STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. Africa Command’s plan to train Libyan military forces is on hold given escalating clashes among rival militias that the country’s U.N. ambassador warned Wednesday could plunge the country into civil war.
The training, initially scheduled for the summer, was pushed back and now will not happen before next year.
“We are still analyzing the new conditions and our capabilities in order to accurately assess our way ahead,” said Tom Saunders, an AFRICOM spokesman. “We had planned to begin training by the end of this year, but that timeline will probably shift to next year.”
The violence in Libya has heightened concerns in the international community that it could spread.
In the wake of heavy fighting that saw the international airport in the capital, Tripoli, fall to a coalition of Islamist militias last week, French President Francois Hollande on Thursday called for “exceptional” international support for Libya, warning that “terrorism will spread” across the region, if nothing is done.
His comments echoed those of the outgoing U.N. special representative to Libya, Tarek Mitri, before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
“The threat from the spread of terrorist groups has become real,” Mitri said. “At present, the chaotic security situation and the very limited capacity of the government to counter this threat may well have created a fertile ground for a mounting danger in Libya and beyond.”
On Wednesday, the Security Council adopted a resolution tightening an arms embargo and calling for an immediate ceasefire. In remarks to the council, Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said the situation in Libya “might unravel into a full-blown civil war if we’re not very careful and wise in our actions.”
Clashes between rival militias have steadily intensified in recent months across Libya, where order has never been fully restored since a NATO bombing campaign three years ago that helped oust former strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Last month, the U.S. military helped evacuate U.S. personnel at the American embassy in Tripoli.
“Arms, ammunition and explosives are all over the place and provide opportunities for these violent groups to generate revenues to assert their will through violence,” AFRICOM Gen. David Rodriguez told reporters last month at his Stuttgart headquarters.
The U.S. military had been planning to train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan troops as part of an effort to strengthen the fledgling government’s army. The training was expected to take place in eastern Europe. NATO also had plans to train Libyan forces, but those efforts too have been on hold because of the widespread unrest in the country.
However, earlier this week, Libya’s newly appointed army chief of staff said during a visit to Cairo that Egypt had promised to provide support to the Libyan military, including training, Egyptian media reported.