BRUSSELS NATO said on Tuesday it will send experts to Libya to see how it can help improve security in the country struggling to contain militias and the growing presence of al Qaeda-linked fighters in the south.
The experts will go to Libya as soon as possible, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, after Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan asked NATO for technical advice and help with training during a visit to alliance headquarters last week.
"The delegation will identify the areas in which NATO could add value ... I expect the team to report back by the end of June," Rasmussen told reporters at the start of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
"This is not about deploying troops to Libya. If we are to engage in training activities, such activities could take place outside Libya," he said.
U.S. defense officials said on Monday NATO defense ministers would discuss the possibility of training Libyan security forces at this week's meeting.
NATO played a critical role in toppling Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi two years ago. The Western alliance imposed a no-fly zone and used air power to try to prevent his forces attacking civilian areas held by rebels.
Libya's government has since struggled to control both armed groups that fought Gaddafi and Islamist fighters who took advantage of the chaos to build up their positions.
Analysts say many al Qaeda-linked militants moved into lawless areas of southern Libya after being driven out of northern Mali by a French-led offensive.
Neighboring Niger has said suicide raids that killed 25 people last month at an army base and desert uranium mine run by France's Areva were launched from Libya, something Libya denied.
European Union governments approved a mission last month to help Libya improve its border security in response to concerns that Islamist militants and weapons move freely across the North African country's frontier.
The NATO meeting will also consider the scope of allied support and training of Afghan forces after the full transfer of security authority from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force at the end of 2014.
Ministers are expected to endorse an outline plan, known as a "concept of operations" for NATO's smaller post-2014 training and advisory mission in Afghanistan but they are not expected to decide on the size of the deployment this week.
U.S. defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said NATO would be able to see how Afghan forces perform this year before deciding on the scale of its future presence.
The alliance will also hold its first meeting on cybersecurity.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft, David Alexander)