By Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence
Terrorist groups are trying to set up for a long-term presence in Libya, a senior defense official said Wednesday, but American intelligence is not showing a mass movement into the country.
The official, who gave a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon on the condition that the official not be identified, said the fall of Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed some groups that were constrained during the Libyan leader's regime.
The official said terrorist groups "are playing it safe in the short term, but are trying to set up a footprint and network internally for the long haul." The official said terrorist groups now have more freedom to operate within Libya, and "we're concerned about it."
Because some of the terrorist groups were clearly anti-Ghadafi, the Gadhafi regime put its military and intelligence resources into clamping down on the groups, the official said. Now the regime has collapsed, and the NTC is more concerned with dealing with the remnants of that regime than keeping an eye on militant groups.
The official suggested that the United States is seeing some movement into Libya by outside militants, but "in the dozens," not on a large scale.
One reason for the militants' current low profile is the NATO presence.
"It is in their interest to keep a low profile. Any perception of them being active will only draw the kind of attention they don't want while they try to establish these networks" in Libya, the official said.
There is little current danger of the National Transitional Council being co-opted by militants, the official said, noting TNC leaders have gone to great lengths to dissociate themselves from extremists.
But when asked whether there are men inside the NTC that are affiliated with terrorist groups, the senior defense official admitted, "Yeah, probably."