A year later, the war in Libya is far from over

By IndepthAfrica
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Oct 11th, 2012
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Libyans walk on the grounds of the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Photo by AP

October 23, 2012 will be exactly one year after the Chairperson of the National Transitional Council declared that the Liberation of Libya was complete. A few days later the Secretary General of NATO, General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the end of the NATO mission, declaring that the NATO mission to Libya had been ‘one of the most successful in NATO history.’ Despite this announcement of success there are daily reports of fighting all across Libya with the levels of insecurity unprecedented in the history of the country with over 1,700 militias roaming. After Col Gaddafi was executed on October 20, 2011, the disinformation agencies of empire worked hard to keep the news of the militias and the insecurity out of international news. However, the competition between the differing oil companies had ensnared numerous forces. So this warfare continued with the militias linked to western oil companies through private military contractors and relevant western agencies.

Citizens of the United States learnt of the levels of insecurity of the people of Libya on September 11 when the Ambassador of the United States to Libya was killed in Benghazi, the city that was the base of the rebellion against Gaddafi. The death of Ambassador Stevens brought out facts of the US diplomatic/intelligence activities and its relationship to the militias. The differing accounts of the death entered into the presidential campaign as the Republican controlled Congress mounted hearings to get to the ‘truth’. Prior to these Hearings reports had been coming out in drips and drabs about the US intelligence presence in Benghazi. When the US security personnel were evacuated after the fateful events of September 11, 2012, the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagour told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We were surprised by the numbers of Americans who were at the airport. We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key.’ Libyans were awoken to the extent of the integration between the large numbers of US intelligence and the competing militias in Benghazi.

The testimony of the officials of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State before the US Congress only created more uncertainty in relation to the objectives of the United States in Libya. This Hearing before Congress failed to bring out the important role of the intelligence community in Libya in the coordination of the present war in Syria.

In our commentary this week, we will note that the war in Libya is not over and that the United Nations and the BRICS societies will have to be more forthright in placing a different plan for the restoration of peace and decent livelihood for the peoples of Libya. Ultimately, the triggers of war that spun out of the NATO intervention in Libya are having a tragic effect on all of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. The African Union will have to once again intervene in Libya as the NATO countries descend into deeper economic depression and political repression at home and abroad.

SELLING THE SO-CALLED TRANSITION

After the execution of Gaddafi on October 20, 2011 and the capture of Saif al-Islam in November, the western media went into overdrive to present the idea that a new era of peace and reconstruction had arrived in Libya. Carefully managing the news coming out of Libya, Western citizens were assured that Libya was in a ‘transition’ phase. Step one in the planning of the masterminds of the intervention was declaration of victory after the destruction of Sirte and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Step two involved the formation of an interim government which was supposed to have been completed by October 31, 2011 with Abdurrahim El-Keib succeeding Mahmoud Jibril. This phase of the transition was supposed to be guided through February 2012 when there was an appointment of an election commission with the adoption of electoral legislation. The farcical nature of this transition was soon made obvious when in March 2012, NTC officials in the east, centred on Benghazi, launched a campaign to re-establish autonomy for the region, further increasing tension with the central NTC in Tripoli. This push for autonomy in the oil rich region ensured that there was a flurry of activities as the executives of the oil companies and their private contractors fanned out in Benghazi to ensure that their own companies would emerge as strong forces after the redistribution of oil contracts.

It was in the midst of the dangerous squabbling between oil executives and their contractors and militias when there was the constant announcement of plans for elections in Libya in June 2012. The elections for the General National Congress were held on July 7, 2012. International news organizations went overboard to highlight the success of the elections and the ‘fact’ that Islamists and Jihadists did not come out as winners. The transitional government handed power to the General National Congress. This Congress then elected Mohammed Magarief of the liberal National Front Party as its chairman, thereby making him interim head of state.

