A senior U.S. military commander says Libya could become a partner in North Africa's efforts to combat terrorism, especially the activities of an al-Qaida-linked organization called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

General Charles Wald said Libya is actually afraid of the Salafists, Algerian-based Muslim extremists who have been increasingly active across the entire Sahel region of north-central Africa.

Speaking in a VOA interview at the Pentagon, General Wald gives no indication of how he knows of Libya's concerns about the group.

But he said if Libya maintains the kind of cooperative attitude evidenced by its recent renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, it could become a partner in the fight against terrorism. He added that would be what he calls a huge step forward.

"We're hoping as Libya shows good behavior and we move down the road at a kind of deliberate pace that Libya may even start participating in North Africa from the standpoint of a counter to the global Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat," he said.

The four-star Air Force general is deputy commander of the U.S. military's European Command, which oversees military activities in Europe and most of Africa.

He said Libya's remarkable turnabout has been a key step in opening the door to closer cooperation with the United States and other countries. "Now who would have thought that was going to happen a few years ago," he noted.

The European Command last month hosted the first-ever gathering of North African and Pan-Sahel defense chiefs, a meeting that brought together senior commanders from Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal and Tunisia. Libya did not attend.

General Wald calls the meeting historic. He said some of the defense chiefs had never met before even though they represented neighboring countries.

He said the talks in general focussed on broad strategies for fighting terrorism, but at one point, in a clear display of their earnestness, he said the participants dealt with a very specific, tactical issue for countering the Salafist terrorist group.