US Troops in Libya as Extremists Split Rebel Ranks

September 15th, 2011 - by admin

Fox News & Associated Press & The Daily Telegraph – 2011-09-15 11:58:26

US Boots on the Ground in Libya, Pentagon Confirms
Justin Fishel / Fox News

TRIPOLI (September 12, 2011) — Despite repeated assurances from President Obama and military leaders that the US would not send uniformed military personnel into Libya, four US service members arrived on the ground in Tripoli over the weekend.

According to Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby, the four unidentified troops are there working under the State Department’s chief of mission to assist in rebuilding the US Embassy. A US embassy emblem is seen on a broken door during a visit for the press in the vandalized US Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, Sept. 12.

Kirby noted the embassy in Tripoli was badly damaged during the conflict between Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels.

Two of the military personnel are explosive-ordnance experts who will be used to disable any explosives traps left in the embassy. The other two are “general security,” according to Kirby.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland assured reporters Monday that the four individuals are not in Libya to fight. “When the president made his commitment to ‘no boots on ground’ … obviously that had to do with entering into the fray between the Qaddafi forces and the Libyan freedom fighters, and that’s not what these guys are engaged in,” Nuland said.

Kirby also made clear these troops are in no way part of a military operation on the ground. They are armed, however, if for some reason they need to protect themselves.

The troops are only expected to be there for a short while. After the assessment of the embassy is complete, they are expected to leave.

Obama assured Americans in March when the bombing campaign over Libya began that there would be no boots on the ground. From the East Room of the White House on March 18, he said: “The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.”

Several days later at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., he said: “I said that America’s role would be limited, that we would not put ground troops into Libya, that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.”

Since then, US officials speaking on the condition of anonymity have acknowledged the CIA has had a small number of so-called “spotters” on the ground to assist in the NATO mission. It’s also well known that other foreign governments have sent special operations forces to fight on the ground with the rebels.

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News the fact that four troops are on the ground is “no big deal,” considering the embassy had been trashed. “You need this kind of expertise to make it safe for diplomats to return,” Bolton said.

Kirby wouldn’t say if there were plans to send more US troops in the future.

Sharp Splits Emerging among Libya’s New Leaders
Ryan Lucas / Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya (September 12, 2011) — Sharp splits are already emerging in the ranks of Libya’s new rulers between Islamic conservatives and more secular figures competing for power even as the leadership begins to settle in Tripoli and start creating a post-Moammar Gadhafi government.

The rising tensions, which have become increasingly public, could jeopardize efforts to rebuild the country and form a cohesive state after six months of civil war.

Each side accuses the other of trying to monopolize a new government. On one side stand more secular technocrats, some of whom have long lived abroad or once had ties with Gadhafi’s regime. On the other are conservatives, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who opposed Gadhafi for years on the ground in Libya and suffered during his rule.

“There are fears that these tensions could hamper reconstruction or just cause it all to unravel,” said a Western official in Tripoli who deals with members of the leadership of all stripes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The two sides are wrestling over a fundamental question facing Libya’s new leaders since the uprising began in mid-February — how to divvy up the powers of the nation after the downfall of Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.

Caught in the middle is Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, the closest thing the former rebels have to a functioning government. Abdul-Jalil is the sole figure in the leadership who enjoys almost universal support, earning the deep respect of many Libyans for criticizing Gadhafi’s regime even while serving as its justice minister.

“Abdul-Jalil is trying to keep the peace, and it’s a struggle between both sides, between the two powerful camps,” said one official close to the NTC on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “He’s trying to maintain a balance between the two camps, and keep the international community happy. It’s very difficult.”

The disputes for now appear to be primarily over personnel, and not deeply rooted in ideology, although the dividing line is increasingly stark.

The more secular camp is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, the US-educated acting prime minister who has found favor among the revolution’s Western backers. But Jibril, like a handful of others falling on this side of the fault line, also served briefly in the Gadhafi regime, and spent much his time during the civil war abroad, trying to drum up international support.

One of the most prominent Islamist figures at the moment is Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group — a militant organization that long opposed Gadhafi — and now the commander of the Tripoli military council.

