The Obama administration has drawn up draft rules that would end a decadeslong ban on Libyans getting military training in the U.S., according to documents obtained by House Republicans who said Thursday that it’s the wrong move after last year’s Benghazi attack.
The administration says relations with Libya have “normalized” over the past two years and that the Libyan government has earned the right to have better access to the U.S., which imposed the ban in 1983 after a wave of terrorist attacks involving Libyans.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said Libya remains a dangerous hot spot and relaxing the rules is a bad idea.
“We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the Benghazi terrorist attacks and continue to face additional terrorist threats from Libya, yet the Obama administration is preparing to lift a long-standing ban that protects Americans and our interests,” said Mr. Goodlatte, whose committee obtained the draft document.
“The Obama administration should focus its attention on getting answers to the lingering questions surrounding the Benghazi terrorist attacks and ensure that Americans are kept safe and sound,” he said.
A Homeland Security Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there would be no comment on internal drafts and that the proposal hasn’t been approved.
The official said, though, that the U.S. is trying to help Libya as it transitions to a democracy.
“We are committed to working with Libya to build its sovereign institutions and are working closely with the government to bring stability to Libya. As part of this effort, we are reviewing U.S. policies that have been in place since before the Libyan revolution to see how they might be updated to better align with U.S. interests,” the official said.
In the draft rules change, the Homeland Security Department says relations have improved enough since the 2011 fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s government to justify the change. It also says Libya has made strides toward building stable democratic institutions and has maintained a good relationship with the U.S. and the United Nations.
Homeland Security also said the administration wants to offer military training to Libyans so they can use those skills to rebuild their armed forces, including training in aviation maintenance, flight operations and nuclear-related studies. All of those areas are now blocked by the rules regarding Libya.
The department says it wants to have the flexibility to allow training for Libyans on a case-by-case basis, and vows it will screen out those who are trying to steal technology or sensitive information.
Relations with Libya have been complex since the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist assault on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi.
Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif immediately said the attacks were the work of terrorists, but the Obama administration, in the middle of a re-election campaign, disputed that at the time and blamed an anti-Islam video for stirring up a mob.
The administration later acknowledged that the attack was a terrorist assault.
But State Department officials said the initial conflict with Mr. el-Megarif engendered bad feelings and prevented American investigators from getting to the site of the attack.
As of September, the Libyan government was still thwarting U.S. efforts to arrest suspects in the attack.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan was kidnapped by rebels this month but was released hours later.