BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Tuesday the alliance will send an expert mission to Libya at short notice to assess needs as the country faces a flow of insurgents from Mali.
Security experts worry that the al-Qaida-linked militants — pushed out of Mali after French military intervention — may be trying to establish a safe haven in southern Libya.
The mission “will go as soon as possible and, together with the Libyans, identify the areas in which the Libyans think they need advice and areas where we do believe we can add value,” Rasmussen said ahead of the opening session of a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
He insisted it will not mean putting boots on the ground in the North African nation.
“This is not about deploying troops to Libya. If we are to engage in training activities, such activities could take place outside Libya,” he said.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander, told reporters Tuesday that officials have been considering the training mission for a couple weeks and that the U.S. would be part of the effort.
U.S. defense officials have said NATO’s experience training Afghan and Iraqi security forces provides the expertise to do something similar with Libya.
Rasmussen said NATO is planning to coordinate with other national and international efforts and he expects a report from the expert group by the end of June, before more definite plans are made.
Libyan leaders have requested help from NATO, the U.S. and other nations. U.S. President Obama broadly indicated that he would support efforts by NATO to aid the Libyans.
French officials believe some jihadists may have fled Mali along traditional drug and other contraband trafficking routes through Niger and into Libya.
The vast, mostly barren southern two-thirds of Libya has largely gone its own way since the rebellion that overthrew longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, but now there are concerns that in addition to local tensions, the area might be drawn into larger regional conflicts involving al-Qaida.
French troops drove al-Qaida forces out of nearby Mali, and there are concerns that the militants might try to regroup in southern Libya.