These well-crafted versions of the ‘transition’ concealed the continued warfare that was going on all over Libya. There were approximately 1,700 militia groups running the country with each neighborhood dominated by a faction that went into the business of using weapons as a means of gaining access to resources. After the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, US citizens were alerted to the existence of what the State Department called ‘security incidents.’ But the 230 ‘security incidents’ over the past year were the tip of the iceberg of the massive destabilization and killings that had occurred. Black skinned Libyans from Tawergha were expelled from their community and more than 30,000 displaced. Even the usual spokespersons for Western imperial missions had to speak out as Human Rights Watch joined in the condemnation of the rule of the militias. Human Rights Watch brought out a ‘Report Rule of Law or Rule of Militias’ bringing into sharper focus some of the outstanding questions of the role of these armed marauders all over Libya. In June one militia brigade briefly took over Tripoli international airport

OIL AND MILITIAS

Despite the 230 security situations in Libya, international oil companies were back in business so that by the end of September 2012, Libya was producing 90 per cent of its pre-NATO intervention output. In fact more oil was now being pumped out than in the month immediately prior to the start of the NATO war. Foreign companies had been trooping back into Libya with BP being the last to arrive in May. Even without the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, the stability of the exportation of oil had driven foreign companies to focus on who would be in control of Benghazi, especially after the noisy declaration of autonomy by the militia/political leaders in February.

US oil companies did not want to be left behind in this new insensate struggle, hence US diplomatic efforts were now directed at Benghazi. Christopher Stevens had been appointed ambassador of the United States to Libya in January 2012 and arrived in Tripoli in May. When the uprisings had started in February 2011 and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was going into Benghazi to mobilize support for French interests, Chris Stevens was one of the first US diplomatic personnel to be on the ground in Benghazi. He had served as a ‘Special Representative’ to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the NATO intervention. Prior to this period he had served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya from 2007 to 2009. At that time, Stevens described Gaddafi as an ‘engaging and charming interlocutor’ as well as a ‘strong partner in the war against terrorism.’

Chris Stevens belonged to that section of the US Department of State that was very knowledgeable about the movements of militia members between Benghazi, Libya, and the current war against the Assad regime in Syria. Libyan Islamists from the Eastern region comprise the largest single component of the ‘foreign fighters’ who are playing an ever more dominant role in the war being waged in Syria with the aim of toppling the government of President Assad. According to some estimates, they comprise anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 of approximately 3,500 fighters who have been infiltrated into Syria from as far away as Chechnya and Pakistan.

DEATH OF AN AMBASSADOR

Throughout North Africa, the fallout of the NATO war was being felt with the citizens of Libya bearing the brunt of the lawlessness that had been unleashed. Such lawlessness suited the short term interests of the capital equity forces of Wall Street, the oil executives and the Emirates. The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured Libyan stockpiles — including small arms, explosives and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs) — expanded the availability of weapons with the border regions suffering directly. The present destruction in Mali is directly related to these forms of plunder by Western interests.

The NATO powers and Western nations remained smug because this instability temporarily postponed the questions of African integration. However, some sections of Africa were sufficiently angry for them to work for the removal of the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to examine security lapses that led to the killing in Benghazi last month of the US ambassador and three others. What this hearing confirmed was what many knew; that there was no real ‘consulate’ in Benghazi, but a vast intelligence and private contractors web for the CIA and the oil companies. It was the testament of Charlene Lamb before Congress that gave away the fact that the ‘facility’ in Benghazi where Christopher Stevens and three others lost their lives was not a diplomatic facility.

The events surrounding the death of Ambassador Stevens exposed the USA in Libya at a number of levels. First, the role of Stevens exposed the hypocrisy of the so called ‘war on terror’. Second, the evidence pointed to the integration between US intelligence and the militias. In the testimony before Congress, Charlene Lamb told US law makers that the intelligence compound depended on the militia in Benghazi known as the 17th February Brigade. Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told Congress on October 10 that in terms of armed security personnel, there were five Diplomatic Security agents on the compound on September11. ‘There were also three members of the Libyan 17th February Brigade’ – a reference to the Libyans hired to guard the American compound.

