United States Rush to Counter Libyan Terrorist Threat

The United States plan to build an elite Libyan force to tackle the country’s terrorist problem.

A United States Army military information support operations sergeant with Special Operations provides security overwatch during an operation in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, March 6, 2011
A United States Army military information support operations sergeant with Special Operations provides security overwatch during an operation in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, March 6, 2011 (US Army/Daniel P. Shook)

Since the fatal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the Obama Administration has lived under a dark cloud. The White House is facing pressure from opposition Republican who are clamoring for an explanation on how security could be so poor during the incident and why government officials were so slow to describe the assault an act of terror.

Republicans have called on President Barack Obama to apologize and acknowledge that he is ultimately responsible. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has been bolder than many of his colleagues in demanding the resignation of Susan Rice as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations. Her earlier comments on what precipitated the attack, King says, were “misinforming.”

In the aftermath of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Rice insisted that the unrest was sparked by agitations over an anti-Islam film. It has since become evident that no protests were actually staged in the city and that the assault on the American presence there was premeditated.

More important than the political firestorm that has taken hold of Washington is what the United States plan to do in order to find out who carried out the attack, killed four Americans and stampeded through the American mission in Benghazi with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.

Just as crucial is what the Obama Administration is prepared to do to help the Libyan government, still incredibly weak a year after the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi, to build up its own security capacity and ensure that terrorists do not find Libya to be an attractive safe haven.

Thanks to the Associated Press and The New York Times, Americans are finally getting some answers.

The Defense Department, in close collaboration with the intelligence community, is reportedly prepared to take forceful action in the event that the perpetrators of the September 11 attack are identified. Unmanned aerial vehicles, the same planes that are used to strike terrorist and insurgent groups in Pakistan, are flying over Libya and collecting information on the various militias that operate in the country. Special forces are preparing for any strike option that the White House may order.

With the investigation off to a poor start over the first three weeks, President Obama is undoubtedly eager to show the American public as well as Islamist extremists worldwide that action will be taken to bring the murders of Americans to justice.

Over the longer term, the Pentagon and State Department are teaming up and devoting $8 million to a project that will create an elite Libyan counterterrorism force from the ground up, one that could respond quickly to an attack as occurred in Benghazi. How the funds will be spent, how long the program will last and whether more money will be pumped in has not been determined but what has been revealed is that the Libyan force will consist of five hundred commandos and be mentored by American elite soldiers during their training.

The program is fairly small and inexpensive, which will ease the concerns of many lawmakers who complain that too much money is being spent on defense programs and reconstruction projects overseas, and the effort will begin to fill a hole in the security portfolio that the Libyan government has yet to tackle adequately.

With a war weary public back home, the administration understands that putting a large contingent of conventional American forces on the ground in North Africa is politically risky as it open up American soldiers to attack from militias that continue to operate outside of the central government’s control. The United States may be paying the $8 million but the force is to be composed entirely of Libyans who will be doing the dirty work. It is, in effect, an indigenous solution for an indigenous terrorism problem.

With the attack in Benghazi amplifying Washington’s attention on the terrorist threat in North Africa, the Pentagon and State Department are clearly trying to confront the threat in as quick and effective way as possible — even as the threat to the region continues to make itself more evident.

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