Source: USA Today
« We’re looking for ways in which we can be helpful, » said Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command. « They have to find some way to form a national army. »
In an interview with USA TODAY in Washington, Ham said the discussions had not reached the level of agreeing to specific cooperation. If the two countries do establish a relationship, it would not be the scale of U.S. efforts to rebuild the militaries of Iraq and Afghanistan.
« We’d like, for example, to begin having Libyan officers come to U.S. staff colleges, » he said, adding that the United States could also sell Libya equipment and offer training.
Estimates of the size of the Libyan army under dictator Moammar Gadhafi ranged from 50,000 to 130,000 soldiers. He used it to crack down on political rivals and sometimes to assist other dictators in the region, such as Uganda’s Idi Amin.
Libya’s military mostly disintegrated over the course of the revolt that began with protests in February. Some units defected to the rebel side, some fought alongside foreign mercenaries and indiscriminately bombed cities, and others broke under pressure from rebel forces and NATO airstrikes.
Libya had an impressive arsenal for a small country, according to a report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, with more than 4,000 tanks and other armored vehicles and 400 combat aircraft. Even so, combat-readiness on the equipment was « exceptionally low » and even its best combat units suffered from severe training and leadership problems, political favoritism and erratic training, the report said.
The new Libyan government is interested in maritime security, because of its long coastline, Ham said. That is also an area of defense in which the U.S. military can assist, he said.
Ham said Libya’s new leaders recognize the new military must be « inclusive » and not exclude professional officers from Gadhafi’s military as long as they did not participate in atrocities. In Iraq, efforts to exclude from the military even midlevel officials in Saddam Hussein‘s ruling Baath Party deepened divisions.
Michael Rubin, a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, said military training would be a good way to prevent the militias roaming the country from disrupting the country. A well-run and professional army and navy automatically gains legitimacy at the expense of militias, casting the latter as gangs rather than protective forces, he said.
Rubin said U.S. involvement would also create personal relationships with Libyan officers that would provide intelligence benefits and help prevent militant infiltration of the Libyan military by helping it institute background checks. The U.S. military has learned from its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, where militias competed with national forces for the hearts of young fighters, that « the sooner we start the easier it will be, » Rubin said.
The Pentagon has also expressed concern about weapons and ammunition that may fall into the hands of rogue elements inside or outside the country. Gadhafi is believed to have stocked 20,000 portable surface-to-air missiles.
Ham said that some of the mercenaries who fought for Gadhafi might have brought weapons with them when they fled the country. There is « no hard evidence of that but my instinct tells me that’s a pretty likely outcome, » Ham said.