U.S. Moves To Aid Libyan Rebels As Evidence Mounts Of Their Ties To Al Qaeda

The U.S. seems to be on the verge of changing war strategies in Libya, even as it becomes clear that these rebels aren't necessarily our friends.

There are increasing signs that the United States and our coalition partners are getting closer to shifting the mission in Libya from the ‘protection of civilians’ authorized by UNSCR 1973 to openly siding with the rebels. In the last two days, for example, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have stated that the U.S. is considering arming the rebels in the face of news that the Libyan Army has defeated them so soundly that the retreat is turning into a rout. More important, though, is the CNN report that the U.S. is preparing to completely change its ‘war strategy’:

This comes as evidence continues to mount of the ties between the Libyan rebel fighters and al Qaeda:

A former leader of Libya’s al Qaeda affiliate says he thinks “freelance jihadists” have joined the rebel forces, as NATO’s commander told Congress on Tuesday that intelligence indicates some al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists are fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.

Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who renounced his al Qaeda affiliation in 2000, said in an interview that he estimates 1,000 jihadists are in Libya.

(…)

Outside observers generally estimate the number of trained Libyan fighters to be about 1,000.

Mr. Benotman told The Washington Times that al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, has tried without success to co-opt the leadership of Col. Gadhafi’s opposition. But Mr. Benotman said the interim council leading Libya’s opposition is seeking democratic elections, not an Islamic republic.

“We have freelance jihadists,” he said. “But everything is still under control of the interim national council. There is no other organization that says, ‘We are leaders of the revolution with this emir,’ like al Qaeda would. Everyone is afraid to do this; they would be labeled as undermining the people.”

These are the people we’re proposing to go to war to help, and while Gaddafi may be a horrible person and a dictator, I don’t see the value in replacing him with people who look up to the likes of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Reuters (“Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret help for Libya rebels“):

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.

NYT (“C.I.A. Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes and Meet Rebels“):

The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.

While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.

In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.

American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.

In addition, the American spies are meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities. American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces.

What could go wrong?

Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, questions “The wisdom and legality of arming Libyan rebels.” Quaint notions from a bygone era, methinks.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Barack Obama, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Terrorism, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Where’s the evidence that AQ’s presence in the Libyan rebels is growing? By the estimate of the article you post, either jihadists in the Libyan rebel army are completely untrained and useless soldiers or they make up a large chunk of the rebel trained fighters.

  2. Dissenter says:

    Let’s face it: all the killing now going on in Muslim countries is the Muslims way of deciding who their new dictators will be. Best we get out and stay out.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    We don’t know enough about Libya to be deciding who should run it, but that’s never stopped us before. Our entire history has been one of arrogant aggression.

  4. ponce says:

    Gaddaphi’s (TM) troops are laying down minefields and digging trenches around Ajdabiya.

    It might be hard for the rebels to repeat their gains of last weekend no matter how many small arms we give them.

  5. TG Chicago says:

    You’re just trolling michael reynolds now.

  6. mantis says:

    Define “evidence,” counselor.

  7. Rock says:

    If there are al Qaeda elements in the rebels could the President be accused of palling around with terrorist again?

    Exclusive: Obama authorizes secret support for Libya rebels – Reuters

  8. Wiley Stoner says:

    Mantis, How about where did those folks get there guns? If these are street folks they seem to have an abundance of AK47 type weapons and some interesting Soviet style machineguns. Those are the weapons of al Qaeda.

    Portion of comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  9. Rick Almeida says:

    Those are the weapons of al Qaeda.

    Those are the weapons of the developing world, old chum. We even bought plenty of them for the mujahadeen.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    Well that last bit from GAY RINO Wiley Stoner was about as disgusting as we’ve seen here in a while.

  11. steve says:

    “an abundance of AK47 type weapons and some interesting Soviet style machineguns.”

    I would recommend reading Chivers’ book, The Gun. The Ak is the gun of the entire third world.

    Steve

  12. Wayne says:

    Gaddafi is on his last leg, rebels are on their last leg, Gaddafi …, rebels…. Yeah war is in constant change. It just cracks me up how the media covers it though.

    I don’t have a great deal of details on the situation. However I suspect unless the U.S. gets much more involved the rebels will lose. Gaddafi we adjust and take advantage to whatever ROE the “coalition’ comes up with.

    I have never been a fan of “the enemy is my friend” B.S. In Libya I’m not all that confident on who to root for except the safety of ours and our true allies troops.

  13. ratufa says:

    My take on this is that we (the US & allies) didn’t go into Libya expecting that the rebels would outright “win”. Instead, we hoped that a combination of bombing plus financial pressure from the sanctions (e.g. freezing the bank accounts of top military leaders) would cause the military to force Gaddafi & sons to “retire” (sorta like Mubarak), at which point we could claim victory, be happy that the loose-cannon Gaddafi is gone, and quietly avert our eyes while the Libyan government cracked down on the remainder of the rebels.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the way things are working out and wars tend to create their own logic. So, barring some turnaround, this is not going to be pretty.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Can someone explain to me how:

    Mr. Benotman told The Washington Times that al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, has tried without success to co-opt the leadership of Col. Gadhafi’s opposition. But Mr. Benotman said the interim council leading Libya’s opposition is seeking democratic elections, not an Islamic republic.

    Equals:

    U.S. Moves To Aid Libyan Rebels As Evidence Mounts Of Their Ties To Al Qaeda.

    Doug now applies a standard of proof every bit on a par with Sarah Palin, and applies logic only slightly more coherent than Wiley Stoner.

  15. ponce says:

    I can’t help but think announcing the CIA is currently helping the Libyan rebels is a bit of a PR…misstep.

  16. Wayne says:

    Ratufa that seems about as reasonable and plausible of an assessment as any I have heard. Too bad it didn’t work.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    Let’s absolutely declare defeat right now. After all, it’s been almost 2 weeks.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    By the way:

    US defence secretary Robert Gates on Thursday said it is highly unlikely for al-Qaeda to “hijack” the uprising in Libya against Gaddafi’s rule.

    Gates played down the threat posed by the group’s regional affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, saying:

    I think that the future government of Libya is going to be worked out among the principal tribes.

    So I think that for some outside group or some element of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to be able to hijack this thing at this point looks very unlikely to me.

    On Tuesday NATO’s top commander Admiral James Stavridis had talked about “flickers” of possible al-Qaeda or Hezbollah influence among the opposition ranks.

    So there’s that. But why believe Gates when we can cherry-pick the random rants of Heritage Foundation interns and then write hysterical headlines?

  19. Drew says:

    “Doug now applies a standard of proof every bit on a par with Sarah Palin, and applies logic only slightly more coherent than Wiley Stoner

    Heh. Correction Requested – I didn’t know Ms Palin or Heritage Foundation interns wrote for the NY Times editorial board either.

    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/04/028738.php#fbcomments