The third level was the jockeying between French, British, Italian and US oil companies over political dominance in Benghazi. Traditionally, the Italians had been a force on the ground in Libya but during the NATO operations French, British and WE operatives muscled out the Italians as junior partners in the imperial operation.

These factors did not come out in the hearings, but what did come out was the inter-agency conflicts between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. The US military has kept quiet as these inter-agency squabbles were played out on C Span.

Even before the hearings, Eric Nordstrom had engaged in a media battle to place his stamp on the events leading up to the death of the ambassador. In his testimony, the regional security officer who served about 10 months in Libya, said he sought to obtain more agents and to extend a mission for the security site team in Libya.

There was in fact need for security but as the diary of Ambassador Stevens showed, he was opposed to the presence of official State Department personnel because of the integration of the private contractors, the intelligence operatives and the militias. Earlier in June there had been an attack on the intelligence facility that was called a ‘consulate,’ a June 6 bomb attack on the Benghazi consulate, a June 11 rocket-propelled grenade attack on a convoy carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya, and an August 27 State Department travel warning noting the threat of car bombings and assassinations in Tripoli and Benghazi. However, despite these attacks Stevens argued to the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security that the matter of security should not be entrusted in the hands the Marines who usually guarded US diplomatic establishments.

Stevens took this decision to ‘show faith in Libya’s new leaders,’ according to the Wall Street Journal, which wrote: ‘Officials say Mr Stevens personally advised against having Marines posted at the embassy in Tripoli, apparently to avoid a militarized US presence.’

FALLOUT BEFORE THE US PUBLIC

While the media was hailing Ambassador Stevens as a hero, the first major inclination of the depth of intrigue was the struggle between CNN and the State Department over the contents of the diary of Ambassador Stevens. This diary and the appointment calendar which was picked up by journalists were found by journalists and parts of this diary which exposed the multiple roles of Stevens were aired on the US network CNN. This same network had been complicit in the disinformation during the war, but in the current ratings competition, CNN did not wait for clearance before exposing the activities of Stevens as documented by Stevens himself. These revelations displeased the State Department. While Stevens was given a public tribute by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, the three other US personnel who succumbed to the attack on September 11 were buried quietly so that the local papers from their towns would not raise questions about what they were doing in Benghazi.

CIA AGAINST THE STATE DEPARTMENT

When Stevens was killed, the US representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, stated that the killings took place in the context of the international demonstrations over the obnoxious video about the prophet Mohammed. Soon afterwards it became clearer that the attack on Benghazi was not related to the international demonstrations but in relation to the inter-militia warfare in Benghazi. The Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney pounced on this disparity of the facts and the US Republican controlled Congress called hearings to embarrass President Obama.

However, no sooner were the hearings in session before the Republican lawmakers found out that they were opening a can of worms, exposing the extent of the CIA operations in Libya. Very early in the hearings, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the role of the CIA. ‘Point of order! Point of order!’ he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the US facilities in Benghazi, described the night of the attack. ‘We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.’

The State Department official then retorted that the information being presented was available on commercial sites and easily retrievable through Google Earth maps. The State Department revealed that the material was unclassified; bring out to the US public the differences between the CIA and the State Department. ‘I totally object to the use of that photo,’ Chaffetz continued. He went on to say that ‘I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.’

After Representative Chaffetz alerted the world that something valuable was in the photo, the chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), attempted to close the barn door after the horses had been out. ‘I would direct that that chart be taken down,’ he said, although it already had been on C-SPAN. ‘In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.’

Dana Milbank from the insider beltway media poked fun on the CIA and how they were outed in the hearings. In an article posted on Huffingtonpost, he wrote:

‘In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member ‘rapid response force’ in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that ‘not necessarily all of the security people’ at the Benghazi compounds ‘fell under my direct operational control.’

