US military considers ramping up Libya presence
A new diplomatic and military policy for Libya that could significantly expand US involvement in the country could be finalized by the Trump administration in the next few weeks, according to two US officials.
The policy, if approved, would aim to further the existing US goal of supporting reconciliation between rival factions in eastern and western areas of Libya. The policy could also lead to the eventual re-opening of the US embassy and the establishing of a new intelligence sharing effort led by US special forces, according to the officials.
If approved, this would be the latest country in which President Donald Trump is expanding the US counterterrorism effort.
The new approach could lead to more regular visits to Libya by diplomatic personnel, including the US ambassador, who has not been stationed in the country because of the unstable situation.
The US is also considering re-establishing a presence in Benghazi after a 2012 attack that killed four Americans -- and also re-establishing a coordination center for some US forces and Libyan officials to facilitate counterterrorist intelligence sharing. US troops could also carry out a training and advisory role in conjunction with Libyan forces.
It's also expected that if approved, up to 50 US special operations troops could be sent to Libya on a rotating basis to share counterintelligence information.
Officials caution all of this could take months to implement and intelligence sharing and training efforts in Somalia are seen as the model for the new policy.
Small teams of US military and intelligence personnel have gone in and out of Libya in recent years for just a few days at a time to meet and share information with Libyan counterparts.
But it is significant that a more permanent US presence is being considered for the first time since the US closed its embassy in Tripoli in 2014 after the situation deteriorated following the 2012 attack at the US compound in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
On a practical level, these new strategy goals will be difficult to achieve, the official acknowledged.
The critical challenge continues to be forming a broad national government that would be accepted by both the internationally accepted Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister al Sarraj which controls much of the west of Libya and the Libyan National Army headed by Kalifa Haftar which dominates the east. The official said that the new policy calls for closer cooperation and intelligence sharing with Haftar.
While the intelligence sharing would largely focus on counterterrorism, the US is likely to provide assistance to Libya to address the migration crisis in the country.
By Barbara Starr