TRIPOLI, Libya — In a historic visit punctuated by celebratory gunfire and cries of “God is great,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton toured the Libyan capital Tuesday to pledge continued U.S. support for a transitional government still struggling to consolidate control over the war-ravaged country.
Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Libya since the ouster of autocratic leader Moammar Gaddafi in August, offered Libyan leaders practical and financial help on a wide range of fronts, from rebuilding the economy to caring for the country’s war wounded to rounding up thousands of antiaircraft missiles that have disappeared amid the chaos of recent fighting.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is offering new assistance to Libya's provisional leadership on an unannounced visit to the Libyan capital. (Oct. 18)
While in Tripoli, Libya, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to young Libyans, telling them that their future was full of possibilities. (Oct. 18)
But she also warned of lingering dangers, including the risk of prolonged resistance by Gaddafi loyalists as well as the possibility that democracy could be usurped before it has time to take root.
“We are still at the point where liberation has not yet been claimed because of ongoing conflict,” Clinton told reporters at a joint news conference with Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister for Libya’s Transitional National Council. “There has to be a resolution before many of these programs can be put into action.”
As she spoke, there were fresh reminders of the challenges facing the interim government as it seeks to bring normality and order to the battered country after decades of dictatorship. In the Gaddafi stronghold city of Sirte, pro-Gaddafi forces repelled new assaults by revolutionary militias seeking to eliminate one of the last remaining holdouts of the former government. In Tripoli, control over parts of the city remained divided among rival militia groups, some of whom have resisted the idea of disarming and returning to civilian life.
Clinton said that the U.S. and Libyan governments remain focused on restoring security and pledged that NATO warplanes would continue to back the interim government’s military while fighting continued. She acknowledged that U.S. officials were concerned that Gaddafi could cause significant problems as long as he is at large.
“We want to do everything we can to prevent him from causing trouble for the new Libya,” Clinton said. “We don’t know where he is, but we hope he can be captured or killed soon so you don’t have to fear him any longer.”
A senior State Department official said later that Clinton’s “captured or killed” phrase was “not intended to signal a policy change.”
Clinton arrived in a capital city that has been cleared of the rubble and burned-out vehicles from weeks of street battles over the summer, yet still resembles an armed camp. Gun-toting men in mismatched camouflage guarded intersections and government buildings, and the staccato of small-arms fire greeted Clinton’s motorcade as she arrived under an overcast sky.
At the airport, dozens of militiamen crowded around America’s top diplomat, some shouting “God is great!” in Arabic as Clinton stopped to shake hands and exchange greetings. The secretary’s motorcade raced through the city with a motley escort of militia fighters in vans and pickup trucks, some with mounted machine guns and others adorned with camouflage netting and homemade flags.