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SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – The U.S. military is considering a mission to train Libyan security personnel with the goal of creating a force of 5,000 to 7,000 conventional soldiers and a separate, smaller unit for specialized counterterrorism missions, according to the top officer of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Speaking Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, the commander, Adm. William McRaven, said no final decisions had been made about a training mission to support Libya, which has seen an increase in militia violence.
Officials said the nations that would be involved in the training and the locations had not yet been decided, but the mission would be organized by the military’s Africa Command.
McRaven and other officials noted that the Pentagon’s evolving national security strategy calls for building counterterrorism capacity among local forces in allied and partner nations, rather than having U.S. troops on the ground carrying out those missions.
He also acknowledged that there would be some risk in training security forces in a country where militias have shifting ties and some who enter the training program might have questionable backgrounds.
In particular, he cautioned that it would be very difficult to vet fully all Libyan personnel who might be trained by Americans to guarantee that they had unblemished backgrounds.
“There is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean record,” McRaven said. “At the end of the day, it is the best solution we can find to train them to deal with their own problems.”
NATO officials have said the alliance has sent specialists into Libya to assess how best to conduct a training program, perhaps in Bulgaria or Italy. U.S. officials said that a small number of U.S. military personnel also had been to Libya to assist in the planning.
The United States has a complicated, fragile relationship with the government in Tripoli that came to power with the overthrow of the government of Moammar Gadhafi that followed a NATO air campaign.
U.S. officials say the Libyan government has quietly sought security assistance from the United States, including giving tacit approval to two U.S. commando operations in its country: one to capture a senior Al-Qaida leader and another to seize a militia leader suspected of carrying out the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.