The Obama administration quietly won Congress’s approval last month to shift about $8 million from Pentagon operations and counterterrorism aid budgeted for Pakistan to begin building an elite Libyan force over the next year that could ultimately number about 500 troops. American Special Operations forces could conduct much of the training, as they have with counterterrorism forces in Pakistan and Yemen, American officials said.
The effort to establish the new unit was already under way before the assault that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. But the plan has taken on new urgency as the new government in Tripoli tries to assert control over the country’s militant factions.
According to an unclassified internal State Department memo sent to Congress on Sept. 4, the plan’s goal is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” A companion Pentagon document envisions that the Libyan commando force will “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.” Right now, Libya has no such capability, American officials said.
A final decision on the program has not been made, and many details, like the size, composition and mission of the force, are still to be determined. But American government officials say they have discussed the plan’s broad outlines with senior Libyan military and civilian officials as part of a broader package of American security assistance.
“The proposal reflects the security environment and the uncertainty coming out of the government transition in Libya,” said a senior Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program has not been officially announced. “The multimilitia fabric that’s providing security there needs to be brought into a more integrated national security system.”
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