North Atlantic Treaty Organization ministers, who are also discussing the alliance’s future role in Afghanistan, added Libya to their agenda after Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan visited NATO a week ago as the country sought assistance, said the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
President Barack Obama hinted at a potential NATO training role for Libya’s fledgling government last week after meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the White House. The alliance’s military intervention in Libya helped oust dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
“We now have a Libyan government that is in a transition process,” Obama said at a May 31 White House appearance with Rasmussen. “And part of where we think we can be helpful is to ensure that a democratically elected Libyan government has the capacity to control its borders to ensure that it does not become a safe haven for terrorism. And I think NATO has an important role to play on that front.”
Rasmussen discussed possible assistance with Libya’s prime minister, Obama said.
‘Strong Partners’“We are very supportive of those efforts because we think it’s critical that we have strong partners in places like North Africa that are able to meet the security needs of their own people but are also working with the international community to meet the security needs of all of us,” Obama said.
NATO’s possible willingness to further engage in Libya stands in contrast to the alliance’s posture toward Syria, where a civil war has killed more than 70,000 people.
NATO hasn’t conducted any military planning for Syria except for some preliminary plans on how to secure chemical weapons, one defense official said.
Syria won’t be on the formal agenda for NATO defense ministers, although it may come up informally, the official said.
Much of the June 4-5 defense ministers’ meeting at NATO headquarters will focus on defining a mission for alliance forces in Afghanistan after 2014, when NATO’s combat mission will have ended. NATO officials have talked previously of retaining a force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops to train, advise and assist the Afghan army. How to provide that supporting role will be discussed this week, one official said.
Afghan TroopsThe U.S. hasn’t said how many troops it will keep in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghans will take responsibility for securing their country. The official said the U.S. may want to evaluate conditions on the ground over the coming year before making a specific commitment to troop numbers.
Many of the critical decisions on Afghanistan may not be made until a 2014 NATO summit that Obama announced last week. That summit is designed to plan for “this final chapter in our Afghan operations,” Obama said.
The ministers will also devote a formal session at the conference to protecting against computer hacking attacks, in what one official described as an important first step toward devoting more attention to the issue. The session will focus mainly on protecting NATO’s own computer networks, the official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who took office in February, will be making his first appearance at a NATO defense ministerial meeting.