September 12th, 2012
09:56 AM ET

Townsend: Libya has been suffering 'fragile' security

Libya has been in a "very fragile" state of security for a while, and the U.S. and international community failed in paying the country consistent and adequate attention so that it would grow stronger since the killing of its longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011.

That's according to Fran Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush and current CNN contributor who spoke Wednesday morning in the wake of the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Stevens was killed in an attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi on Tuesday.

Libya "really needs the attention and support of the international community," Townsend said. "Unfortunately it will now get the attention it needed before this tragedy."

"I think we [the United States] have supported the freedom movement [throughout the region], especially in Libya," Townsend said. "We supported the strikes. We were a part of the effort by NATO. But it's not enough, right? It's not enough to help people actually get their freedom, overthrow a government. You're going to have to come in behind them and help them as a fledgling democracy."

"The first indication of a working democracy if that it can protect its own people. And Libya is struggling. I was there. To take in the military elements, the ministry of interior and border guards [are] trying to get the equipment they need. And the attention of the international community, quite frankly, has turned elsewhere.

"There are hot spots in Syria," she said. "There are hot spots around the world where we're engaged. Our attention with the Iran nuclear program and everyone has said Libya fell off people's attention. And I must tell you, if we don't want to see these sorts of tragedies, we need to have a longer attention span and commit ourselves to helping fledgling democracies get up and running and be able to protect their own."

She counted Stevens as a friend and said she spent time with him just two weeks ago.

"I was in Tripoli on a business trip," she said. "He was not only a friend, but I think to give our viewers some context, Chris Stevens had a particular sort of affinity for Benghazi," she said. "He [was] in D.C. in 2007 when I was in the White House...He was there with me when I traveled to speak to Moammar Ghadafi. [Stevens] knew the rebels in Benghazi. He felt very comfortable there.

"This was not your typical starched shirt ambassador. This was a guy who was a real professional who rolled up his sleeves, who wanted to help the Libyans get the freedom that they have fought for. It's an extraordinary loss, not only for the State Department - and obviously Chris' family - but for the country."

CNN asked, "By all accounts Chris Stevens was a very special man with a very special affinity to Libya. He was a key part in the American role over there over the last year and a half as the rapid changes were happening in the Arab Spring. What does his death then today signify to you?"

"You could tell in talking to people both in the Libyan government and at the U.S. Embassy that there have been real concerns," she answered.

Townsend said there is a city called Derna, east of Benghazi, where there's a growing extremist element.

"People [talked] to me about that while I was there, that this group - this al Qaeda, Islamist, extremist group - is gaining strength in numbers, and they were moving west."

Stevens offered to take Townsend to Benghazi. She couldn't go because she wasn't going to be in the country long enough, she said.

"I give him tremendous credit," she said. "He was willing to go there to talk to folks and to try to help them. But one individual alone, even with the Embassy staff - I don't want to misstate it - it's a terrific staff, very strong, who were very inspired by Chris Stevens' commitment to Libya. But it needs more. It needs a whole government approach.

"It's what we talked about in Iraq. You can't simply go in and break stuff and overthrow a government, pack up your stuff and go home and leave your diplomats there," she said. "You actually need to do more in terms of commitment of the international community to help build institutions."

Gadhafi, who was killed by Libyans, "didn't permit civil institutions," Townsend said. "He was an autocratic dictator and we knew that. So when he was overthrown, the new government was going to need long-term support," she said. "They have their own money from oil. They needed help building civil institutions."

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Filed under: Libya • Security Brief
soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. hajershareef

    “I consider myself lucky to participate in this amazing period of change and hope in Libya… Chris Stevens”. Those was the last words of a great friend for Libyans Ambassador Chris Stevens, he was a friend more than just an ambassador.
    All Libyans felt grief on the tragedy to hear the death of Mr. Ambassador Chris Stevens; we condemn this barbaric action which does not represent us Libyans and Muslims. We send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.
    In the news of Mr. Ambassador Chris Stevens’s death, we Libyans awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to courage; now we are more determined to rebuild new civilized democratic Libya, we promise, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. This is the way real Libyans will pay you back Mr. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

    September 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  2. Gina

    We need to eradicate them before they eradicate us. You can not reason with uneducated zealots.

