TIME Hillary Clinton

State Department Releases Hillary Clinton’s Emails on Benghazi

Hillary Clinton Campigns In Iowa, Meeting With Small Business Owners
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at the Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, IA.

The State Department released hundreds of emails Friday that were stored on Hillary Clinton’s private server during her time as Secretary of State.

The emails, which pertain to the Benghazi terror attacks in September 2012, do not change the official assessment of the incident in which a U.S. ambassador was killed, the State Department said. “The emails we release today do not change the essential facts or our understanding of the events before, during, or after the attacks, which have been known since the independent Accountability Review Board report on the Benghazi attacks was released almost two and a half years ago,” wrote spokeswoman Marie Harf.

Clinton, who wants to avoid the controversy over her emails and Benghazi stretching into the primary and general election next year, told reporters in Hampton, N.H. on Friday that the released emails had previously been sent to the committee investigating the Benghazi attack in 2012. “I’m glad that the emails are starting to come out. It is something that I’ve asked to be done, as you know, for a long time. Those releases are beginning,” Clinton said.

But the release further complicates Clinton’s unusual set-up of using a personal email server for official use. Sensitive information and email addresses in dozens of emails have been redacted under privacy and exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act protecting internal agency deliberations.

According to a senior State Department official, 23 words in a single email were classified Friday at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The email was unclassified while it resided on Clinton’s server and when it was sent to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The official said the retroactive classification does not mean Clinton did anything improper at the time, adding “this happens several times a month” when FOIA reports are prepared for the public.

“I’m aware that the FBI has asked that a portion of one email be held back. That happens in this process,” Clinton said on Friday. “That doesn’t change the fact that all of the information in the emails was handled appropriately.”

The email in question is in reference to reports that Libyan police arrested several individuals believed to have been involved in the Benghazi attack, and the classified portion appears to refer the details of the local regional security officer’s report on the arrests. State Department Office of Maghreb Affairs Director William V. Roebuck sent the note to Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Beth Jones, who forwarded it to top Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, who forwarded it to Clinton at her personal address.

Those 23 words will be classified through November 18, 2032—twenty years after the email was first sent.

Clinton has asked that the State Department speed up the release of her work emails. “I’ve said from the very beginning that I want them to release all of them as soon as possible. They are in the process of doing that. I understand that there is a certain protocol that has to be followed,” Clinton said. “It’s beginning. I would like to see them expedited to get more of them out, more quickly.”

The emails provide insight into Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, and Clinton herself has said she wants the public to learn more about her role as the country’s chief diplomat.

With reporting by Phil Elliott

TIME Congress

The 7 Biggest Things That Didn’t Happen in D.C. in 2014

Commuter, Horse Race Breaks Said to Get Senate Panel Vote
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images The U.S. Capitol stands surrounded by fog in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2014.

No immigration reform. No Supreme Court fight. No shutdown.

Let’s face it: 2014 was no 2008. As far as politics goes, this year won’t go down in American history as one of the more notable ones.

But sometimes it’s the things that didn’t happen that are more interesting. And some very big things didn’t happen this year, even though pundits and commentators once thought they might.

Here’s a look at the seven biggest things that didn’t happen in Washington in 2014.

The House never passed an immigration reform bill.

What might have happened: In June of 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. The House could have voted on that bill or passed its own version.

Who thought it would happen: Some Republicans. Many party leaders thought Republicans needed to put the immigration issue behind them in order to win the White House in 2016.

Why it didn’t happen: House Republicans sat the issue out. Speaker John Boehner never brought the Senate bill to the House floor or offered an alternative.

Could it happen next year? Not likely. When President Obama deferred deportation for millions on his own in November, Boehner argued that he had poisoned the well.

There was no big Supreme Court nomination fight.

What might have happened: With four justices born in the 1930s, one could have retired, following in the footsteps of former Justices David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens.

Who thought it would happen: Some liberal court-watchers suggested that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, should step down to ensure a Democratic-appointed successor.

Why it didn’t happen: They weren’t interested. For her part, Ginsburg noted that she’s still capable of doing the work and she seems to be having the time of her life.

Could it happen next year? Unlikely. The combination of a Democratic president and a Republican Senate would give both liberal and conservative justices pause.

Republicans never settled on an alternative to Obamacare.

