US May Commit Troops on New Train-and-Advise Mission in Libya

Libyan followers of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades and other Islamic militias, hold a demonstration against a film and a cartoon denigrating the Prophet Muhammad in Benghazi, Libya.

Libyans will have to come together behind a government before U.S. troops are sent on a train and advise mission into the country's multi-sided civil war that includes ISIS, the Pentagon said Friday.

The U.S. wanted to "see a central government coalesce" as a precondition to any commitment of American troops, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

"The first thing that is needed is political unity," he said.

The statements followed remarks by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford in which he suggested that the deployment of small teams of U.S. troops to Libya was imminent.

"There's a lot of activity going on underneath the surface" on a train and advise mission in Libya that would also involve supplying friendly forces with arms and equipment, Dunford told reporters on his plane returning from Europe.

"We're just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn't been an agreement" among the Libyans to support a central government, Dunford said, "and frankly, any day that could happen," The Washington Post reported.

"There will be a long-term mission in Libya," Dunford said.

By sending troops to Libya, the U.S. would be adding to the list of countries in which it has gone to war since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or become involved in lengthy military missions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and now Yemen.

Davis said that the small team of U.S. advisers sent into Yemen earlier this month to assist Arab coalition forces against the Islamic State in the Arabian Peninsula terror group was still on the ground, though their mission was described as short term.

In his remarks aboard the plane, Dunford also alluded to how increasingly complicated it has become to organize a strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as the group branches out in the region.

Dunford said that there are now about 1,000 fighters backed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in the Sinai.

"We have seen a connection between the Islamic State in the Sinai and Raqqa" -- the self-proclaimed capital of the ISIS "caliphate" in northeastern Syria, Dunford said.

The offshoot in the Sinai has also been communicating with ISIS fighters concentrated in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, "so we are watching that pretty closely," Dunford said.

If the U.S. were to send troops to Libya, it would be in support of the struggling new Government

of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, which is backed by the United Nations.

Sarraj has been attempting to unite various factions now fighting with each other to rally behind the government in battling ISIS.

In an interview with the Atlantic last month, President Barack Obama described the situation in Libya as a "mess," and blamed himself and European allies for failing to stay involved in Libya after backing rebels in the downfall of dictator Moammar Khadafy.

"The degree of tribal division in Libya was greater than our analysts had expected," the president said, "and our ability to have any kind of structure there that we could interact with, and start training and start providing resources, broke down very quickly."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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