Are We Sure We Want to Deal With the Rebels in Libya?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 26, 2011

I am all for the Libyan people gaining freedom from the Qaddafi regime, and while I am exceedingly skeptical that American military power should be used to help the Libyan people gain that freedom, I think the Administration should employ non-military means to weaken the Qaddafi regime, and pave the way to a transition to a government that is more in line with the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people.

But we appear determined to make things worse for ourselves. There is now a proposal afoot to arm the Libyan rebels “with RPGs — presumably to use against Qaddafi’s tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. The rebels are eager to get their hands on such weapons.”

Are we really sure that this is a good idea?

Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25″ men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.

Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.

His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, “including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries”.

Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against “the foreign invasion” in Afghanistan, before being “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan”. He was later handed over to the US, and then held in Libya before being released in 2008.

Now look, all of this could be complete nonsense, and pure puffery. But we are not sure whether or not it is. And the problem with this entire exercise in interventionism on behalf of the Libyan rebels is that we have no idea who the Libyan rebels are. To be sure, there are plenty of people demonstrating in Libyan cities against the Qaddafi regime who have no affiliation or truck with al Qaeda whatsoever. And it is patently silly to believe regime claims that all of the protesters are affiliated with al Qaeda, or that the protests are driven by people who are drugged out on substances that al Qaeda gave them.

But there also appear to be a number of people amongst the rebel groups who might have al Qaeda affiliations. Isn’t it smart to try to find out more about them before we start discussing plans to arm the Libyan rebels with rocket-propelled grenandes? Is the Obama Administration trying to find out more about the rebels, before we decide to arm them, or support them in other ways? Because I see no evidence whatsoever that they are.

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