WASHINGTON — The Libyan government in recent weeks tacitly approved two US commando operations in its country, according to senior US officials, one to capture a senior militant from Al Qaeda and another to seize a militia leader suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
The Al Qaeda leader, Abu Anas al-Liby, was captured by US commandos in Tripoli on Saturday in a raid that the United States had hoped to keep secret, but that leaked out to the news media.
The operation has been widely denounced by Libyan officials, who have called it a kidnapping and said they played no role in it.
Although US officials expected that the Libyan government would say it knew nothing about the operation, news of the raid has raised concerns that the suspect in the Benghazi attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattala, has now been tipped off that the United States has the ability to conduct an operation in Libya.
It is not clear why US military commanders did not conduct both operations simultaneously to avoid this problem. Some military commanders said conditions on the ground in Libya on Saturday may not have been opportune.
But the backlash against a second raid could bring down the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, which has teetered on the brink of collapse and has little control over vast parts of the country, particularly in the eastern part near Benghazi.
George Little, the Defense Department spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday.
US officials said that although the Libyans tacitly approved the Saturday raid, they did not play a role in the actual operation and were not told in advance when it was happening.
Combined with the Navy SEAL mission in Somalia that also took place Saturday, and which failed to capture a top leader of the Al Shabab militant group, the operation in Tripoli signals that the Obama administration is willing to take risky missions to confront a spreading terrorist threat in Africa.
“Africa is one of the places,” President Obama said at a news conference Tuesday, “that you’re seeing some of these groups gather. And we’re going to have to continue to go after them.”
More than half a dozen US diplomatic, military, law enforcement, intelligence, and other administration officials were contacted for this article, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacy of the matter and the prospect of future military operations.
At a news conference in Bali on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States regularly consults with the Libyan government “on a range of security and counterterrorism issues.”
But he said he would not “get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government or in any kind of operation of this kind.”
Kerry said that the military operation to seize Ruqai was legal and that he hoped that the world understands that the United States “is going to do everything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and protect our security.”