Militias In Libya And Syria Outwit The CIA
By Dmitry Babich
The New York Times daily came out with interesting revelations about the details of the attack against the US mission in Benghazi, Libya. The American officials whom the newspaper quotes on its pages confirm that the two American compounds in Benghazi, including the one where the American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died of smoke inhalation, were used by the CIA for “secret missions.”
Meanwhile, Mohamed al-Magarief, the head of the Libyan National Council and the interim head of state, issued an order disbanding all militias and ordering them to pull out of the army’s barracks and other public property before Tuesday. Experts, however, question the ability of Libya’s new government to reestablish order in the country in such a brief period of time.
From the latest reports it also became clear that the CIA had a big staff in Libya and in Benghazi in particular. In an interview to The Wall Street Journal Libya’s deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, expressed his surprise at the scope of the CIA’s operations in Benghazi, which became apparent to him only when a “surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.” “We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” Mr. Abushagour is quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying. New York Times reports that CIA operatives listened to Libyans’ phone conversations, intercepted and analyzed a huge amount of E-mail messages, SMS messages and other personal information.
These facts, coupled with worrying reports on the militias’ activities in Sirya, Libya and neighboring Mali, pose some more general questions, whose significance goes well beyond the borders of Libya alone. Here are some of these questions: how conscious is the United States of the real aims of the forces that surfaced in Arab countries thanks to the so called Arab Spring? How could it happen that massive CIA presence did not make the US authorities enlightened enough to predict the dangers that faced their own diplomatic staff? And if the reports about the inner divisions inside these militias and their infiltration by Islamists are true, then aren’t these militias a greater danger to their countries’ populations than the “dictatorships,” which these militias are fighting?
Obviously, the new Libyan authorities were hard pressed by the United States to do something about the terrible and, among other things, humiliating incident with the US ambassador killed there. The government is making “all the right moves” – or so it seems from the official reports. Mr. al-Magarief, the official head of state, issued the order on disbanding militias – a move, that, according to expert opinions, will require the use of force. According to a report by the French daily Le Figaro, at least 10 people were killed on the first day of the “new peaceful order,” i.e. before al-Magarief’s ultimatum actually expired. The newspaper reports that the two militias where Islamist presence is at its strongest – Ansar al-Sharia and Abu Slim – had prudently evacuated their facilities in Benghazi long before the government clamped down on militias. Instead of raiding the Islamists, people whom the New York Times calls “an angry mob demanding law and order” attacked the barracks of the more or less loyalist brigade of the local militia leader Rafallah Sahati. Le Figaro, however, suspects that it was not law and order, but Rafallah Sahati’s arms depots that the mob was after. Especially if one bears in mind that the attack started at dawn – the time when “normal” mobs are not at their most active.
Will the situation in Syria be any different from what we are now seeing in Libya? Georges Malbrunot, a veteran French reporter on Middle Eastern affairs, writes in his blog on the “growing influence of radicals” in the so called Free Syrian Army which announced today it was moving its operating headquarters from Turkey to Syria. FSA, created soon after the start of the “peaceful” rebellion in Syria, in June 2011, is now “just a label behind which rag-tag antiregime militias hide,” Malbrunot writes. The French journalist adds that this armed force, actively supported by money and by arms from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Western countries, “is torn apart by internal divisions.” The official commander of FSA, colonel Riad al-Assad (no relation to the ruling Syrian president), is reported to channel all the Saudi aid and arms to his loyalists inside Syria. “He created his own militias inside Syria, and now he wants to be better placed in the fight for power in the long perspective – in post-Bashar Syria,” Malbrunot quotes his sources among the Syrian rebels as saying.
Unfortunately, this description repeats word for word the not so distant developments in Libya. Which means that in case of a success of the current American strategy, the world, including the US, will see an increasingly insecure and violent Syria, torn by militias’ strife very much in the same way Libya is torn now.