WASHINGTON — The Pentagon confirms it has four soldiers in Libya — only the second time since the U.S. became involved there that it has acknowledged having any military personnel on the ground.
The first time was in March when Marines rescued an Air Force pilot who had ejected over eastern Libya.
This time it is four military personnel who entered Libya over the weekend as members of a State Department team in Tripoli assessing how to reopen the U.S. Embassy, which was vandalized during the conflict.
Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the four include two who specialize in disposing of explosives. He says the four are not there in any offensive or defensive military capacity, but strictly to help the State Department.
Kirby noted the embassy in Tripoli was badly damaged during the conflict between Muammar Qaddafi's forces and the rebels.
Two of the military personnel are explosive-ordnance experts who will be used to disable any explosives traps left in the embassy. The other two are "general security," according to Kirby.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland assured reporters Monday that the four individuals are not in Libya to fight.
"When the president made his commitment to 'no boots on ground' ... obviously that had to do with entering into the fray between the Qaddafi forces and the Libyan freedom fighters, and that's not what these guys are engaged in," Nuland said.
Kirby also made clear these troops are in no way part of a military operation on the ground. They are armed, however, if for some reason they need to protect themselves.
The troops are only expected to be there for a short while. After the assessment of the embassy is complete, they are expected to leave.
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