In an effort to combat the rise of jihadists in the Muslim world following the Arab Spring, the US Pentagon and State Department are speeding up efforts to help the Libyan government create an elite commando force, the New York Times reported.
Shifting some $8 million from Pentagon operations and aid budgeted for Pakistan, the Obama Administration quietly won the approval of Congress in September to begin building an elite Libyan force of about 500 troops over the next year.
According to the Times, the effort was already underway before last month’s consulate attack in Bengazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. But the plan has taken on new urgency since that assault unveiled the rising strength of militant factions.
American Special Operations forces would conduct much of the training, as they have with counterterrorism forces in Pakistan and Yemen, the Times reported.
An unclassified internal State Department memo sent to Congress on September 4 said the plan’s goal is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from al Qaeda and its affiliates.” A Pentagon document envisions that the Libyan commando force will “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.”
American officials told the Times that Libya has no such capability right now.
As Libya emerges from 42 years of dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s repressive rule, jihadists and Islamist militias—using their newfound freedoms—are trying to decide whether to align themselves with the new government or to fight it, the Washington Post said.
While a final decision on the commando forces has not yet been made, US government officials told the Times that they have discussed the plan’s outlines with the Libyan government as part of a broader American assistance package.
“Overall, it’s a sound strategy, but my concern is that in the vetting they make sure this doesn’t become a Trojan Horse for the militias to come in,” Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Times.
That drawback has become increasingly apparent over the past year in Afghanistan where a growing number of NATO troops have been killed by their Afghan allies. Since 2007, the so-called green-on-blue attacks have accounted for 114 soldier deaths, including 51 this year alone.
The $8 million earmarked for Libya’s commando force is being considered as seed money to begin building and equipping the unit.