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Libya needs outside help to avoid perpetual war

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If steps are not taken to get control of security, there is little hope for Libya’s future. Qaddafi’s fateful warning that Libya would become a “Somalia on the Mediterranean” without him could come true. The investment that NATO and its partners made in toppling Qaddafi would then be almost entirely wasted. 

The uproar at the news of the US operation that captured Al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi in Libya earlier this week underscored the difficulties Libyan leaders face in balancing anxieties about their sovereignty with a desperate need for more help from the international community. These anxieties have made it very difficult for the government to ask for assistance – particularly on security. This hampers the cooperation Libya so badly needs to claw its way back toward peace and stability.

These anxieties will persist and worsen in the aftermath of this week’s events. Nevertheless, more extensive international efforts to help get Libya back on course must begin immediately.

Thankfully, several NATO countries have already committed to train Libyan police and military forces so that the government can have some reliable troops of its own. Prime Minister Zeidan’s capture is a dramatic demonstration of how badly such a force is needed.

Training will not be easy, given the challenges involved in selecting the right candidates and the time it will take to get the programs up and running. An earlier effort to train Libyan police in Jordan fell apart when the would-be cadets got drunk and set fire to a building. The Libyan government and their international partners, especially NATO, nevertheless need to accelerate current training plans.

But training government security forces is not enough. In fact, fortifying the government’s own military could backfire if militias see it as a threat.

Rather than give up on the training, however, the Libyan government could ask the United Nations or European Union to sponsor a national disarmament conference that brings together as many of the militias as possible for mediated deliberations about the country’s future. Most important would be getting the major militias from Tripoli, Benghazi, Misratah, and Zintan to participate.

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