since claimed responsibility for beheadings and suicide bombings.
It has established a stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, Kadhafi's hometown, and is reported to have at least 3,000 fighters in Libya.
The United States, reluctant to extend its 17-month air campaign against the IS group in Iraq and Syria to a third country, has repeatedly stressed the importance of finding cooperative local partners in Libya, and international allies such as France and Italy to help lead any operations there.
"We don't want to be on a glide slope to a situation like Syria and Iraq," Carter said. "That's the reason why we're watching it that closely." — AFP