What might have happened: Republicans in Congress could have gotten serious about the “replace” in “repeal and replace” and introduced an official alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

Who thought it would happen: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In January, he said the party would “rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House.”

Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. An official Republican alternative would have been a sitting target for Democratic candidates.

Could it happen next year? Not likely. Republicans may now control all of Congress, but as long as they can’t get their plan past the president’s desk, there’s little incentive to produce one.

Congress didn’t debate tax reform.

What might have happened: The House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp’s tax reform plan, unveiled in February, could have sparked a serious effort to reform the tax code.

Who thought it would happen: Camp. He argued that Congress has an “obligation to debate the big issues of the day.” His plan was also praised by Rep. Paul Ryan, who called it a “terrific first step.”

Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. Passing tax reform would mean picking fights with a number of special interests and handing the president a win.

Could it happen next year? Probably not. Political observers now think the tax reform debate probably won’t begin in earnest until at least 2017.

The government didn’t shut down.

What might have happened: Conservatives angry over President Obama’s immigration and liberals angry over the repeal of some Wall Street oversight could have shut the government down.

Who thought it would happen: After last year’s bruising shutdown, no one thought it would happen again, but Congress came pretty close in December.

Why it didn’t happen: Both sides punted. The trillion-dollar spending bill passed earlier this month funded the government through September, but it left open a fight over immigration funding.

Could it happen next year? It’s unlikely. Even if conservatives pick a fight over immigration next year, it would only affect one federal agency, Homeland Security.

Obama didn’t become a powerless lame duck.

What might have happened: President Obama could have coasted into the final, lame-duck years of his presidency, wary of taking risks that might hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Who thought it would happen: Some commentators and pundits already said that it had, slamming him for being passive and uninspiring.

Why it didn’t happen: Obama got energized. After Democrats lost the midterms, Obama took bold steps on immigration and reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Could it happen next year? Certainly. There’s only so much the president can do on his own, so at some point he’ll be stuck either vetoing or approving Republican plans.

Congress didn’t find an intelligence failure on Benghazi.

What might have happened: The House Intelligence Committee could have unveiled dramatic, damning findings after a two-year investigation into the Benghazi attacks in Libya.

Who thought it would happen: Republicans. Despite multiple investigations into the attacks, many conservatives have been certain they’ll find a smoking gun.

Why it didn’t happen: The House committee didn’t find anything. The report, which was pushed out quietly on a Friday, found “no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.”

Could it happen next year? Unlikely. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Benghazi Committee, has promised more hearings, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll find anything new.

TIME Libya

Libyan Officials Urge the Evacuation of Benghazi Port District

LIBYA-UNREST-BENGHAZI
ABDULLAH DOMA—AFP/Getty Images A picture taken on October 22, 2014 in the Libya's eastern coastal city of Benghazi shows smoke billowing from buildings after the Libyan airforce, loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar, pounded the buildings were reported to be used for storing ammunition belonging to Benghazi-based Islamist Ansar al-Sharia group. Fierce fighting have been raging for days in several parts of Libya's second city between pro-government forces led by Haftar and Islamist militias. AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH DOMA (Photo credit should read ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Islamist-controlled Assabri district boasts a seaport used for crucial wheat and petrol imports

The Libyan Army is urging the evacuation of a central neighborhood of Benghazi, the country’s second largest city, in preparation for a military offensive against Islamist groups.

“The chief of staff asks all residents of the Assabri district to leave by 12:00 noon [local time on Monday],” Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the chief of staff, told Reuters.

Located in Benghazi’s main commercial zone, the Assabri district boasts a seaport used for crucial wheat and petrol imports. The Ansar al-Sharia militant group fled there after the army seized other areas of the city.

Clashes between the Libyan Army, which is backed by loyalists to a former general, and Islamist groups in the east of the city have killed at least 230 people since the start of a recent army offensive, medical authorities said. In addition, one of the city’s main childbirth hospitals has been evacuated and moved to another location.

In August, an armed group seized the capital Tripoli and forced Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to move east, leaving Libya divided between two governments struggling for overall political control.

In the three years since the ousting of longstanding dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, rival rebel groups that helped achieve his overthrow have been competing for power and control of the nation’s precious oil reserves.