The Islamists, who control the main military force in the capital, the Tripoli Brigade, have tried to ramp up the pressure on Jibril, calling for his resignation.

“We think that Mahmoud Jibril has lost the confidence of people on the ground in Tripoli, in eastern Libya, in Misrata, and in the majority of the western mountains,” said Anes Sharif, a spokesman for the Tripoli military council.

“He has been living for the last six months outside the country,” Sharif said. “He is appointing people depending on their loyalty to him, not depending on their worth and their activities in the revolution. We think he’s a project for a new dictator.”

On Friday, Jibril arrived in Tripoli — nearly three weeks after the capital’s fall — and in his first public comments took a swipe at groups who he said have already started “the political game” before the rules have been set.

He did not elaborate or name names, but Naji Barakat, the health minister in the Cabinet and a former exile, said the comments were directed chiefly at the Muslim Brotherhood.

“They’ve started doing dirty politics because they want to take the lead,” Barakat told The Associated Press. “I think they’ve been trying for a long time to be seen and heard. I think they’re getting support from countries as well. They think this is fertile ground.”

The Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were both heavily oppressed by Gadhafi’s regime. They played a key role in the revolution’s security apparatus, including as front-line fighting forces. The LIFG once had links to al-Qaida but has renounced its jihadist past, and both it and the Brotherhood have pledged allegiance to democratic principles. The Brotherhood was repeatedly targeted by Gadhafi’s security services and was never able to establish a firm organizational structure inside the country.

George Joffe, a Libyan expert at Cambridge University, said the Brotherhood remains a potent force in this conservative Muslim country despite its past struggles.

“Don’t underestimate its importance,” Joffe said. “It has a long-standing tradition in Libya. … There is a profound sentiment in favor of the Brotherhood, and it is quickly being re-established with a structure.”

Barakat criticized the Islamists for playing politics while the fighting continues. Revolutionary forces are still battling Gadhafi loyalists in the former regime strongholds of Bani Walid, Sirte and Sabha, and Gadhafi himself remains in hiding.

“We’re saying now is not the time for this. Now, they (the Brotherhood) are trying to weaken the NTC and to jump in,” he said. “With Tripoli liberated, they think now is the time.”

Libya’s new leaders have only just arrived in Tripoli, and are taking halting steps toward setting up a new government. Workers are busy readying the offices of the Gadhafi-era government for officials arriving in the capital to work in the various ministries.

Jibril said Sunday that efforts are being made to pay government salaries on time, and bonuses added to August salaries. He also said that oil production had resumed at one unspecified oil field in Libya’s east.

But the NTC is struggling to bring all the various armed brigades spanning the country under its authority.

Other fault lines have also emerged since revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21, driving Gadhafi from the capital and effectively bringing an end to the dictator’s rule.

The Libyan uprising began in the city of Benghazi in mid-February, and the rebels managed to wrest free much of the eastern half of the country from Gadhafi’s forces. The revolutionaries set up the NTC in Benghazi, and the body has been dominated by figures from the east — and Benghazi in particular.

Tripoli, which was under the thumb of the regime even after the eastern half of the country was liberated of his rule, is now trying to reclaim its pre-eminent political position, pushing back against a revolutionary leadership dominated by figures from Benghazi.

“The rift between Tripoli and Benghazi is pretty big,” the Western official said. “It’s worrying.”

Tripoli has long been the base of power in Libya, a country of only 6 million people, 2 million of whom live in the capital. The capital’s powerful political players are flexing their muscles, telling the NTC that they cannot dictate Libya’s future.

“The Tripoli people also know that they actually created their own revolution on Aug. 20, and they want full recognition for that,” said Joffe of Cambridge University. “And they’re not sure they want to see the council in its present form, coming in and telling them what to do.”

