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Washington Fights Fire With Fire in Libya

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Posted on Apr 15, 2014

Image by ssoosay (CC BY 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

While Admiral McRaven has emphasized the importance of building up “the Libyan security forces so they are not run by militias,” many recruits for the GPF will, in fact, be drawn from these very groups.  It has also been widely reported that the new force will be trained at Novo Selo, a recently refurbished facility in Bulgaria.

The U.S. has said little else of substance on the future force.  “We are coordinating this training mission closely with our European partners and the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, who have also offered substantial security sector assistance to the Government of Libya,” a State Department official told TomDispatch by email.  “We expect this training will begin in 2014 in Bulgaria and continue over a number of years.” 

There have been no reports or confirmation of the plan to also train Libyan militiamen at a facility in Spain’s Canary Islands mentioned along with Novo Selo in that Fall 2013 briefing document prepared for AFRICOM chief Rodriguez, which was obtained by TomDispatch.

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Official briefing slide mentioning a U.S. military training effort in the Canary Islands.

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Officials at the State Department say that they know nothing about this part of the program.  “I’m still looking into this, but my colleagues are not familiar with a Canary Islands component to this issue,” I was told by a State Department press officer.   AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson said much the same.  “[W]e have no information regarding training of Libyan troops to be provided in the Canary Islands,” he emailed me.  After I sent him the briefing slide that mentioned the mission, however, he had a different response.  The Canary Islands training mission was, he wrote, part of an “initial concept” never actually shared with General Rodriguez, but instead “briefed to a few senior leaders in the Pentagon.”

“The information has been changed, numerous times, since the slide was drafted, and is expected to change further before any training commences,” he added, and warned me against relying on it.  He did not, however, rule out the possibility that further changes might revive the Canary Islands option and demurred from answering further questions on the subject.  A separate U.S. Army Africa document does mention that “recon” of a second training site was slated to begin last December. 

Neither the State Department nor AFRICOM explained why plans to conduct training in the Canary Islands were shelved or when that decision was made or by whom.  Benson also failed to facilitate interviews with personnel involved in the Libyan GPF training effort or with top AFRICOM commanders.  “Given the continuing developing nature of this effort, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time, and we have not been giving interviews on the topic,” he told me.  Multiple requests to the Libyan government for information on the locations of training sites also went unanswered.     

Training Day

Wherever the training takes place, the U.S. has developed a four-phase process to “build a complete Libya security sector.” The Army’s 1st Infantry Division will serve as the “mission command element for the Libyan GPF training effort” as part of a State Department-led collaboration with the Department of Defense, according to official documents obtained by TomDispatch. 

Agreements with partner nations are to be finalized and Libyans selected for leadership positions as part of an initial stage of the process.  Then the U.S. military will begin training not only the GPF troops, but a border security force and specialized counter-terror troops.  (Recently, AFRICOM Commander David Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. was also helping to build up what he termed Libyan “Special Operations Forces.”)  A third phase of the program will involve developing the capacities of the Libyan ministries of justice, defense, and the interior, and strengthening Libya’s homegrown security training apparatus, before pulling back during a fourth phase that will focus on monitoring and sustaining the forces the U.S. and its allies have trained.   

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U.S. Army Africa document details four-phase plan for U.S. training of Libyan forces.

Despite reports that training at Novo Selo will begin this spring, a State Department official told TomDispatch that detailed plans are still being finalized.  After inspecting a briefing slide titled “Libya Security Sector Phasing,” AFRICOM’S Benson told me, “I do not see us in any phase as indicated on the slide… the planning and coordination is still ongoing.”  Since then, Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press reported that, according to an unnamed Army official, a small team of U.S. soldiers has now headed for Libya to make preparations for the Bulgarian portion of the training. 

A timeline produced by U.S. Army Africa as part of a December 2013 briefing indicates that the Novo Selo site would be ready for trainers sometime last month.  After communications systems and security sensors are set up, that training range will be ready to accept its first Libyan recruits.  The timeline suggests that this could occur by early May. 

While this may have been an early version of the schedule, there’s little doubt the program will begin soon.  Baldor notes that formal Libyan approval for the training may come this month, although AFRICOM Commander David Rodriguez pointed out at a Pentagon press briefing that the Libyan government still has to ante up the funds for the program, and a Libyan official confirmed to TomDispatch that the training had yet to commence.


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