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’:
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.