The American mission in Benghazi, Libya, was seen in flames on Sept. 11 during an anti-US protest condemning an anti-Islam film made and released in the US.
The US government has stepped up efforts to ‘build’ a Libyan commando unit by American Special Operations forces, aimed at combating ‘extremists’ in the country.
The Obama administration quietly gained Congressional endorsement last month to transfer nearly $8 million from “Pentagon operations and counterterrorism aid budgeted for Pakistan” to accelerate a bid to build a 500-strong “elite Libyan force over the next year,” US daily The New York Times
reports Tuesday, citing “internal government document.”
American Special Operations forces would likely carryout the military training, as they have previously conducted with what the US has described as “counterterrorism forces” in Pakistan and Yemen, the report says, quoting Washington officials.
According to the report, the plan to establish the elite military unit in Libya was already in progress prior to the massive anti-American protest at the US consulate in the city of Benghazi on September 11, which led to the killing of Washington’s envoy to the country, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans.
However, the effort has taken on new urgency as the newly-installed fragile government in the Libyan capital of Tripoli struggles to assert control over the nation’s diverse militant groups.
A spokesman for Libya’s new president, Mohamed Magariaf, the report adds, did not respond to email inquiries “and other Libyan military officials did not return phone calls.” This is while the newly picked prime minister gets ready to appoint the nation’s defense and interior ministers.
Citing an unclassified internal State Department memo to the US Congress in early September, the announced aim of the American effort is to boost “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”
An accompanying Pentagon document on the military bid foresees that the elite Libyan force will “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.”
The document also describes “an additional $4 million to help Libya improve control of its borders,” the report adds, noting that following the Libyan revolution, massive amounts of weaponry belonging to the Qaddafi-era army were looted, with Western officials fearing that thousands of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles may have been slipped out of the country by extremist groups.
The plan also proposes spending some of the funds to purchase unspecified equipment for the projected Libyan commando force. It would include, according to one official, “screening for physical skills, mental aptitude and ties to extremist groups that were hostile to the Libyan government.”
According to the report, the US bid to establish a Libyan commando force emerged from an “unusual partnership between the State Department and the Pentagon.” It says in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the defense secretary at the time, Robert Gates, agreed to pool resources from their departments in a fund approved by Congress “to respond more quickly to emerging threats from al-Qaeda and other militants in places like Libya, Nigeria and Bangladesh.”
Earlier this month The New York Times
reported that the US military is planning operations to kill or capture militants suspected of involvement in the killing of American diplomats at its consulate in Benghazi.
“The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects,” said the daily, quoting “senior [American] military and counterterrorism officials.
“Working with the Pentagon and the CIA,” the report added, “the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President [Barack] Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack.”
Possible military options, the report noted, would include “drone strikes, Special Operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden and joint missions with Libyan authorities.”