[Reuters]

TIME Libya

Libyan Rebels Capture Special-Forces Base in Benghazi

A girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane which crashed during Tuesday's fighting, in Benghazi
Esam Al-Fetori —Reuters A Libyan girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane that crashed during clashes in Benghazi, Libya, on July 29, 2014

Libya is quickly sliding into the realm of a failed state as rebel forces and Islamist militants battle against government troops

A special force’s base in Benghazi has fallen after a coalition of rebel militias and Islamist militants pounded the enclave with salvos of rocket fire and artillery.

“We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling,” Libyan Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel al-Hassi told Reuters.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, has been home to fierce fighting between government special-forces troops and former rebel fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council who are now allied with the Islamist force Ansar al-Sharia, according to Reuters.

Since the ousting of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the country has gone through periods of perennial chaos, as the militias who overthrew the regime have refused to give up their arms and Islamic groups have steadily grown more powerful.

Earlier this month, heavy fighting among rebel bands near the capital resulted in the closure of Tripoli International Airport after rockets crashed into the facility, killing one person and damaging at least a dozen planes.

Late last week, the U.S. embassy in the capital was evacuated and shuttered amid the increasing unrest. Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department issued an official travel advisory, warning American citizens to avoid any trips to the conflict-riven country.

“The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution,” read the notice. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”

TIME Libya

U.S. Evacuates Libyan Embassy

Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the rise of "freewheeling militia violence" in the country where an attack by Islamic militants killed four Americans in 2012

Updated 10:59 a.m. ET

The State Department relocated all personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday following an outbreak of violence between Libyan militias, the department announced.

“A lot of the violence is around our embassy but not on the embassy, but nevertheless it presents a very real risk to our personnel,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Paris, ABC reports.

Kerry blamed the “freewheling militia violence” that has flourished since the ousting of former president Muammar Gaddafi.

“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves,” deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

U.S. military assisted in the operation and drove personnel to Tunisia. The relocation took five hours and was “without incident,” according a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Embassy staff will now work out of Washington, D.C., and other locations in the region.

The relocation occurred the same day the State Department issued a new travel warning that strongly advised U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Libya and to leave immediately if already visiting.

In 2012, an attack on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, by Islamic militants killed four Americans.

“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top Department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf’s statement continues. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”

TIME Terrorism

Capture of Benghazi Suspect Again Raises Question: Guantanamo or the Courts?

U.S. President Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq at the White House
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2014.

Obama Administration opting for courts, after a Navy cruise

The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the recently-snatched alleged ringleader of the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, once again highlights the split in the national debate over how to handle terrorists: Are they prisoners of war, or are they criminals?

Many terrorists linked to al-Qaeda were sent to Guantanamo Bay during George W. Bush’s presidency. Many others have been tried in civilian courts. According to the nonprofit group Human Rights First, there have been almost 500 people convicted on terror-related charges in federal civilian criminal courts since 9/11, compared to eight convictions in the Pentagon’s military commissions.

The Obama Administration prefers the federal court route, which is how it plans to proceed with Khattala—generating Republican criticism. “The Obama Administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the Administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks,” added Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Who’d have thought a 1966 Supreme Court ruling designed to protect Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s confession to kidnapping, rape and armed robbery while under police interrogation would become the rope in a tug-of-war between the White House and Congress nearly a half-century later on how to handle captured terrorists?

Legal expert Jack Goldsmith. a former Pentagon lawyer now teaching at Harvard Law School, doubts the U.S. could hold Khattala in military detention, or try him before a military commission. That’s because Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said the Benghazi attack didn’t fall under the congressional authorization for the use of military force, nor, in Goldsmith’s view, did it amount to a “conflict subject to the rules of war.”

Sending Khattala to Guantanamo is “the easy way out,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), chairman of the judiciary committee, who applauded his move into the federal court system. “We will try Khattala just as we have successfully tried more than 500 terrorism suspects since 9/11.”

The Obama Administration is actually straddling the issue, by housing Khattala aboard a Navy vessel in the Mediterranean for questioning (the Los Angeles Times reports he did get a Miranda warning “shortly after his capture” following initial questioning about other potential terror threats under a “public safety” exemption). “We should have some quality time with this guy—weeks and months,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force reserve lawyer, said Tuesday. “Don’t torture him, but have some quality time with him.”

The Administration has questioned at least two other terror suspects aboard ships for up to two months before dispatching them into the federal court system.

