Hillary Clinton Visits Libya to Meet Rebel Leaders

Clinton is the first official to visit the country since NATO airstrikes began.

Oct. 18, 2011— -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in Libya Tuesday afternoon, becoming the first cabinet level official to visit the country since NATO airstrikes began in March and Tripoli fell in late August.

A senior State Department official said that the purpose of Secretary Clinton's visit is to congratulate the Libyan people on the ouster of Gadhafi from power, help with transition issues like unifying the rebel fighters and forge a deeper partnership with Libya.

Clinton arrived in Tripoli on a military C17 cargo plane equipped with defenses against surface-to-air missiles. Clinton's contingent switched to the military aircraft on the island nation of Malta after an overnight flight from Washington, D.C.

While in Libya, Clinton will be meeting with Mahmoud Jibril, president of Libya's Transitional National Council; she with hold a town hall meeting with the Youth and Civil Society at Tripoli University.

Clinton is undertaking the dangerous diplomatic mission as fighting is still raging in parts of Libya, and the country's former leader Moammar Gadhafi is still on the run.

The adminstration is concerned about the fate of 20,000 shoulder- launched missiles that the administration fears could fall into terrorist hands. Many of them were destroyed in NATO airstrikes, but some are now missing and could threaten commercial aircraft. There have been reports that some of these missiles have made their way to the Sinai Peninsula bound for Gaza.

Clinton is offering Libya an additional $10 million on top of the $30 million already committed to help with the search and destruction of these missiles. The U.S. will increase the number of State Department contractors beyond the 14 who are now already helping to destroy the missiles.

Although Clinton has been an advocate for military action in Libya, the NATO mission has not yet officially ended.

Gadhafi's home town of Sirte has yet to fall to rebel forces, and fears still remain of a civil war with pro-Gadhafi holdouts.

A senior State Department official, who called Gadhafi a "lethal nuisance factor," said that while they do remained concerned about Libya's future, "when you see the popular reaction over most of the country to the departure of the Gadhafi forces from the different parts of the country I think it's clear which way the winds are blowing."