(USA TODAY) -- A U.S. Navy SEAL raid to seize control of an oil tanker that had been commandeered by Libyan rebels reflects a broad U.S. policy to try and help bolster the country's weak central government, which has struggled since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
No shots were fired during the operation, which involved a large number of elite naval commandoes, U.S. European Command said.
The tanker is steaming back to Libya with a team of U.S. sailors aboard. U.S. officials have not decided what to do with the armed Libyans who had seized control of the ship.
The militants are believed to be linked to one of the militias that operate in the country and rival the central government.
The tanker had earlier evaded efforts by Libyan security forces to prevent it from leaving a Libyan port. Libyan and Cypriot authorities had sought U.S. help in detaining the vessel.
"The U.S. is committed to supporting our Libyan partners," said Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The operation took place Sunday night in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Cyprus.
Libya's government has struggled to establish security in the wake of the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Militias outside government control continue to exert control in parts of the country.
The Libyan government had earlier said the tanker was carrying oil loaded in defiance of the central government from a port in Sidra and had attempted to prevent it from leaving port.
"The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company," a Pentagon statement said.
The incident comes as Libya's central government has struggled to build security forces and establish legitimacy.
The United States has agreed to train between 5,000 and 8,000 Libyan servicemen at a base in Bulgaria, though the training has not yet begun, U.S. Africa Command said. Allies have also agreed to train Libyan forces outside the country.
The SEAL team involved in the Libyan incident was operating from the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt, the Pentagon said.
The USS Roosevelt is deployed as part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group.
U.S. Navy SEALs were involved in a dramatic rescue of the Maersk Alabama in 2009, a story that was recently made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. SEAL snipers killed three Somali pirates and rescued the ship's captain, who was being held hostage, during the incident.
At the time, the world was facing a rash of piracy, most of it from Somali gunmen operating off the Horn of Africa.
The number of incidents in that region, however, has declined sharply as U.S. and allied ships have increased patrols in the area and shipping companies have adopted tactics, including hiring guards and using evasive maneuvers, that have deterred piracy.
"We've had a dramatic decrease" in international piracy, said Pottengal Mukundan, a spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau.
The number of worldwide ship hijackings declined to 12 last year from 28 the year prior. There have been two hijackings so far this year.
Mukundun said his organization has no information on the Libyan incident and would only consider it an act of piracy if a group from outside the ship took it over.
By Jim Michaels and Kim Hjelmgaard
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