    September 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  3. D E

    We need to wipe all religious nutjobs off the face of the planet. Mankind will only move backwards until we do.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:04 am | Reply
  4. Maureen

    Death and mahem will ensue as it has for many years! Religion is supposed to be a way of life that brings peace and serenity! There is not a bit of remorse for deaths of Americans or those who go against the Muslim faith. Americans are just not equipped to deal with the mentality of these people. They don't care if they die!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  5. jack

    for sure what happened is so sad

    some comments said "We have dead Americans to bury"

    well i will comment in this one

    you have dead Americans to bury how much body's ? 4 5 maybe 6

    well take a look at how many people die in afghanistan in just one day kids,women and old people

    and who killed them ? the brave fighters as you call them ! so brave i know to kill some 8 years old kids

    USA people thinks they are angels or never do anything wrong but the truth is ur the one who making the word that bad

    and by the way i'm not an arab guy i'm form canada

    September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  6. bob

    islam is a cancer, plain and simple, and needs to be eradicated.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Reply
    • Susan Tenofsky

      The message is clear; but I am not sure Obama is concerned about getting rid of them. I am not sure that he will be agreeable to provoking more terrorism because he has no real Foreign Policy!

      October 3, 2012 at 5:58 am | Reply
  7. Average American

    I can not get over the story spin from this latest Attack on America! We say sorry for our Rights of free Speech, And are trying to blame a Movie as motive for people that hate Us? Then the Coward in Office has his Friends say how wrong Romney is for Standing up for Americans. Look at the Calendar People its 9-11, I personally don't think Romney Spoke too soon about defending America! However I do feel the President waited too long to Protect America from Terrorist Threat. Common sense and the celebration after 9-11 should have instilled that in very American. I can only hope People see through the typical media WAG-THE-TAIL.
    Nobody should live in terror and fear for expressing themselves, or Religion; and call it FREEDOM. I don't agree with a lot of foreign policy's We've done in the past. But I cannot stand behind a President that doesn't stand up for his Country. The longer We wait to Address this Attack the more at risk Our Military Men and Women become. The few twisted cowards, that attack unarmed citizens need to be punished. Hiding behind women and children and planting bombs in subways and cars, is Behavior that all Rational civilization needs to fight against.
    I'm sick of People Blaming a religion, race or place on the map! I don't care what country Someone is from, Together We can end Terrorism. Look what happens if we don't.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Reply
    • Avi

      It is clearly evident when a paid campaign guy writes a lengthy and structured comment like the one above. Nice try though.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Reply
      • Average American

        I'm not paid campaign writer, or uneducated and Handicapped. I'm what i said I was, also NOT falling for the same things the government told my father when he served in Vietnam. I don't care What the Media says 90% of the time. It's biased and self serving. There's 2 sides to every story and We're always only told 1. Greenday has a song American Idiot which fits this. Bash my comments all You'd like , however I see more Riots everyday and the viloence

        September 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • maorona1

      Your name shouldn't be "Average American"...it should be "Uneducated Retard American"

      September 14, 2012 at 1:39 am | Reply
    • Susan Tenofsky

      Personally, I agree with your summation. I think Romney was wrongly accused of speaking about a wrong that no one in the government had the courage to address. They were all scurrying around trying to find ways to hide the truth instead of concentrating on giving Stevens the honor he deserved. That, of course, would validate what a failure Obama is as a President and the media will not admit. I hope truth finds a way to the voter before election day. Obama is out to destroy America, not build it.

