The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.
Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.
"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."
Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.
Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.
"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."
"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."
What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.
"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."
A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.
At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.