‘And whose control might they have fallen under? Well, presumably it’s the ‘other government agency’ or ‘other government entity’ the lawmakers and witnesses referred to; Issa informed the public that this agency was not the FBI.’

The operations of the CIA in Libya had backfired. The plan of the Republicans to make political capital out of this incident had backfired and the entire world was brought closer to the multiple roles of the US military, private contractors, intelligence operatives and oil companies in Libya.

The number of CIA operatives in Benghazi was also a revelation to the ‘provisional’ government in Libya. When the US evacuated their personnel from Benghazi, the Libyans were surprised and wanted greater accountability from the US about their operations. However, for the US intelligence community, the major question was damage control.

‘It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,’ a US official who had been stationed in Libya told the New York Times. ‘We got our eyes poked out.’

IF YOU FEED A SCORPION IT WILL BITE YOU

Robert Fisk of the Independent drew the linkages between the NATO intervention in Libya and the escalating war in Syria, warning the West of the dangers of its duplicity in the Middle East and North Africa. Writing after the death of Ambassador Stevens, Fisk commented that:

‘The United States supported the opposition against Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, helped Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias and had now reaped the whirlwind. America’s Libyan ‘friends’ had turned against them, murdered US ambassador Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi and started an al-Qa’ida-led anti-American protest movement that had consumed the Muslim world. The US had fed the al-Qa’ida scorpion and now it had bitten America. And so Washington now supports the opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias (including Salafists and al-Qa’ida) and would, inevitably, be bitten by the same ‘scorpion’ if Assad was overthrown.’

Fisk quoted from one of his friends in Syria who was warning against the current escalation of the war:

‘You know, we’re all sorry about Christopher Stevens. This kind of thing is terrible and he was a good friend to Syria – he understood the Arabs.’ I let him get away with this, though I knew what was coming. But we have an expression in Syria: ‘If you feed a scorpion, it will bite you’.’

This bite is now being felt even in the halls of the US Congress as the Congressional hearings backfired on the Republicans who had hoped to make political capital out of the events in Benghazi because what is emerging from the press reports is that the CIA agency was not merely conducting covert surveillance on the Islamists based in eastern Libya, but providing them with direct aid and coordinating their operations with the current war in Syria.

THE WAR IN LIBYA IS FAR FROM OVER

Libya is again dominating the news as the US government is forced to juggle lies and disinformation. There are now at least seven new books that detail the quagmire of the NATO intervention. Next month, my own contribution will be published by the African Institute of South Africa. The title of my book is ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity’. This book will join the wave of statements from across the world calling for corrective measures for Africa against this new plunder. NATO is now completely discredited and is being called to expand war to Syria, Iran and beyond.

After the death of Stevens, the US Navy sent two destroyers to Libyan waters. Inside Libya, there have been cries for the disbanding of the militias. Demonstrators are calling on the Libyan government to disband the forces of terrorism in Libya. However, the Central government of Libya is torn between the competing interests of the French, British, Italian, US, Emirates, Saudi and Turkey. The continued warfare in Libya points to the need for an intensification of the calls for the UN Security Council to remove the private contractors and foreign military personnel from Libya. On March 12, 2012, the United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for one year in order to assist the transitional authorities with security and administrative challenges. This extension of the Security Council mandate was in fact assistance to the external oil companies.

Members of the BRICS societies had been angry over the manipulation of the Responsibility to Protect resolution. The anger of Brazil, Russia, India and China must be turned into concrete support for the peoples of Africa and Libya by pressuring the USA and NATO to expel the private contractors and intelligence operatives who are now using Libya as one of the rear bases for the war in Syria.

African peoples everywhere are mindful of how the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 heralded the start of World War II. The slow and escalating wars across North Africa and the Middle East pose great dangers to humans everywhere. Vigilance is needed and clear political agendas to oppose African dictators while strengthening the Peace and Security Council of the African Union.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is also a Special invited Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Global NATO and the catastrophic failure in Libya’.

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