On Libya visit, Clinton urges transitional government to bring militias under control

The armed militias and loose weapons pose a significant threat to Libya as it tries to build a stable democratic government, Secretary of State Clinton said Tuesday.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Libya's National Transitional Council Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril field a question during a joint press conference at the World Islamic Call Society Headquarters during Clinton's visit to Tripoli in Libya on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Libya Tuesday bearing promises of financial and logistical assistance to the transitional government. She also urged it to get control of armed militias and loose weapons as the country's civil war winds down.

Many of the militias who fought alongside rebel forces against the Qaddafi regime's forces and loyalist fighters have not yet been brought under the auspices of the transitional government. Secretary Clinton met with the National Transitional Council (NTC) on Tuesday and told them it was "essential" to gain control over the militias, the Associated Press reports. Untethered militias were blamed in the death this summer of Abdul Fatah Younis, who defected from Muammar Qaddafi's regime and became the commander of rebel forces.

Back in July, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy wrote of Mr. Younis's death, "What really happened? It may be days before we have a clear picture, if then. But whatever happened here, there have been emerging splits in rebel ranks, and the likelihood that there could be a 'war after the war' is looking greater."

Uncontrolled, the militias could encourage an insurgency against the new government, according to the AP. The Washington Post reports that parts of Tripoli are still controlled by various rival militias who have resisted calls to disarm.

One of the largest chunks of US aid to Libya in the past few months – $40 million – went to expanding the search for looted antiaircraft rockets to ensure they did not end up in the hands of terrorists, The New York Times reports. Fourteen US civilian contractors are assisting in the search. And the bulk of the new aid will go to similar efforts, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

According to the Times, the fact that Mr. Qaddafi remains at large has created uncertainty and concern about the chances for a smooth political transition. Iraq's insurgency took root while Saddam Hussein was in hiding after the country's fall, and US officials worry Libya could go down the same path. “I wouldn’t underestimate Qaddafi’s ability to be a lethal nuisance,” an unnamed Obama administration official told the Times.

Finding Qaddafi will become the top priority once Sirte has fallen, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani said, according to the AP.

The NTC will not declare complete liberation of the country until its forces have completely overtaken Qaddafi's hometown, Sirte, which remains the sole holdout now. NTC forces declared victory in Bani Walid, the other remaining stronghold, on Monday.

There is some concern that Qaddafi loyalist fighters slipped out of Bani Walid and Sirte and will try to organize an insurgency using weapons from stockpiles in the southern desert, according to AP. NTC forces in Bani Walid reported finding weapons and ammunition hidden in the yards of many homes.

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