French minister warns of 'fragile' Libya

During a visit to the Pentagon Friday, the French defense minister warned that the U.S. and European allies need to do more to combat a growing terrorist threat in Libya. 

"There could be an explosion of violence. And the situation doesn't allow to fight against the terrorist groups the way we should do," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a Pentagon press briefing. 

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"As we keep on supporting the transition authorities, the coming weeks will be crucial for the stability of this country,” he added. 

The admonition came after a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier Friday, where the two discussed cooperation in Africa, where the U.S. is assisting French and African troops fighting insurgencies in Mali and the Central African Republican. 

In Mali, the U.S. has provided military transportation of troops, refueling for French aircraft and intelligence. 

The U.S. has transported some 850 Burundian peace-keepers to the CAR, and extended support to Rwandan peace-keepers.  

Hagel praised his French counterpart for his efforts in both countries and said the U.S. and European allies were working together to find new ways to combat violent extremism. 

Libya’s transitional government has been struggling to stabilize the country since a revolution led to dictator Muammar Ghaddafi’s ouster in October 2011. 

The U.S. consulate and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, northern Libya, were attacked a year later in Sept. 11, 2012 by terrorist groups, leading to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. 

Le Drian said the recent violence in Libya has been accelerated by the French intervention in Mali.

“The Libyan state is very fragile,” Le Drian said. “In Libya there are many militias that are very often as well-equipped as the army or the police.” 

The U.S. and European Union have undertaken some initiatives to train Libyan forces and ensure border security, but more needs to be done, Le Drian said.

Le Drian, speaking through an English translator, said stabilizing Libya would be a long-term task that required vigilance to avoid a “new cycle of terrorism in an area which is already extremely fragile.” 

The U.S. and France have agreed to establish a high-level working group to discuss common initiatives in Africa, he said. 

“We share the same analysis of the threats, the same analysis of proliferation risks, the same analysis regarding terrorism, and the same determination to fight against extremists and violent groups, which [threaten] the security of France, European security but also threaten American security,” said Le Drian. 

The U.S. Strategic Command and French defense ministry will also begin cooperating on space operations, Hagel announced. 

The new initiative would enhance information sharing between the two nations, he said.

“This is an important step that we've taken with some of our closest allies and now with France, and it will help bring the U.S.-French alliance further together into the 21st century,” Hagel said.