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NATO considers training Libya security forces

By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 4, 2013

NATO is dispatching a fact-finding team to Libya as it considers training security forces in the North African country, where the government has struggled to rein in well-armed militias after the alliance-backed ouster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters on Tuesday that the team will look at areas of potential training and security sector reform and report back by the end of June. Troop deployments are not in consideration, Rasmussen said, according to a transcript of his remarks, and any military training for Libyan forces would be held outside the country.

Military power in Libya currently resides in its well-armed militias, which equipped themselves in the aftermath of Gadhafi’s 2011 removal, when the country was awash in weapons. While some militias have cooperated with the transitional government, others continue to challenge its authority.

One of those groups, the Islamist militia Ansar Al-Sharia, is believed to be responsible for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four employees, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The Libyan national army is widely viewed as too weak to challenge al-Sharia or other militias.

The flow of Libyan weapons to militias outside of Libya also has heightened threats beyond the country.

After Tuareg separatists from nearby Mali equipped themselves with arms from Libya, their successful push against government forces in Mali’s north opened the door for Islamist militants, leading to French intervention in the country. Libyan weapons have also turned up among extremist groups elsewhere in North Africa, as well as in Syria.

Assistance to Libya was one of several topics to be discussed by NATO defense ministers, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, during a two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Brussels. Other topics include NATO’s plans for Afghanistan after 2014 and alliance military capabilities.

The NATO bombing campaign in 2011 was critical to Gadhafi’s overthrow by destroying military air defenses and ground targets.

NATO was criticized at the time by Russia and some African countries for allegedly overstepping the U.N. mandate to protect civilians in the civil war in Libya and turning the bombing campaign into a regime change operation. Some neighboring nations also warned that extremists — whom Gadhafi’s regime had persecuted — were arming themselves with weapons looted from government armories after NATO had bombed them.

“I believe that this would be a fitting way to continue our cooperation with Libya after we successfully took action to protect the Libyan people two years ago,” Rasmussen said Tuesday.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @sjbeardsley

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