Associated Press writer Ben Hubbard contributed to this report

Libya ‘Cannot Exclude’ Extremist Exploitation, NATO Chief Says
The warning came in an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph as Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist forces stepped up a fightback on three fronts

Thomas Harding, Ruth Sherlock and Richard Spencer / The Daily Telegraph

TRIPOLI and BANI WALID (September 12, 2011) — Libya is in danger of falling into the hands of Islamic extremists if a stable government is not rapidly established, NATO’s secretary-general warned last night.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Islamic extremists would “try to exploit” any weaknesses created as the country tried to rebuild after four decades of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.

Mr Rasmussen was speaking amid growing evidence of splits in the rebel leadership in Tripoli. His words will cast a damper over the euphoria sweeping Tripoli in the wake of the revolution.

His warning came as the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, told cheering crowds in Tripoli that Islamic shariah law would be the “main source” of legislation in the new Libya.

Mr Jalil, who only arrived in his new capital on Saturday, made his first public speech in Martyrs’ Square — once Col Gaddafi’s “Green Square” — last night.

“We are a Muslim people, for a moderate Islam, and we will stay on this road,” he said. His formulation suggested that Libya would follow neighbours such as Egypt in allowing room for secular freedoms. But there are already signs that the rebel leadership is split over a variety of issues including the future role of the Islamist militias which played a significant part in the revolution.

Mahmoud Jibril, the interim Libyan prime minister, also arrived in Tripoli at the end of last week after complaints that he had been too busy travelling the world to lead his own revolution. On Sunday night he was forced to announce that his first government reshuffle would take place in seven to ten days.

Asked if NATO was worried that a delay in setting up a fully fledged new government increased the risk of extremists taking control, Mr Rasmussen said: “I don’t think it’s a major risk but of course we cannot exclude the possibility that extremists will try to exploit a situation and take advantage of a power vacuum. But based on our talks with the National Transitional Council I do believe they are sincere in their desire for democracy.”

The rebel leadership faces threats on many fronts, including from Col Gaddafi himself.

Last night, he issued a new message through a Syrian-based television station, accusing the rebels of surrendering Libya to foreign influence and pledging to press ahead with resistance. “We will not hand Libya to colonialism, once again, as the traitors want,” said the statement read on Syria’s Al-Rai TV.

Gaddafi was originally due to be televised, but the station said his appearance was postponed due to “security reasons.”

Despite the flight of many of his lieutenants and all but two of his children, he still controls part of the south of the country, and his forces managed a raid on an oil refinery complex behind rebel lines that killed 15 people.

Witnesses said a convoy drove out of the desert at 9am and attacked the Ras Lanuf refinery west of Benghazi, on the road towards the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte which is still resisting rebel control.

Mr Rasmussen admitted things could “move very fast” if Gaddafi was removed. “I think that he still inspires resistance in some pockets of Gaddafi loyalists.

“I do believe we are in the very final phase of our operation. But there’s still a threat to the civilian population and as long as that exists we will continue our operation.”

On Monday night Mr Jalil called on Libyans build a state based on the rule of law.

“No retribution, no taking matters into your own hands and no oppression. I hope that the revolution will not stumble because of any of these things,” he said.

Nato staged a series of bombing raids at the weekend on both Sirte and Bani Walid, which has been under rebel siege for a fortnight.

Bani Walid was on the brink of being taken by the rebels on Sunday night. But amid a breakdown of communications and tactics between the two brigades of rebel fighters leading the attack, Gaddafi forces launched a counter-offensive and won back most of the town.

The Tripoli Brigade, which had led the attack, went further than they had been ordered, and they complained that the Bani Walid brigade of local fighters refused to back them up.

The bitter rivalry between the different rebel brigades, mostly structured along city or regional lines, also reflects the widening divisions across not just the military but political leadership of the new Libya.

Mr Jibril is also attempting to enforce his authority over powerful military commanders such as Abdulhakim Belhadj, the former Islamist opposition leader who is now head of the Tripoli Military Council.

Mr Jibril, a former head of planning and the economy under Gaddafi, is distrusted by many long-term regime opponents such as Mr Belhadj, who spent years in a Libyan prison after being extradited with the help of MI6 and the CIA.

Last night the US State Department confirmed that Gaddafi’s son Saddi had fled to Niger on Sunday. Niger said it was keeping him under surveillance and has not detained him.

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