Wednesday, March 26, 2014

U.S. Soldiers in Libya For Training Mission

United States military personnel in Occupied Libya.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first two of an initial team of 11 U.S. soldiers arrived in Libya this week to help lay the groundwork for upcoming training of Libyan forces in Bulgaria, which is expected to begin in July, a U.S. military official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The United States announced last year its plans to train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan forces at the request of Tripoli, where a weak central government is struggling with rebels for control of vital petroleum resources three years after the CIA-Pentagon-NATO war of regime against the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the team on the ground in Libya would help address logistical issues related to the training, included vetting of recruits.

That could be a thorny issue in Libya, where militiamen and former fighters are often employed by the government to protect ministries and government offices. Those gunmen remain loyal to their commanders or tribes and often clash in rivalries over control of territory.

The training in Bulgaria is expected to be carried out in small groups on a rotation basis over a period of years, potentially involving as many as 300 American trainers at any given time in Bulgaria, the U.S. official said.

The rest of the initial team of 11 soldiers was expected to be in place in Tripoli by early April. The team was expected to grow later as the program is developed, the official said.

The arrival of the first two U.S. soldiers came about a week after U.S. special forces seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port controlled by anti-government rebels. The tanker's escape past Libya's navy embarrassed Tripoli and prompted Libya's parliament to sack Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

In October, U.S. forces seized an alleged senior al Qaeda figure, Nazih al-Ragye, better known by the cover name Abu Anas al-Liby, in Tripoli in connection with the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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