By Mike Mount, Senior National Security Producer
Pentagon officials insisted this week there was no effort to accelerate training of an elite Libyan commando unit after a New York Times report suggested there was a push to speed up the program following last month's deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
The program is part of a joint initiative by the Defense and State departments to fund training of a small force of Libyans to combat the growing threat of violent extremist organizations since the fall of the Qadhafi regime last year, according to a Pentagon document discussing funding of the plan that was obtained by CNN.
Congress approved the basics of a plan last month involving roughly $8 million in funding, but many details have yet to be worked out, according to Pentagon officials. Lawmakers must still sign off on the final version.
Pentagon officials said there is no set schedule on when that approval could come, but it could be as soon as the end of the year.
Money appropriated for the project comes from various defense operations and unused State Department counterterrorism aid for Pakistan, according to the officials.
Most of the training is expected to be done by U.S. Special Operations forces, who have conducted similar training in Yemen and Pakistan, Pentagon officials said.
Libya has long had a history of extremists based in the eastern part of the country and some have ties to al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The New York Times first reported on the documents Tuesday and said the effort had taken on new urgency since the September 11th attack on the Benghazi mission that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
But Pentagon officials told Security Clearance there was no new urgency for the program since the Benghazi attack.
"Over the past months and in close consultation with the Libyan government, the United States is considering options to train Libyan security forces. We will continue the dialogue to determine how best we can support Libyan security forces in the future," said pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. James Gregory.
While Pentagon officials would not get into specifics of planning, they said the process would move at the pace the team working on the program can manage before the proposal is returned to Congress for final review.
The Pentagon describes the program's intention to "train and equip Libyan Special Operations Forces to counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations," according to the documents.
The Libya training program is part of a larger effort put in place by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2011, called the Global Security Contingency Fund. It can fund assistance to national military and security forces as well as the government ministries responsible for overseeing these forces, according to Gregory.
The program would also pay for assistance for law enforcement, prisons, rule of law programs, and stabilization efforts in situations where civilian providers are challenged, Gregory said.
The contingency fund program will ultimately need to be approved by Congress, which could change the focus and funding levels, officials said. It is funded at a total of $250 million, with $200 million coming from the Defense Department and the remaining $50 million coming from the State Department.
The Libya part of that project is funded by the Pentagon for $6.2 million while the State Department is chipping is $1.8 million, according to the documents.
Other projects identified by the GSCF involve funding for training of Philippine police to counter extremist threats, building Nigerian government troops to fight the Boko Haram extremist group, as well as helping some eastern European countries maintain a NATO standard for Special Operations forces, according to the Pentagon document.
Since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the United States has had its eyes on assisting Libya in building a stable government.
Last December, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta became the first in his position to visit Libya. He spoke with the new leaders of the country and said the United States "stands ready to offer security assistance cooperation once the government identifies its needs."
Pentagon officials said Panetta did not discuss building special operations forces on that trip.