Arming the Enemy in Libya
By Ted Belman
April 4, 2011
The military mission America is helping to prosecute in Libya against Gaddafi has placed us into some questionable circles – to say the least. Libyan rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, in a recent interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, admitted that some of his rebel fighters, men from the Derna area in eastern Libya, had been recruited by him to fight coalition troops in Iraq. Al-Hasidi also admitted that he himself had fought against America’s “foreign invasion” in Afghanistan. Thus, it appears that America’ degradation of Gaddafi’s fighting forces, claims of “humanitarianism” notwithstanding, is aiding our Islamist enemies.
According to both U.S. and British officials, Al-Hasidi revealed he had been captured in 2002 in Peshwar, Pakistan. Handed over to the United States, and finally sent to Libya where he was released in 2008, he was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). LIFG was reportedly responsible for the killing of dozens of Libyan troops in a series of guerrilla attacks near the cities of Derna and Benghazi in 1995 and 1996. While LIFG is not part of al Qaeda itself, American military officials point to an “increasingly co-operative relationship” between the two organizations, and al Qaeda has come out in support of the Libyan rebel forces, claiming their victory would lead to “the stage of Islam” in the North African nation.
Al Qaeda is also helping itself. Idriss Deby Itno, president of Chad, has reported that the terrorist organization’s offshoot in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has helped itself to surface-to-air missiles from a Libyan arsenal. Speaking to African weekly Jeune Afrique, Deby Itno claimed he was “100 per cent sure” of his assertion. “The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere,” said Deby Itno. Tenere is part of the Sahara desert region stretching from northeast Niger to western Chad. “This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region,” he added. And despite the fact that he and Muammar Gaddafi are enemies, Deby Itno backed the Libyan leader’s claim that al Qaeda helped to orchestrate the current uprising. ”There is a partial truth in what he says,” he said. “Up to what point? I don’t know. But I am certain that AQIM took an active part in the uprising.” He also characterized Western intervention there as a “hasty decision.”
Other officials in the region confirmed Deby Into’s assertion regarding the stolen weapons. “We have sure information. We are very worried for the sub-region,” said a Malian security official who wished to remain anonymous. ”We have the same information, about heavy weapons, including SAM 7 missiles. It is very worrying. This over-arming is a real danger for the whole zone,” said a military source from Niger, who also explained that “AQIM gets the weapons in two ways; people go and look for the arms in Libya to deliver them to AQIM in the Sahel, or AQIM elements go there themselves.”
If a report by Sky Net News is any indication, the Obama administration is impervious to this reality. According to that website, “Western diplomatic officials” have confirmed that the U.S. is “considering the legality of arming the Libyan rebels.” Ostensibly, one of the “unintended consequences” of U.N. resolution 1970, requiring all member nations to “immediately take the necessary measures” to prevent the supply or sale of weapons to the Libyan government, contained no exceptions for supplying anti-Gaddafi forces. The administration is exploring a legal framework by which rebel forces could be armed if they could prove such arms were necessary to “defend themselves from Gaddafi’s forces.”
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for US Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice, confirmed the possibility. “Resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specify nor preclude such an action,” said Kornblau. Britain and France are reportedly considering similar options with a coalition diplomat claiming the U.N. mandate “authorizes all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack,” and that any action taken “will be consistent with the United Nations Security Resolution and with international law.”
Such assertions raise a couple of questions. First, as AOL news is reporting, rebel forces are on the offense, seizing the towns of Brega, a main oil export terminal, and Al-Egila “on their way to the massive oil refining complex of Ras Lanouf.” Rebel forces are reporting no resistance, claiming Gaddafi’s forces have “just melted away.”
Question one: With respect to the above conditions, does such action still constitute “defense?” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says the U.N. is not trying to “change a regime” but provide protection to “save the lives” of innocent civilians, which segues into question number two: Does the protection of civilians include those civilians who are pro-government?
Khaled Kaim, Libya’s deputy foreign minister asserts the coalition’s claims of neutrality are bogus. “This is the objective of the coalition now, it is not to protect civilians because now they are directly fighting against the armed forces,” he said in Tripoli. “They are trying to push the country to the brink of a civil war.” British Defense Secretary Liam Fox denied the charge. “Losing Gadhafi is an aspiration, it is not part of the U.N. resolution,” he said. Fox then added to the overall confusion. “We are not arming the rebels, we are not planning to arm the rebels,” he claimed, contradicting the above report.
Perhaps the Obama administration should take heed, not of Mr. Fox, but of our own knowledge concerning the nature of the rebel forces. According to the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center, a cache of formerly secret Iraq files, known as the “Sinjar documents” captured by coalition forces in 2007, revealed that “Libya sent more fighters to Iraq on a per-capita basis than any other Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia,” and that most of these forces “came from eastern Libya,” where uprising against Muammar Gaddafi is most intense. “Libyans were more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Arabic-speaking world,” noted Andrew Exum, counterinsurgency specialist and former Army Ranger in a blog posting on March 10th. “This might explain why those rebels from Libya’s eastern provinces are not too excited about U.S. military intervention. It might also give some pause to those in the United States so eager to arm Libya’s rebels.”
President Obama is sticking to the humanitarian script at this juncture. “So make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians–innocent men, women and children–have been saved,” the president said, despite waiting more than a month to take action. The president also noted that while the U.S. cannot get involved in every world crisis, Gaddafi was threatening a “bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region … it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility.”
How far will the U.S. go to prevent de-stabilization “of the entire region?” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was non-committal, saying it was “too early” to discuss intervention in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s slaughter of innocents looks remarkably similar to Gaddafi’s. Defense Secretary Robert Gates speculated that Yemen may be particularly troubling because “[T]he most aggressive branch of al-Qaeda … operates out of Yemen…so if the government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional problems out of Yemen.”
Where does it end? National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explains what to expect with regard to Libya–and possibly beyond. ”The rebels are not rebels–they are the Libyan mujahideen. Like the Afghan mujahideen, including those that became al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Libyan mujahideen comprise different groups. What overwhelmingly unites them, besides opposition to Qaddafi, is sharia,” he notes. ”The Libyan mujahideen will exploit us but never befriend us… [[I]f we empower them, we will eventually rue the day.”
After ten years in Afghanistan, eight in Iraq, both with no end in sight, most Americans already “rue the day.” Enmeshing ourselves in Libya, where “victory” may consist of replacing an anti-American regime with another anti-American regime even more closely associated with al Qaeda is troubling. Furthermore, an operation which the administration now admits American involvement “could continue for months,” contradicting last week’s assertion that it would last “days, not weeks,” illuminates a disturbing reality regarding this administration: It is making up policy as it goes along.
And such a policy looks like it may very well end up aiding our mortal enemies.