US: Libya faces long, difficult road

2011-12-17 22:21

Tripoli - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told Libya's leaders on Saturday they faced a long, hard road in moving on from 42 years of one-man rule and uniting rival militias that still hold the streets in the oil-producing North African state.

Panetta, the first US defence chief ever to visit Libya, said Washington stood ready to help but offered no specific aid to a leadership struggling to stamp its authority two months after the capture and killing of Muammar Gaddafi.

He warned of tough challenges ahead in uniting the armed groups that emerged from the war, in securing arms caches and building an army, police and democratic institutions.

"This will be a long and difficult transition, but I am confident that you will succeed," the defence secretary said at a news conference after meeting interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and Defence Minister Osama Al-Juwali.

The authority of Libya's interim government is being challenged by militias who took Tripoli in August, six months after the start of a rebellion against Gaddafi that drew Nato into an air war.


Some withdrew after Gaddafi was killed in October, but others remain, heavily armed and holding out for a share of the power they say they are owed.

"I'm confident they [the interim leaders] are taking the right steps to reach out to all of these groups and bring them together so they will be part of one Libya and one defence system," Panetta said.

Clashes between militias and rival tribes since Gaddafi's overthrow are threatening to spiral out of control in the absence of a fully-functioning government or national security force to unite the thinly populated desert country.

Late on Friday, senior military leader Khalifa Haftar said two of his sons had been wounded in separate gunfights with militias from the western town of Zintan which control Tripoli's airport and other locations in the capital.

A week earlier, a convoy carrying Haftar, the commander of ground forces in the Libyan national army, clashed with militiamen at a checkpoint near the airport.

Prime Minister Keib promised job programmes and other "opportunities" to help coax the militias off the streets.

"We know how serious this issue is, we know it's not just a matter of saying 'Okay, just put down your arms and go back to work,'" he told reporters.

"We have solid programmes that are designed to attract all these young men and women."


Keib's government won a welcome boost on Friday when the UN Security Council lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank and a subsidiary, clearing the way for the release of tens of billions of dollars held overseas to ease an acute cash crisis.

The US said it had unblocked more than $30bn in Libyan government assets.

The Libyan leadership sorely needs the funds - estimated to total around $150bn - to pay public sector workers, start the long process of rebuilding and to bolster its authority over the militias.

Panetta arrived from Turkey, having also visited Afghanistan and presided over the formal end to almost nine years of war in Iraq on Thursday.

The Tripoli leg lasted only hours, ending with Panetta paying respects at a Protestant cemetery overlooking Tripoli's harbour and believed to hold the remains of 13 US soldiers killed in an ill-fated naval mission to combat piracy in 1804.

The graves bore small American flags and a floral wreath.

The US took part in the Nato bombing campaign against Gaddafi's forces, but handed the initial lead role to alliance allies including France and Britain.

Panetta said the new leadership would need to secure the weaponry proliferating in the country and build professional security forces.

He said Washington was ready to help however it could, but said there had been no discussion of supplying arms or military equipment.

  • Alex - 2011-12-17 22:40

    could usa give them the aid that gaddafhi did. $500/month from oil sales, free electricity, cheap bread, cheap oil, cheap studies(too many got too clever too soon without knowing what to do with it), housing and farminig programs. And where is Libya's reserves now. Who is using the oil now????

  • Alex - 2011-12-17 22:41

    why don't NATO fight piracy in Somalia? no reserves or oil. Just wait till RSA gets oil. think of that invasion!

  • Senaba Melton Raphepele - 2011-12-18 01:02

    Pls,Africans are getting weary of this rhetoric.You are in the process of leaving Iraq in ruins and that's exactly what you are going to do to Libya.Murderers!

  • Joseph - 2011-12-28 00:54

    Libyans can maim one another, so long as the NATO members get crude oil, all is fine. That was the whole aim of getting rid of Gaddafi; crude oil. One wonders why NATO does not attach Syria? Most probably because they (Syrians) do not have what NATO members need most, crude oil. Hopefully, there will soon be Arab and African leaders who will be there for their people. A situation where Arab leaque and AU will serve the interest of their constituencies. Currently, the two are more like political social clubs. Arab leaque has failed to address the Israel-Palestine situation, Iraq sitaution, Iran situation and Afghanistan situation and they can't seem to know what to do with Syrian situation and AU has never resolved any African political situation. Our leaders are phathetic. They cannot do anything without the approval of the west.

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