NEW YORK (SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT/agencies) -  The US administration has won congressional approval to devote $8 million to helping Libya develop a commando force to fight extremist groups, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The funds would be shifted from Pentagon counter-terror operations in Pakistan to help Libya develop a force to counter increasingly powerful Islamist militants, like those who attacked the US consulate last month killing four Americans.

The Times said plans for the elite Libyan force, expected to number some 500 troops, were in the works before the September 11 attack but have been accelerated since then amid increased concern over the North African country.

Libya’s weak central government has had to rely on a patchwork of militias – including many Islamist groups – to secure the country since rebels toppled the four-decade-old regime of Moamer Gaddafi last year. he Times cited a State Department memo sent to Congress on September 4 as saying that the goal of the program is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”

It cited a companion Pentagon document as saying the commando force would “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organisations.”

The Times said a final decision on the program has not yet been made, and that US officials were still working out the exact details in consultation with Libyan political and military leaders. However, there was no word on how the move would affect Pakistan, or if Islamabad is onboard on the issue. Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could immediately be reached for comment.

“American Special Operations forces could conduct much of the training, as they have with counterterrorism forces in Pakistan and Yemen,” the newspaper said, citing American officials.

The Benghazi attack has become an issue in the US election season, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of being slow to label the assault an act of terrorism and slow to strike back at those responsible. Libya’s military had special forces commandos under former leader Moammar Gaddafi, but they were disorganised and some of the first to defect when the Gaddafi regime fell, the Times said.  Since then, the newly elected leaders have struggled to maintain order in the country.

Rival militias defy the government and wreak havoc, sparking mass protests by civilians.

In September, the government ordered the rogue militias to disband and raided several of their bases, but the deadly Sept, 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi showed Libya still has little control over the well-organized and well-armed fighters. A US official told the Times that vetting for the new commando force would likely be conducted by American and Libyan officials to weed out Islamists and others not loyal to the Libyan government. The training would be aimed at creating a quick-reaction force that planners envision becoming the core of revamped Libyan armed forces.

Officials told the Times they are expecting a final decision on the plan by the end of the year, with trainers fielding the initial units within 12 months. The Times said plans for the elite Libyan force, expected to number some 500 troops, were in the works before the September 11 attack but have been accelerated since then amid increased concern over the North African country. Libya’s weak central government has had to rely on a patchwork of militias — including many Islamist groups – to secure the country.

The Times cited a State Department memo sent to Congress on September 4 as saying that the goal of the programme is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” It cited a companion Pentagon document as saying the commando force would “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organisations.” The Times said a final decision on the program has not yet been made, and that US officials were still working out the exact details in consultation with Libyan political and military leaders.