Aspen, CO. - Turmoil in the nascent Libyan government is likely frustrating the FBI's attempts to capture the five men suspected of playing a key role in the attacks on the U.S. consulate and CIA facility in Libya that left four Americans dead last September, according to former U.S. Africa Command chief, Gen. (ret) Carter Ham.
"It's more the dealing between the government of the United States and this emerging yet fragile government of Libya that has impeded any significant progress on bringing to justice those who killed our friends," said Ham during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last night.
"All politics are local, and in Libya that is very much the case," said Ham. "The Libyan government has to wrestle with this idea of ‘do we apprehend this guy and what would that mean to us if we apprehended some of these people, if we tried them, if we handed them over [to the U.S.],' it's a very, very complex issue."
While the U.S. made some progress initially in working with the Libyan government that has emerged in Tripoli since Muammar al Qaddafi was overthrown in late 2011, that stalled as senior officials in the Libyan government came and went.
"This is one of the consequences of the fragility of the Libyan government," said Ham. "Progress was made initially but then the government changes, key leaders change."
He went on to say that "so much of this is relationships, so much of this is trust and if the person you're used to working with is now out of office and suddenly you've got a brand new person . . . it just frustrates, it complicates the process."
Some have criticized the Obama administration for not capturing the five suspects identified by the FBI in May via military means, despite claims the U.S. has evidence to justify such actions. The White House maintains that it is treating this as a law enforcement case and is trying to work with the Libyan legal system to extradite the attackers and try them in a U.S. criminal court. One of the suspects, Faraj al Chalabi, was reportedly detained by the Libyan government in March -- only to be released in June by Libyan authorities who said they didn't have enough evidence to warrant holding him.
The FBI, with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies, is keeping the suspects under electronic surveillance as it tries to gather up more evidence -- such as videos of the men at the scene of the attack -- for use in a criminal trial.
This is just one example of what may be many of how tough it will be for the U.S. to form working relationships with the new, often fluid and shaky governments that are emerging from the political upheaval in the Arab world. It also shows that it may be a while before the U.S. is able to put the Banghazi attack behind it. Let's hope America's can get better at building relationships with other new governements popping up in the Arab world.