      October 3, 2012 at 6:05 am | Reply
  8. foad

    I live in Egypt
    Many screamed and we say to the United States warned of Islam and Muslims
    We Christians in Egypt live life hell
    we can not open our mouth

    September 12, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • Tarek

      Liar, I live in Egypt and have a lot of christian friends, work in every aspect and never felt there is any difficulties or (hill ) as you claim.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  9. Sean

    WHY in the world are we wasting our time and money in these God forsaken middle eastern countries????? But WORST OF ALL WHY are we sacraficing the lives of our wonderful men and women in uniform????? Pull our troops out NOW, cut off all money and aide, and let them do whatever!!!!! Kill each other I guess.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
    • myworld

      if it wasnt for the debt and the resources we need, we would have no interest there to make it simple for you its all about profits not Prophets

      September 13, 2012 at 1:52 am | Reply
  10. Sarah

    To show this man being dragged through the streets either dead or close to death is horrible. Does the press have no respect for his family who will now have a lasting reminder of how their loved one died in such a brutal manner? Also, ambassador Stevens loved this country and the US. I am sure that he would not want us to "drop a nuclear bomb on the whole region".

    September 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • cris

      Sarah, I totally agree with you. It is disrespectful of CNN to show Ambassador Stevens in this insensitive manner. If the point was to show that many Libyans appreciated his efforts in the region, so much so that they tried to get him to safety .... just print the message. Showing the ambassador in such a manner is unconscionable. I pray his wife and children do not see this photo. Shame on CNN!!!

      September 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
      • Nana1948

        Cris and Sarah: In response to your statements. Do you not have enough sense to realize this will be happening in our own country if we do not remove ourselves and our people from that region of the world that have been fighting for thousands of years? We cannot stop them. We can only bury more of our brave men and women. If it takes this kind of shocking wake up call, so be it. I, for one, am not ready to bury my children for something that will never end. COME HOME, AMERICA!!!!!!!! WE HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS TO SOLVE HERE. WE ARE NOT POLICEMEN TO THE WORLD!!!!!!!!

        September 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
      • myworld

        media is the devil's advocate, they want you to see it so you can get angry and hate it then you will feel less compelled to have compassion for the women and children AFTER they bomb them for so called justice REMEMBER there always another side to this story

        September 13, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  11. Babs

    The West's taking out of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in the horn of Africa – a link between Africa and Europe is one of the greatest mistakes "France" lead bombing campaign did to strengtened Islamic extremism.
    I'm an african pundit, and can tell you categorically that, were Col. Moammar Gadhafi to be alive, the situation on the hands of the Westerners wouldn't be happening – the result of the France lead campaign in Lybia is opening a direct gate way of terrorism into the Western world via Europe.
    Radical as Col. Moammar Gadhafi might have been in his early days, he was repentant of all his hostilities against the West in the 70's ,80's and realy 90's – he recounciled with most if not all the western countries, tour and showed solidarity with most of his victims to the extent of paying damages to the families of those who were PAN AM bombings organized by his radical group those days – Moammar Gadhafi repented, yet the West took him out.
    Moammar Gadhafi believe it or not was one of the very best African rulers till date, compared to people like Zimbabewan die hard leader – Robert Mugabe, who defyed the West, and runied the fortuned and economy of his people, What did the West do about him ?
    Why hasn't the West taken out Assad in syria, and also why hasn't the Iranian president being toppled. The funny thing is that, Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his family, where-ever they are would be laughing in their hearts out today, hence the West should fundermentally get their facts right before overthrowing a regime, what the Wests have on their hands as at today, is another Somalia of Lybia full of extremists who are ready to die in the name of Islam !!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  12. mikebesta1

    Easy ,take a deep breath and think about what you are saying !..It is easier to hate than forgive.

    September 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
    • bob

      easy for anyone to say what you say, but people like you never seem to offer any solutions?? what say you offer some, versus taking the easy way out??

      September 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  13. Maryann

    The islamist extremists were shouting “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama,” this had nothing to do with a movie.

    September 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  14. Clinton

    Bottom line, a bunch of peace hating barbarians attacked the only civilized thing they could find over some movie that nobody at our consulate probably even knew existed. That's how dumb that part of the world is... I say... carpet bomb Benghazi and leave... In Egypt where they are attacking our embassy as well.... Carpet bomb the city and leave... So sick of the Middle East, they are not worth it... they are a failed society... their religion their society their fundamental beliefs are so fracked up that they hardly even value human life let alone freedom... Carpet bomb the whole damn region and walk out now...

