U.S., NATO allies to consider Libya military training mission


FILE: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (TOM WHITE/EPA)

U.S. officials will discuss this week with NATO allies the possibility of establishing a military training mission for Libya’s fledgling security forces, defense officials said Monday, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Brussels for a meeting of defense chiefs.

Libya has struggled to build its military and police forces since rebels aided by a NATO air-bombing campaign overthrew the country’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gaddafi, in the summer of 2011. Deteriorating security after the country’s civil war has become a big concern for Washington, most significantly since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. installations in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to the country and three of his colleagues.

A senior defense official said Monday that the Libyan government has approached the United States and other countries that participated in the 2011 air campaign asking for help.

“NATO as an organization and NATO partners have developed a lot of expertise and capability in the last decade in these efforts in some tough places,” a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Hagel to Brussels. “It just seems sensible to try to see how we can draw on that expertise in an important country to all of us.”

The official, who conducted the briefing on the condition of anonymity, said the discussions are preliminary. If a training mission comes to fruition, it seems unlikely that it would involve deploying U.S. military trainers to LIbya.

“This is not about deploying NATO troops to Libya,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last week after meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan at NATO’s headquarters.

The issue also came up Friday when President Obama hosted Rasmussen in Washington.

“We now have a Libyan government that is in a transition process, and part of where we think we can be helpful is to ensure that a democratically elected Libyan government has the capacity to control its borders and ensure that it does not become a haven for terrorism,” Obama said after the meeting. “I think NATO has an important role to play on that front.”

Hagel and his counterparts will also be discussing the type of military footprint the West could leave in Afghanistan after 2014, when the mandate of the U.S.-led NATO coalition is set to expire. Defense officials said Monday that the Brussels meetings would help shape the vision of what the U.S. and its allies might accomplish by leaving behind a residual force.

Officials will also discuss cybersecurity at one of the sessions. The issue has gained prominence recently as the United States has accused the Chinese government of hacking U.S. military and industrial computer networks. China denies the accusation.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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