- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised Libya’s fledgling government more U.S. support during an unannounced visit to Tripoli on Tuesday, as toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi remained at large and his forces held out in his hometown of Sirte.

Mrs. Clinton brought a promise of U.S. aid to treat and rehabilitate the 15,000 Libyan war-wounded, especially the country’s 1,500 amputees.

She said the United States will expand educational and cultural links with Libya. She said the aid will include English-language classes, scholarships to study in the United States and assistance from an American university for Libya’s world heritage site, the ancient Roman remains at Cyrene.

She also pledged more aid for the Libyans to help them find and destroy Col. Gadhafi’s weapons, including 20,000 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles the dictator amassed.

Officials said the total aid now pledged is about $40 million on top of $5.75 million that already had been spent, a State Department official said. The department is working with Congress to reprogram another $35 million.

Mrs. Clinton’s five-hour trip was designed to “deepen [the] partnership” with the country’s new Transitional National Council (TNC) as it struggles to unify the various revolutionary militias that defeated Gadhafi and to encourage its leaders to keep their promises on democracy and the rule of law, a senior state department official traveling with the secretary said.

Her trip was the latest in a string of visits to Tripoli by senior leaders of Western nations,

“On behalf of the U.S., I congratulate all Libyans,” said Mrs. Clinton, meeting TNC Chairman Mustapha Abdel-Jalil. “It is a great privilege to see a new future for Libya being born.”

Officials in Washington said she would press Mr. Jalil on the issue of the December 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which Libyan intelligence agents carried out. Convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi remains on the run in Libya, after his 2009 release on humanitarian grounds by Scottish authorities.

“We continue to call for more information and for access to those who might have been somehow involved in the planning or execution of the bombing,” a State Department official said in a statement to The Washington Times.

Observers cautioned that Libya’s future is highly uncertain with the risk that the TNC might be unable to unite the ethnic-, tribal- and regional-based militias and political forces that overthrew Col. Gadhafi.

“The reality is [that] our ability is limited” to have an effect on the eventual outcome, said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Every single historical example we have says that this is going to be very hard and take a very long time,” he added of the TNC’s efforts to unify some militias into a national army and disarm others.

“Not all of the militias have yet come on board,” said the senior state department official traveling with Mrs. Clinton. “More still need to come.”

Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that “the work ahead is quite challenging,” but said Libyans “have demonstrated the determination and resolve necessary.”

She spoke as TNC forces continued to bombard pro-Gadhafi holdouts in the dictator’s hometown of Sirte, the latest exchanges in a bloody weeks-long battle for the city that has left much of it in ruins, hundreds dead and many civilians trapped in the crossfire.

The secrecy surrounding Mrs. Clinton’s visit underscored fears about the stability of Libya with the fierce resistance in Sirte, a recent attack by Gadhafi loyalists in Tripoli and the deposed dictator still on the loose.

Speaking to reporters on the trip, the senior State Department official dismissed Col. Gadhafi as “a lethal nuisance factor.”

“I don’t think there’s any coordination going on [between] pockets of people who are trying to stop the flow of history,” the official added of the pro-Gadhafi holdouts.”

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