    September 12, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
    • bb

      Very well put, i agree totally. Unfortunatley Oblunder will probably give them 2 time outs and send them to anger management classes. This is what happens when your leader is a pansy

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 am | Reply
    • Jazz

      Yes, Obama sends mixed signals to the middle east and leads from behind. Well, with the coordinated attacks yesterday proved his failed policys are getting American citizens killed. Obama is not a competant leader. We most let him go. He view of the world is not a pro American view. He waits too long to condem and then when he does, it is just empty words. Vote hime out. He doesn't deserve a second term.

      September 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Osama

      Ya, lets bomb my homeland (80,000,000 people btw) because some "protestors" ripped down the flag... all these events are staged to start wwiii, do these people even look like Salafayeens? They are poor, street kids, who may have been paid to cause mayhem!

      September 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
      • Paul

        to comment made by Osama....
        You know what dude...its so funny how "your people" will accept any handout given to them but when you are asked to take control of your country let alone your lives you get so anit-the world....such lazy people...lets face it theres no control in the middle east let alone east Libya. Your "people" cannot get along with the rest of the world or with themselves. Religions should NEVER be used to dictate how a country is run in this day in age...
        Get out of the 13 century and come to terms...Ultimatley a war will happen...but for what? Religion? Any religion? Lets face it how can any one seriously know what will happen after one dies...religion is such a joke in any country.
        Osama- your people need to get some moral values and become a part of the modern world...here was your chance after Gadaffi and you F%$#ed that up.

        September 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • Nana1948

        Osama: Are you serious??? Do you actually think this is over burning a flag??? We have dead Americans to bury.

        September 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
      • Tina

        Osama, I completely hear what you're saying. Nobody could ever rightfully blame 80 million people for the actions of a small minority, no matter how evil their actions were. And please...PLEASE know that any thinking American absolutely condemns the very idea of trying to "bomb to oblivion" Libya or any other country in the Middle East in retaliation. I feel like our only hope on Earth right now is for the good, sane people remaining to speak out and behave like good, sane people to one another.

        September 13, 2012 at 12:25 am |
      • Tina

        And a gentle hint to those replying to Osama. The population count of 80 million CLEARLY tells anyone that he is talking about Egypt. not Libya. And he is right, the worst that has been done to date in Cairo includes moderately bad civil unrest.

        September 13, 2012 at 12:27 am |
      • maorona1

        Ummm guys...Osama is probably a 28 year old out of work guy from Mississippi. Why are you giving him the time of day?

        September 14, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • George Spears

      Totally agree with your comments. The US should pull out of these muslim radicals countries and let them kill each other and just simply watch it. These barbarians deserver to die the same way and let Alah welcome them in their haven. No good God promotes kiling each other for the sake or relgion. Why the rest of religions are not so radical as muslims?. Why Muslims need to impose their religion and point of view on the rest of us non-Muslims?. Simply lets isolate them and watch how they distroy each other from far away. Also let stop the immigration of muslims to the US.

      September 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • George

      Clinton, Libya is north African country, not middle eastern. USA created O.B.L. supporting their war against SSSR, we all know how that story ended. Now USA hunger for the oil field domination ruined well controlled non-radical muslim country, you raised them know you will have to take care of your creature. It is sad fact that killed people were just a collateral damage for the general behavior of the people that control monster state USA. I'm sorry for the families of victims, BUT AMERICANS SHOULD KNOW THAT YOUR NATION DESERVE A WAY MORE WORST THINGS THAN THAT FOR THE SUFFER THAT YOU CREATED ALL AROUND THE WORLD...from Serbia, I won't nor I can forget the year of 1999.

      September 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • sport99

      I agree 100%. If it was up to me, I'd drop a nuclean bomb on the whole damn region. Send them all to the God they believe in. They are not worthy to be part of the human race.......a bunch of undecuated, brainswashed, bent on destruction itiots!

      September 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
      • maorona1

        Wow...you need some prayer man.

        September 14, 2012 at 1:46 am |

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