Libya's security not better since Benghazi attack, expert says

A Libyan policeman secures the area following an explosion that killed police Sgt. Salah Miftah Wizry Jan. 15, 2013, in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. AFP/Getty Images

An expert on the North African region told CBS Radio News that the security situation hasn't improved in Libya since the deadly attack on a U.S. Consulate there on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

William Lawrence, director of the North Africa Project at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, gave his assessment before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on the attack in the eastern city of Benghazi. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the assault.

"The problem with Libya is that there were no boots on the ground after the revolution, and the Libyan army and Libyan police basically evaporated," said Lawrence. "Basically in Libya, you've got 1,700 militias running the country still and not much of the police or army infrastructure."

Lawrence said the Libyan government isn't effectively finding solutions to build up the national army and the police force after the death of Muammar Qaddafi in late 2011.

"The new infrastructures needed to make Libya more secure, it just hasn't happened yet," said Lawrence. "One of the reasons is that all of these militias were formed to defend local neighborhoods, local villages, local towns, and what the government's asking them to do is to quit these militias and join the police force or join the army."

Even after the Benghazi assault, Lawrence said there's "still a lot of pro-American feeling in Libya" but that the government's failure to install reforms in a post-Qaddafi era have left Libyans "a little more disheartened."

Still, the Arab Spring is generally seen as "a good thing" for Libya and the region, Lawrence said.

"There were autocrats in place who were privileging stability over progress, and a lot of these were longtime allies of the U.S., but these governments were corrupt and really not moving these populations forward, so the Arab Spring had to happen to get rid of some of these autocrats," said Lawrence, "but what we were left with in the wake of their departure were Islamist groups because in many of these countries Islamists were the best organized."

Lawrence said he's optimistic for the region in the long term.

"The younger generation in these countries tend to be more pro-Western, like in Iran, and more willing to sort of make compromises between the different parts of society, not have a democracy that excludes one group and privileges another," said Lawrence, "but, you know, the young people who made these revolutions really want democratic futures, so I'm optimistic for the long term if I'm pessimistic for the short term."

  • Alex Sundby

    Alex Sundby is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com

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