WASHINGTON – Restoring military ties with Libya (search) would greatly benefit U.S. efforts to counter the forces of instability in northern Africa, a senior U.S. general said Thursday.
Gen. Charles Wald (search), deputy commander of European Command, whose area of responsibility includes much of Africa, said in an Associated Press interview that he favors restoring military relations as long as Libya satisfies the United States that it has renounced terrorism.
"I think it's going to happen," he said.
Wald said he believes Libya and nearly every North African nation is interested in better relations with Washington, in part because they share a concern about Islamic extremism.
"There's obviously discussion going on: What are we going to do with Libya? How do we want to engage? Should they be part of the process? Do you bring them into the fold?" Wald said.
He said that if Libya lives up to its promises on forswearing weapons of mass destruction and ending its sponsorship of terrorism, then the United States should establish military relations.
"I think it would be hugely beneficial" to U.S. interests in North Africa, the four-star Air Force general said at the Pentagon between meetings with senior officials. Wald is based in Germany.
It is not clear what sort of military ties the Pentagon would seek. They probably would include direct talks between senior military officials and possibly an arrangement for U.S. training with Libyan troops or direct access to Libyan military facilities.
Wald's command in recent years has focused more of its attention on North Africa, where it sees a rising danger from transnational terrorists seeking to exploit instability and porous borders.
A U.S. program — the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative (search) — is intended to provide Chad, Algeria, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia and other countries with military training to block terrorists' infiltration in the heavily Muslim nations along ancient trade routes between Africa and the Middle East. Libya could be added to the program at some point, officials say.
Wald said he hopes to increase U.S. money for that program from about $5 million this year to at least $30 million next year and $60 million or more for several years beyond 2006.
Before the rise to power of Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi in 1970, the U.S. military had bases in Libya, including operations at Wheelus air base near Tripoli, the capital.
In the 1950s the U.S. Air Force stationed long-range bombers at Wheelus, and for a period it was headquarters for the 17th Air Force of U.S. Air Forces Europe. U.S. intelligence agencies also operated from Wheelus, mainly on missions to monitor activities of Soviet military forces.
But for much of the past quarter century Libya has been viewed by U.S. administrations as an adversary.
In April 1986, President Reagan ordered the bombing of targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, following U.S. accusations of Libyan involvement in a bomb explosion at a German nightclub frequented by U.S. soldiers.
Last summer President Bush announced that the United States was resuming diplomatic relations with Libya. Bush acted after Ghadafi agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program, revealed secrets about the nuclear black market and accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, promising to pay compensation to relatives of the 270 people killed.
Wald's interest in Libya is shared by other elements of the Defense Department.
The POW-MIA office at the Pentagon, for example, sent representatives to Libya last year to discuss possible cooperation on accounting for a U.S. airman missing after his B-24 bomber crashed in the Libyan desert during World War II. They also discussed the recovery of an Air Force F-111 crew member missing from the 1986 bombing raid on Tripoli.