Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & The New York Times – 2011-03-31 00:54:55
CIA Ground Forces Operating
Inside Libya for ‘Several Weeks’
Obama Authorized Aiding Rebels
Despite Denial Any Decision Was Made
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 30, 2011) — Already ill-defined and increasingly unpopular, the US War in Libya has taken several more hits today as evidence mounted that the administration has been overtly lying about the US role in the conflict, and had actual been conducting covert operations in the country for “several weeks.”
That was the revelation Wednesday, as US officials admitted that CIA ground forces have been conducting secret operations inside Libya for quite some time before the war was formally declared (two weeks ago Thursday) and even further before the first US strikes were launched (that Saturday).
Not only that, but Reuters revealed that President Obama signed an order authorizing the US to secretly arm Libyan rebels weeks ago. This is particularly noteworthy because only yesterday the president pretended to be “considering” this action, saying no such decision had been made.
In his Monday address President Obama feigned pride over the fact that he got the US involved in the Libyan War within the first month of hostilities, far sooner than President Clinton had in Bosnia.
Todayâ€™s revelations suggest that the president was committing American resources from the time the protest movement and the crackdown began to escalate into a civil war, and possibly sooner. The presidentâ€™s already precipitous decision to involve the US in the internal Libyan conflict appears to have been even hastier than ever imagined.
CIA Agents in Libya Aid
Airstrikes and Meet Rebels
Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (March 30, 2011) — 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-Qaddafiâ€™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 Qaddafiâ€™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 agencyâ€™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 Qaddafiâ€™s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libyaâ€™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.
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.
The United States and its allies have been scrambling to gather detailed information on the location and abilities of Libyan infantry and armored forces that normally takes months of painstaking analysis.
“We didnâ€™t have great data,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, who handed over control of the Libya mission to NATO on Wednesday, said in an e-mail last week. “Libya hasn’t been a country we focused on a lot over past few years.”
Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the C.I.A. to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels, American officials said Wednesday. But weapons have not yet been shipped into Libya, as Obama administration officials debate the effects of giving them to the rebel groups. The presidential finding was first reported by Reuters.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to comment â€œon intelligence matters,â€ but he said that no decision had yet been made to provide arms to the rebels.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that he opposed arming the rebels. “We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement.
Because the publicly stated goal of the Libyan campaign is not explicitly to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi’s government, the clandestine war now going on is significantly different from the Afghan campaign to drive the Taliban from power in 2001. Back then, American C.I.A. and Special Forces troops worked alongside Afghan militias, armed them and called in airstrikes that paved the rebel advances on strategically important cities like Kabul and Kandahar.
In recent weeks, the American military has been monitoring Libyan troops with U-2 spy planes and a high-altitude Global Hawk drone, as well as a special aircraft, JSTARS, that tracks the movements of large groups of troops. Military officials said that the Air Force also has Predator drones, similar to those now operating in Afghanistan, in reserve.
Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint eavesdropping planes intercept communications from Libyan commanders and troops and relay that information to the Global Hawk, which zooms in on the location of armored forces and determines rough coordinates.
The Global Hawk sends the coordinates to analysts at a ground station, who pass the information to command centers for targeting. The command center beams the coordinates to an E-3 Sentry Awacs command-and-control plane, which in turn directs warplanes to their targets.
Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who recently retired as the Air Forceâ€™s top intelligence official, said that Libya’s flat desert terrain and clear weather have allowed warplanes with advanced sensors to hunt Libyan armored columns with relative ease, day or night, without the need for extensive direction from American troops on the ground.
But if government troops advance into or near cities in along the countryâ€™s eastern coast, which so far have been off-limits to coalition aircraft for fear of causing civilian casualties, General Deptula said that ground operatives would be particularly helpful in providing target coordinates or pointing them out to pilots with hand-held laser designators.
The C.I.A. and British intelligence services were intensely focused on Libya eight years ago, before and during the successful effort to get Colonel Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to do so in the fall of 2003, and allowed C.I.A. and other American nuclear experts into the country to assess Libya’s equipment and bomb designs and to arrange for their transfer out of the country.
Once the weapons program was eliminated, a former American official said, intelligence agencies shifted their focus away from Libya. But as Colonel Qaddafi began his recent crackdown on the rebel groups, the American spy agencies have worked to rekindle ties to Libyan informants and to learn more about the countryâ€™s military leaders.
A former British government official who is briefed on current operations confirmed media reports that dozens of British Special Forces soldiers, from the elite Special Air Service and Special Boat Service units, are on the ground across Libya. The British soldiers have been particularly focused on finding the locations of Colonel Qaddafi’s Russian-made surface-to-air missiles.
A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss the operations of British Special Forces.
Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from London, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
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