Libya’s political fragmentation and security vacuum have created vulnerabilities that terrorists and other malign actors seek to exploit. Despite these challenges, Libyan airports continue to operate, including several that provide daily international service to destinations in Turkey and Egypt – all last points of departure to the United States. Without sufficient resources, equipment, and training, however, these Libyan airports are unable to secure passengers and cargo from terrorist threats.
The Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) launched its Libya Aviation and Airport Security (AvSec) program in 2018 to help our Libyan partners counter these threats. The program helps Libya specifically prevent terrorists and illicit material from transiting through Libya and reaching U.S. shores. It also lays a critical foundation for reestablishing a U.S. diplomatic mission in country and reopening Libya to global travel.
It’s great to see Libyan security professionals from all sides of its decade-long civil conflict training alongside one another to help reopen Libya to the world.Richard NorlandU.S. Ambassador and Special Envoy for Libya
The AvSec program, implemented by Culmen International LLC, employs a comprehensive and creative approach to technical assistance despite the challenging operating environment. Culman training focuses on airport screeners, supervisors, and managers from five international airports throughout Libya’s three regions to identify and interdict terrorist activity in line with international standards. The AvSec program has trained 350 delegates, including managers, supervisors, screeners, instructors, auditors, and maintenance engineers. Working closely with the State Department and local experts, Culmen also developed a culturally appropriate approach to teaching passenger screening according to international standards and best practices. Thirty-seven Libyan women have participated in these trainings. In September 2021, a fully equipped training center opened in Tripoli, the first of its kind, that will allow Libyan trainers to train even more of their airport security colleagues. Thus far, Libyan instructors have trained 160 airport staff at the training center.
Libyan authorities have already put their training to good use in their daily operations. In June 2020, two trained airport screeners interdicted $250,000 and €50,000 in bulk cash using enhanced screening and image-reading skills acquired from their AvSec training. The cadre of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-certified Libyan auditors successfully completed a full security inspection of Libya’s Misrata International Airport and plan to inspect other airports in the coming months. The program expects to expand training and mentorship activities that will provide additional training for all airport staff, install advanced airport screening equipment, and promote further coordination with ICAO for capacity-building support.
The second focus area – and strategic cornerstone of the program – is unifying all Libyan institutions with responsibility for aviation security by promoting compliance with ICAO standards. The program successfully brought together key ministries and regulatory bodies whose close and continuing cooperation is essential for improving Libyan – and international – aviation security. The centerpiece of these efforts is the development and implementation of the country’s National Civilian Aviation Security Program (NCASP) and associated Standard Operating Procedures and guidance material, which has resulted in improved training, operating, and security procedures at multiple airports. The Libyan Prime Ministry, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority all support the project recognizing the progress as “remarkable and not possible without U.S. support,” according to the head of international cooperation for Libyan Aviation Authority Marwa Musa Aljafari.
In December 2021, CT deployed an independent team of experts to conduct an exercise in Tunis designed to test the Libyans’ knowledge and skills obtained through CT’s AvSec program. Libyan exercise participants identified and confiscated hidden weapons and detained and interviewed suspicious travelers. The exercise validated that Libya is on a path to meeting international ICAO standards.
CT’s AvSec program, lauded as a flagship security assistance program by U.S. Ambassador and Special Envoy for Libya Richard Norland, demonstrates what can be done in conflict environments through adaptive programming and dedicated host-country partnership. Ambassador Norland notes that “it is great to see Libyan security professionals from all sides of its decade-long civil conflict training alongside one another to help reopen Libya to the world.”
As Libya moves forward with its political transition, CT’s AvSec program will help ensure that its civilian airports, the country’s main gateways to the world, are part of a secure global aviation network that is capable of countering threats to civil passenger and cargo aviation to keep the traveling public safe.
About the Author: Ayhan Avila is a Program Manager for the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State.