WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military commander for Africa says the Pentagon is planning to begin training 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan soldiers by midyear to help bolster the nation's security. The U.S. is also looking into providing additional airlift assistance to South Sudan, where violence has killed more than 1,000 people and driven 180,000 from their homes in the last month.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, said the U.S. is planning a 24-week training program to help the Libyans, as part of a broader international effort to shore up security in the country and region in the aftermath of the 2011 fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
More generally, Rodriguez said his biggest concern as he looks at insurgent activity across northern and eastern Africa is the prospect of another massive attack like the siege at Nairobi's Westgate Mall last September that killed at least 67 people and froze the city for four days.
He said the U.S. effort is aimed at working with the U.N., the African Union and other international groups to help beef up the ability of nations' militaries across the continent.
Rodriguez also said that al-Qaida-linked terror leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar still poses a threat to U.S. interests in the region.
Belmokhtarl, once a leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, has been linked to the attack a year ago on a Western-owned gas processing facility near Amendas, Algeria. Three Americans and scores of Algerian and foreign nationals were killed. Rodriguez said Belmokhtar, who has formed his own spin-off terror group, still has the capability to conduct another major attack. He said the insurgent leader is likely still in the difficult region between southwestern Libya and northeastern Mali.