News / Middle East

US Defense Chief Makes Historic Visit to Libya

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta greets members of the Libyan delegation on the tarmac during his arrival in Tripoli, Saturday, Dec., 17, 2011.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta greets members of the Libyan delegation on the tarmac during his arrival in Tripoli, Saturday, Dec., 17, 2011.
Luis Ramirez

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made a historic visit to a newly liberated Libya, where he has offered U.S. support as the country's transitional leaders struggle to create a cohesive democratic society. 

It was the first visit to Libya by a U.S. defense secretary, and was symbolic of a new era in relations between Washington and a nation that was once one of its main enemies.

Panetta's motorcade sped past buildings riddled with bullet holes and the bombed-out complex that was once the headquarters of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, scars of an eight-month civil war.

Along the way, a spontaneous welcome from Tripoli residents. People flashed victory signs and graffiti on walls had messages of thanks for the United States and its allies.  

Panetta went straight into meetings with Libya's transitional leaders, including the interim prime minister, and told them Washington wants to help them build a new, democratic society.

“I believe that this new and free Libya can become an important security partner for the United States," he said. "Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. They will chart their future. They will determine what assistance they require from the United States and the international community."

The United States and NATO assisted revolutionary forces with air support and intelligence during the eight month civil war that toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi.  Now Washington is offering a different kind of assistance - on the ground.

The United States on Friday announced the lifting of most of the sanctions it imposed during the Gadhafi rule, a move Panetta said is aimed at helping the new government get started.

“This measure will allow the Libyan government to access most of its worldwide holdings, and assist the prime minister in his efforts to oversee the country's reconstruction and transition."

Under the U.S. action, assets under U.S. jurisdiction that are owned by the Gadhafi family or members of the late leader's inner circle remain frozen.

Panetta told Libyan leaders the United States stands ready to offer security assistance to them.  He said there was no discussion of weapons sales.

In a sign of the challenges the new government is facing, demonstrators protested outside the prime minister's office as he met with Panetta. They said they have not been payed their wages for months.

The defense chief's visit comes as outbreaks of violence trigger doubts on whether Libya is ready to transition to a stable democracy.  A recent gunbattle near the Tripoli airport between revolutionary forces and militias highlighted the difficulties that Libya's interim leaders are having in forming key institutions like the army.

Still, Panetta expressed optimism that the courage and heroism of those who fought Gadhafi would drive Libya into a better future.

Later, he went to a cemetery on Tripoli's waterfront and laid a wreath at the burial place of 13 U.S. sailors killed during the time of Barbary wars, at the start of the 19th century.    

The visit to Libya culminated a tour of the region that included Djibouti, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey. In Iraq, Panetta attended an event marking the formal end of the U.S. war in that country and paid tribute to the more than 4,000 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in the conflict.


You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Countries Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs