While Libya’s unsteady politics and deteriorating security have complicated efforts, the United States remains committed to training the country’s security forces, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs told a House panel yesterday.
Security and successful development of Libyan armed forces are the biggest factors in Libya’s transition, Derek Chollet told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.
“Last year, the United States committed to help train a Libyan general purpose force of 5,000 to 8,000 personnel. This kind of force will help the Libyan government form its core military,” he said, adding Libya is paying for the training, which could take up to eight years.
The United States is not alone in building Libya’s military — it has strong international support from other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Italy and Turkey, Chollet said.
But progress has been slow, he said, citing several factors that have hampered training.
“Libya’s political turmoil and a deteriorating security situation … make it difficult to have the necessary U.S. personnel on the ground in Tripoli to execute this program,” he said. “Other factors include a lack of vetted training candidates, a lack of pledged Libyan funding, and weak security institutions.”
About 40 Libyan military members recently attended U.S. professional education courses to help build the country’s security and enhance its military professionalism, Chollet noted, adding that last year the Libyans also paid for a national security seminar for 25 Libyan military leaders to attend the National Defense University here.
DOD also is helping the Libyan government develop its counterterrorism capacity, he said, through the global security contingency fund, which is expected to train several hundred Libyan special forces personnel.
Of deep concern, Chollet said, is that Libya’s borders have become major areas of instability in the movement of violent extremists, the trafficking of weapons, and the massive influx of immigrants.
DOD developed a program to help build Libya’s border security capacity through the global security contingency fund, he said, and the department also is coordinating with the European Union.
In addition, the United States, he said, has a “laser focus” on the immense challenges and risks involved with operating embassies in uncertain security environments, Chollet said.
“We will do what it takes to protect our people and to bring to justice those who do us harm,” Chollet said. Additional U.S. military forces are in the region to respond to numerous contingencies, he added. It was at U.S. installations in Benghazi that four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed when extremists attacked in 2012.
The United States has an unrelenting commitment to hold accountable those who harm Americans, Chollet reiterated, citing the recent capture of [Ahmed] Abu Khatallah who is accused of being a key figure in that attack.
Khatallah’s capture “was due to the combined efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel,” Chollet said. “And as the president stressed just last week, with this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans.”