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U.S. forces on standby in North Africa, Stevens replaced

Laurence Pope, charge d'affaires to Libya, talks to the media in front of the Libyan Foreign Ministry in Tripoli October 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny)

WASHINGTON/TRIPOLI: Administration officials say the White House has put special operations strike forces on standby and moved drones into the skies above North Africa.

The forces will be ready to hit militant targets from Libya to Mali, if U.S. investigators can find the Al-Qaeda-linked group responsible for the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya last month. But the officials say the administration also is weighing whether the short-term payoff of being able to claim retribution against Al-Qaeda is worth the risk that such strikes would be ineffective and rile governments in the region.

Details were provided by three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst who was approached by the White House for help. All four spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Monday, Christopher Steven’s replacement – veteran diplomat Lawrence Pope – said the United States remained committed to supporting Libya.

In his first comments since arriving in Libya last week, Pope said that the United States would “continue on the path” of Stevens.

“The United States remains deeply committed to supporting the aspirations of the Libyan people as they build a sovereign, stable and economically prosperous nation,” Pope said after talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Abdulaziz.

He said the U.S. was determined to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack which killed four Americans.

“An investigation continues with the participation of both countries and the United States is determined to bring the terrorists responsible for this attack to justice,” Pope said.

The assault forced the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Benghazi, the eastern city that was the hub for the Libyan rebel movement that, with the assistance of NATO-led airstrikes, toppled former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.

It also triggered a debate in Washington over whether Ambassador Stevens, and the U.S. mission in Benghazi more broadly, were given sufficient protection.

Pope came out of retirement to take up the position of charge d’affairs, the title given to a diplomat who represents a country in the absence of an ambassador.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 9.

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