ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Jame Mattis declared Thursday that Libya is “going back in the right direction” while welcoming Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj to the Pentagon on his first official visit.
Al-Sarraj visited with President Trump today at the White House, but the administration canceled their press availability in the Oval Office.
Mattis praised the Libyan official for his government’s liberation of Sirte from ISIS occupation, while noting more U.S.-Libya counterterrorism cooperation is needed “especially in light of ISIS and al-Qaeda having taken advantage of remote spaces inside Libya to establish sanctuaries from which they hatch murder.”
“My aunt and uncle taught English in Libya in the early 1960s, so many of us remember a Libya with great promise. And after 40 years of oppression, we are optimistic you’re going back in the right direction,” the Defense secretary added.
“…The Libyan poet, Ibrahim al-Koni, summed it up well when he said, ‘Wherever there are human beings, there is an epic story.’ And it is for the people of Libya to write their own epic, and we seek to help them get the time to do that, through the Government of National Accord.”
Al-Sarraj acknowledged that “there are other places where there are — terrorism is also a threat and we, for that purpose, we need to continue to maintain our coordination, also, with your ambassador, so that we can eliminate all these places where terrorists hide.”
“Certainly the Libyan people have paid the price for … terrorism in the country and our friends also have suffered as a result of this war. But the Libyan people are determined to complete this mission. Thousands of people — of Libyans — have fallen and martyrs have been injured as a result of this war. But the government of the — National Accord Government has decided and is determined not to stop until it wipes out terrorism,” he said.
The visit came just two days after the ringleader of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack, 46-year-old Libyan national Ahmed Abu Khatallah, was found guilty in federal court of of one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists, one count of providing material support or resources to terrorists, one count of maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and property and placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and one count of using and carrying a semiautomatic weapon during a crime of violence — but acquitted of murder in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Al-Sarraj said the Libyan government has “managed to contain many of the armed militias” that have contributed to a chaotic security framework “and we have absorbed them” into “various security institutions.”
“We are also facing another challenge which is the lack of capabilities and means,” he added. “And this includes also the embargo on the armament that the National Accord Government is facing, and we hope that this embargo will be partially ended at least against some of the military branches such as the presidential court and the Coast Guard so that they can complete their mission.”