Western allies have little chance of influencing Libya

Reuters

* Western allies have no clear military options

* Training for Libyan security forces still in planningstage

* Libyans still seek to negotiate, albeit with guns

By Myra MacDonald

LONDON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - With Libya sliding into anarchy -its prime minister was briefly kidnapped by militiamen onThursday - Western countries are repeating their commitment tohelp the North African country complete its transition todemocracy after its 2011 revolution.

But they have few good options to back up those promisesbeyond hoping the Libyan people themselves can eventually agreeon a system of governance to reduce fighting between thecountry's many ethnic, tribal and regional factions.

Without an authoritative government, Western allies have noclear partner for the central plank of their strategy tostabilise Libya - training Libyan security forces to guard keyinstallations, cities and the country's desert borders withEgypt to the east and Algeria to the west.

The risk is that they could encourage new militias orbolster the one part of the state that controlled those securityforces at the expense of others, potentially undermining themessy democratic transition even further.

France and Britain, prime movers behind the Westernintervention to support the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi, werequick to pledge support for Prime Minister Ali Zeidan after hiscapture on Thursday.

But NATO Secretary General Andres Fog Rasmussen said thedefence alliance was still considering how to meet an earlierrequest by Zeidan for help in training security forces.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, he said therewere "some considerations as to how the security situation willimpact on any possible NATO assistance", but did not elaborate.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said training would begin onceplanning had been finalised and Libya had selected recruits. "Weanticipate that this will be early next year," a spokesman said.

A U.S. defence official said talks were still in theplanning phase with no final decisions made. The intent would beto provide military training outside Libya, rather than to sendlarge numbers of trainers to work inside the country.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United Stateswould "continue to work closely with the Libyan government as itcontinues to build its capacity to deliver security and goodgovernance to the people of Libya" but stopped short of makingany specific promises of fresh assistance.

SHARING OUT POWER AND OIL

Libya has so far been unable to agree on a new constitutionto distribute political representation among its competingregions and cities and rival tribes and ethnic groups and,crucially, to share out the country's oil and gas resources.

Zeidan also faces a possible vote of no confidence andLibya's transition assembly, the General National Congress, iscrippled by divisions between the secular National ForcesAlliance and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The authority of the central government has beenparticularly challenged in the east, where protesters sayingthey are protecting Libya's oil from corrupt elites have closedports and threatened to sell oil for their Cyrenaica region.

But Zeidan's kidnapping from a luxury hotel in the capitalTripoli highlighted the extent to which splits within Libyacannot be divided into neat groups, for example by region ortribe, but run through the city and even the government.

The gunmen who kidnapped Zeidan - who said they were angeredby the weekend capture by U.S. special forces of an al Qaedasuspect in Tripoli - were themselves associated with thefragmented Libyan security apparatus.

Libyans, meanwhile, have not only to agree a democraticprocess but to build a state - Gaddafi worked hard to ensurethere was no real state to challenge him, keeping Libyaoff-balance and fractured after seizing power in a 1969 coup.

At the same time, al Qaeda and its allies are takingadvantage of the chaos to buy weapons, win recruits and send mento Syria to join al Qaeda-aligned rebels against PresidentBasher al Ass, Western and regional security sources say.

Libyan weapons have been smuggled into Egypt, helpedIslamist fighters overrun parts of Mali before a French-ledmilitary operation earlier this year and were used in an attackon an Algerian desert gas plant, the sources say.

The prime minister's kidnap showed how bad things had got.

"No one has been paying attention to how fragmented Libyais, how bad the militia situation has become," a former U.S.national security official said. "Now it's become obvious."

NO MILITARY SOLUTION

Yet for all the concern, western allies have few militaryoptions, especially at a time when Washington is curbingspending and President Barack Obama has tried to keep the UnitedStates out of new wars after more than a decade of conflict inAfghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. military officials said earlier this week the UnitedStates would move about 200 Marines to a U.S. base atSingle-lane, Italy, from one in Spain to respond to any crisesafter its raid in Libya.

The Marines are part of a special force created after lastyear's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in whichambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

But U.S. defence officials made clear its remit was torespond to limited crises that threaten U.S. governmentofficials and citizens in the Mediterranean region, includingNorth Africa.

The potential for drone strikes likewise remains verylimited. Used in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistanand in Yemen to target Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda,they are not designed to restore stability in a complex civilconflict like the one in Libya.

The United States operates unarmed surveillance drones inthe region from a base in Niger to the south of Libya but as yetthere seems to be no move to introduce armed drones.

Without a military solution, officials acknowledge the besthope for the West is to let Libyans continue the tortuousprocess of establishing a democracy, to offer technicalexpertise where possible to build state capacity, and to useintelligence to contain the threat from al Qaeda.

Geoff Porter, from North Africa Risk Consulting, said thesituation in Libya was "not completely catastrophic" given thatLibyans were still seeking to negotiate among themselves, albeitoften at the end of a gun.

They had little appetite for a new dictatorship and theprime minister's eventual release, he noted, fitted a patternfor resolving grievances. "The goal is not confrontation," hesaid. "The goal was to negotiate."

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