3 questions US forces must answer before declaring victory in Libya

Even as fighting in Libya continues, Pentagon officials and US commanders overseeing operations on the ground are wrestling with tough questions about the future of the campaign – and what military forces still need to do before they can consider it a victory.

2. Will terrorists take advantage of power vacuum in Libya?

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    An anti-Qaddafi fighter puts up a rebel flag as they prepare to advance on the Libyan besieged town of Bani Walid after clashing with Qaddafi's gunmen on the outskirts of the city on Sept. 8.
    Youssef Boudlal/Reuters
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Defense Department officials have made no secret of their concern that Libya could become a safe-haven for terrorists – if groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb chose to move in and set up shop. That’s because, as long as they are preoccupied with fighting, the transitional rebel authority is not focusing on securing their borders, officials point out. As a result, adds a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “We’re concerned that they could take advantage of the situation there.”

Indeed, Al Qaeda has publicly expressed interest in doing just that. “I think it’s safe to say that it is one of their goals – to try to set up some sort of footprint and network internally [in Libya] to plan for the long haul,” says the official. “We’re concerned about it.”

On the bright side, the Libyan rebel authorities appear, for now, to be stiff-arming terrorist groups. “It certainly seems that they’ve gone to great lengths to disassociate themselves from any ties to terrorists,” the official adds. “Right now they know to play it safe.”

That said, Ham adds that the US military continues to carefully monitor the transition authority. “Do they really implement an effective reconciliation process? Do they control the violence,” he says. “The words are right. The challenge now will be, do the actions match the words?”

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