“The only reason for having him on a U.S. warship is to provide a nice quiet environment where the investigators can work their wiles on him,” says Eugene Fidell, a military-law lecturer at the Yale Law School and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “If the government wanted to have Khattala at the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse [in Washington, D.C.] by four o’clock, he’d be there. The notion seems to have taken root that the government has, if not all the time in the world, as much time as it reasonably wants to see if can coax these people into making statements.”

TIME Libya

U.S. Captures Suspected Ringleader of Benghazi Attack

Ahmed Abu Khatallah is suspected in the 2012 attack

American authorities have captured a suspected “key figure” in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, officials confirmed on Tuesday, during a covert raid in Libya that gives a welcome foreign policy victory for the Obama Administration.

U.S. Special Forces and law-enforcement personnel apprehended Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, on Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya,” Kirby said. “There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

American officials wouldn’t yet say where Khatallah will be transferred to, though he is expected to be turned over to law enforcement for trial in the U.S. in the coming days. The Department of Justice filed charges against Khatallah in a sealed indictment in federal court last year.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. It became a rallying cry for conservative critics of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record in the run-up to the 2012 elections, and congressional Republicans have continued to probe the Administration’s handling of the incident and its aftermath.

“The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans. I recently authorized an operation in Libya to detain an individual charged for his role in these attacks, Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The fact that he is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham quickly said on Twitter that “Khattala should be held at Guantánamo as a potential enemy combatant.” But Obama made clear his Administration is taking another route.

“This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” he added. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khatallah was added to the State Department’s designated list of terrorists in January. He was living relatively openly in Libya after the attacks, sitting for several interviews with Western reporters last year. Khatallah is the first suspect to have been captured for suspected involvement in the attack. His capture was first reported by the Washington Post.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the apprehension doesn’t end the U.S. investigation into the attack, “but marks an important milestone.”

TIME Iraq

State Dept Will Beef Up Security at Baghdad Embassy

A U.S. flag flies in front of the Annex I building inside the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad
Lucas Jackson—Reuters A U.S. flag flies in front of the Annex I building inside the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad December 14, 2011.

Taking action as militant extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) expands its reach and heads toward the city

The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will stay open as militant extremists in Iraq continue their offensive toward the city, but it will also take a number of increased security measures to protect its staff.

“As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq, Embassy Baghdad is reviewing its staffing requirements in consultation with the State Department,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The State Department said it will increase the number of security personnel in Baghdad, while other embassy staff members will be relocated to the Consulate Generals in Erbil and Basra as well as the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan. Most of the embassy staff will remain on site and “continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders — supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats.”

The Pentagon also announced that the U.S. military would provide security assistance to diplomats stationed in Baghdad. “A small number of DOD personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of our facilities,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

The move to beef up security in Iraq comes after the State Department faced criticism over its lack of security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was overrun by militants in a 2012 attack that killed 4 Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. But the embassy compound in Iraq has both a far heavier military presence and stronger fortifications than the Benghazi compound had.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary on ABC: Big on Smiles, Small on Substance

Bemoaning a "double standard" for women in politics, Hillary Clinton refused to be drawn on any 2016 presidential bid in an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. Clinton blamed "bad strategy" for her first failed presidential campaign

With a smile, Hillary Clinton deflected tough questions on Monday on the eve of the release of her book Hard Choices.

Interviewed by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer in Clinton’s Washington home, the former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate offered little insight into her political thinking with relatively safe answers.

Clinton navigated thorny issues like the Monica Lewinsky scandal and her health with a faint grin. “I am not going to comment on what I did or did not say in the late ’90s,” the 66-year-old stonewalled when quizzed about her husband’s sex scandal. She confirmed previous statements about her concussion and blood clot, but was vague about releasing medical records should she run for the White House. She blamed the failure of her first presidential campaign on “bad strategy,” while bemoaning a double standard for women in American politics that compounded matters.

Clinton drew Sawyer, a fixture on nightly television for millions of Americans, to note she was older than her interviewee, saying, “Isn’t it good to be our age,” in an effort to deflect an emerging GOP line of attack.

Although promoting a book that seeks to cast her policy record in a positive light, Clinton was tripped up by questions on Benghazi and her personal finances. She noted that Ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, “of his own choosing,” while refusing to say whether there was anything she should have done differently to avoid the loss of four American lives. “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions,” Clinton added.

