- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The Obama administration on Tuesday increased U.S. support for Libya’s new leaders as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made an unannounced visit to Tripoli and pledged millions of dollars in new aid, including medical care for wounded fighters and additional assistance to secure weaponry that many fear could fall into the hands of terrorists.

“This is Libya’s moment. This is Libya’s victory, and the future belongs to you,” Mrs. Clinton said amid talks with Transitional National Council Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and interim leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.

U.S. officials said the fresh aid that Mrs. Clinton brought to Libya totals about $11 million and will boost Washington’s contribution since the uprising against Col. Moammar Gadhafi began in February to roughly $135 million. The officials told reporters traveling with Mrs. Clinton that it is evidence of the administration’s commitment to working with the National Transitional Council as it consolidates control over the entire country and moves to hold free and fair elections.

“Now the hard part begins,” Mrs. Clinton said, heading into the meeting. It was a reference to the country’s transition to democracy.

Addressing leaders of the interim body, Mrs. Clinton noted that the fighting isn’t over yet, but she vowed that NATO would continue to protect civilians as long as the threat continues.

“We are encouraged by the commitment of the Transitional National Council of taking the steps necessary to bring the country together,” she said. But the secretary also said that “all members of all militias must see the benefit of joining the new government.”

As part of the new aid package, the U.S. will relaunch several educational programs, including Fulbright scholarships and English-language training, and help fund an archaeological project that will survey eastern Libya, the officials said. In addition, they said Mrs. Clinton will be stressing the importance of good governance, inclusion, democratization and the diversification of Libya’s economy so it no longer is almost entirely dependent on oil revenue.

Officials said Mrs. Clinton also would raise the case of the Lockerbie bombing with Libyan officials. Last month, Scotland asked Libya’s new authorities to help track down those responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town. It killed 270 people, most of them American.

The only person charged with the bombing, former Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was freed on compassionate grounds in 2009 because of illness. His release infuriated the families of many Lockerbie victims.

The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Mrs. Clinton’s public events in Tripoli, which also were to include meetings with civic leaders that have been kept secret for security reasons.

Most of the new money will go toward finding and destroying thousands of Gadhafi-era shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that are unaccounted for since the fighting began. Mrs. Clinton and other senior U.S. officials repeatedly have stressed the importance of dealing with stockpiles of Libyan weapons.

The State Department already has sent 14 weapons experts to Libya and is looking for other countries to contribute to the effort. The new U.S. contribution of some $10 million means Washington will have spent $40 million on the effort alone since the former rebels began making major military progress, according to the officials.

The dollar amount of the medical portion of the new assistance is not yet known but will go to a multipronged program to assist former rebel troops badly wounded in fighting with Gadhafi loyalists, the officials said. About  15,000 have been wounded during the conflict so far, about 1,500 of whom are now amputees and require specialized care that is not available in Libya.

The medical portion will include transportation to treatment for the most seriously wounded, spare medical parts to fix equipment for trauma care, and chemicals needed to run and drive equipment, the officials said. It also will go to establish a patient tracking program.

Mrs. Clinton is the most senior American official to visit Libya since the uprising against Col. Gadhafi began in February and only the second secretary of state to visit in the past 50 years. The last secretary of state to visit was Condoleezza Rice, who traveled to Tripoli in 2008 and met with Col. Gadhafi after relations between the U.S. and Libya were restored.

Mrs. Clinton is the latest in a string of senior Western dignitaries to visit Libya in recent weeks — British Foreign Secretary William Hague was there Monday — and her arrival came as Libyan fighters celebrated the capture of Bani Walid, one of Col. Gadhafi’s last remaining strongholds. About 1,000 Libyan revolutionary troops launched a major assault on Col. Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte on Tuesday, surging from the east to try to capture the last area under loyalist control.

Fierce resistance in Bani Walid and Sirte has prevented Libya’s new leaders from declaring full victory and setting a timeline for elections. It has been more than two months since the former rebels gained control of Tripoli and the rest of the oil-rich North African nation.

Mrs. Clinton arrived in Tripoli after visiting the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on Tuesday to thank Maltese authorities for their assistance during the crisis in Libya. Malta has been a key staging area for relief and evacuation efforts in Libya and has taken in numerous Libyan refugees.

Mrs. Clinton met with Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and other officials in the capital of Valletta. She encouraged the Maltese to continue assisting Libya’s transitional leaders as they work to create a new government after years of oppression under Col. Gadhafi.

Malta’s unique geography, history and expertise will make it a valued partner in this work,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mrs. Clinton is only the second American secretary of state to visit Malta and the first to make an official solo trip. The only other secretary of state to visit Malta, James Baker, came in 1989 as part of former President George H.W. Bush’s delegation to a summit with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.