By Barbara Starr
Just three months ago, the four-star chief of the U.S. Africa Command warned of a growing threat from al Qaeda and other militant groups in Libya.
"There is a real concern in Libya. As Libya is coming out of the revolution and forming its new government, there very clearly are those who wish to undermine the formation of that government," said Gen. Carter Ham in a speech to senior military and civilian officials from Africa, Europe and the U.S.
"We see some worrying indicators that al Qaeda and others are seeking to establish a presence in Libya," Ham warned. Ham often worked closely with the late Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Ham has been trying to establish the initial stages of a military relationship with Libya, but the effort has been slowed by the presence and influence of armed militias, such as those suspected of being involved in the attack. Ham noted back in June the problem of bringing even more mainstream groups under the control of the central government.
"Now how do you bring those disparate organizations under some degree of central government control? How do you use those organizations to the benefit of the people? How do you transform some of them into border police, into national police, into maritime police and other areas of government where they can continue to be valuable contributors to overall Libyan security?"
Ham made much of the same case as early as February of this year in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, when he testified that there were "some small pockets" of "foreign fighters" in Libya.
"There are remnants of that and there are indications that al Qaeda senior leadership is seeking to re-establish those networks, and that's one of the challenges that lays ahead for us."
As commander of U.S. military operations across Africa, Ham would be the senior U.S. officer in charge, if the president were to order a military strike against potential targets believed to be responsible for the attack. He is considered to be extremely knowledgeable about al Qaeda movements in Africa, as was Stevens.
Ham has particularly made the case that al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb poses an increasing concern and that the group is operating unconstrained in a large portion of Mali and coordinating with other extremist elements across North Africa.