She also claimed to have been “dead broke” after leaving the White House, defending her and Bill Clinton’s decision to accept more than $100 million in paid speaking engagements. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education,” she said, notably using the plural. “You know, it was not easy.” All throughout Clinton leaned in and smiled at Sawyer, straining to avoid appearing bitter or angry, as she did last year when testifying before one congressional probe into the Benghazi attack.

She said the incident would make her more likely to run for President, but offered few other reasons for people to vote for her.

But Clinton offered subtle hints at what a 2016 campaign could look like. She admitted not being “as effective” as she should have been at calling out a double standard for women in politics in the past, illustrating new resolve when asked whether becoming a grandmother would affect her 2016 decision. “Of course, men have been serving in that position as fathers and grandfathers since the beginning of the Republic,” she said. Later she said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “not the first” world leader to make a sexist comment when last week he questioned her “grace.”

And asked whether she would restate her criticism of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Clinton said she probably would not, because “I don’t think we need more political combat in this country.”

TIME Libya

Libyan General With U.S. Passport Wages War On Islamist Extremists

Gen. Khalifa Hifter has assembled a force that is taking the fight to Islamist extremists in the worst fighting since the 2011 revolution

Into the chaos of post-revolution Libya rides Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a former confidant of Muammar Gaddafi with a U.S. passport and a reputed history with the CIA. A resident of northern Virginia until the 2011 revolution that deposed his old boss, Hifter, 71, returned to his homeland and, after a couple of embarrassing personal setbacks, recently persuaded elements of the military forces to join him in battling the most extreme of the many armed militias operating in Libya today.

The fighting, described as the worst since the overthrow of Gaddafi, prompted the State Department this week to urge Americans to leave Libya, and the Pentagon to move a warship with 1,000 Marines on board into the vicinity. The USS Bataan was ordered, if not quite to the shores of Tripoli, then close enough to respond quickly if an evacuation is ordered.

Libya has remained conspicuously unstable since Gaddafi’s regime fell in August 2011 in an armed rebellion supported by a NATO air campaign. A constitutional process was set up, and a legislature and prime minister elected. But the government has failed to establish what academics call the fundamental element of sovereignty—a monopoly on force. Last October, the premier was kidnapped in broad daylight. Scores if not hundreds of militias are active, the most feared of which are Islamist extremists like the gunmen responsible for overrunning the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September 2012, killing ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Those are the militias Hifter is targeting. “We are now fighting not only on behalf of Libya, but on behalf of the whole world,” he told the New York Times by telephone on Wednesday. Fighter-jets loyal to Hifter bombed a base in Benghazi held by an extremist militia. In Tripoli, the capital, a militia loyal to Hifter overran the legislature on May 18, prompting lawmakers to finally name a date for new elections (June 25).

U.S. officials deny that Hifter is getting American support, something he reportedly boasted of receiving decades earlier when he commanded a force trying to unseat Gaddafi. He had helped Gaddafi come to power in a 1969 coup, but then turned against the strongman in the 1980s after being captured in neighboring Chad, which Gaddafi had ordered invaded. He later moved to Virginia, and voted in local elections in 2008 and 2009.

His 2011 return to Libya was not triumphant. Hifter tried but failed to take command of the rebel force arrayed against Gaddafi. And when he showed up on television in February calling for the overthrow of the government, he was mocked.

But in the weeks that followed, a force took shape behind him—motivated, according to the current U.S. ambassador, Deborah Jones, by a wave of assassinations carried by extremists, including a bomb attack on graduating military cadets. “That was the breaking point,” Jones said in a May 21 talk at The Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

“Hifter’s focus is very specifically on terrorist groups,” Jones said, in remarks she acknowledged were more supportive of Hifter than the official State Department line, which criticizes the use of force. “It’s not necessarily for me to condemn his action going against… groups that are frankly are on our lists of terrorists,” Jones said.

Libya’s politics remain chaotic. The country has had three prime ministers in the last two months, two of whom still claim the title. The constitution is only now being drafted. Hifter has shown signs he views himself as Libya’s version of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who deposed an elected Islamist government in neighboring Egypt, and was elected president this week. But the dynamic in Libya is a different one, analysts say.

“I hear a lot of support for his actions against these specific groups, less support for him as an individual, given his background,” Jones said. “The jury is still out, because it’s not clear what the political agenda is.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com