Has al-Qaeda taken over a secret US base in Libya?
posted at 10:01 am on April 23, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
When losing ground in a war, it’s not unusual to see an enemy make use of one’s facilities and equipment. The report from Eli Lake at the Daily Beast only surprises because the US has insisted that we are not losing ground in the war against al-Qaeda, and still insists that the decapitation of the Moammar Qaddafi regime was sound policy:
A key jihadist leader and longtime member of al Qaeda has taken control of a secretive training facility set up by U.S. special operations forces on the Libyan coastline to help hunt down Islamic militants, according to local media reports, Jihadist web forums, and U.S. officials.
In the summer of 2012, American Green Berets began refurbishing a Libyan military base 27 kilometers west of Tripoli in order to hone the skills of Libya’s first Western-trained special operations counter-terrorism fighters. Less than two years later, that training camp is now being used by groups with direct links to al Qaeda to foment chaos in post-Qaddafi Libya.
Last week, the Libyan press reported that the camp (named “27” for the kilometer marker on the road between Tripoli and Tunis) was now under the command of Ibrahim Ali Abu Bakr Tantoush, a veteran associate of Osama bin Laden who was first designated as part of al Qaeda’s support network in 2002 by the United States and the United Nations. The report said he was heading a group of Salifist fighters from the former Libyan base.
In other words, Tantoush is now the chief of a training camp the U.S. and Libyan governments had hoped would train Libyan special operations forces to catch militants like Tantoush.
Again, this is one sign of lost ground, and not exactly a novel one for North Africa, where wars have taken place for millenia. We left behind our diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, for instance, when we pulled out after the terrorist attacks on both on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2012. The rest of the West had already left the city long before, more cognizant of the terrorist threat than the US despite months of warnings that flowed into Washington about the danger and the escalating attacks on the ground. Those Western facilities are not likely to sit unused, except of course for those destroyed in the attacks.
By eliminating Qaddafi, we created a vacuum for our enemies, whom we already knew were organizing in the areas outside of Tripoli. But even after the Benghazi attack, we were still trying to fix the problem — hence, Camp 27, which is nearer to the capital:
One U.S. official who worked on the program said the U.S. Special Forces began to refurbish the base in the summer of 2012, before the 9/11 anniversary attack in Benghazi. The actual training, however, did not begin until the fall of 2012. One U.S. defense official noted the initial program at Camp 27 endeavored to train 100 Libyan special operations soldiers. But even this modest goal was never really in reach.
“The program has not achieved the outcomes that we hoped that it would and the Libyans hoped it would,” said Carter Ham, the now-retired four-star general who led U.S. Africa Command when the initial training program was established. While Ham said he was not aware of the latest reports that the base was now in the hands of an al Qaeda figure, he nonetheless acknowledged that myriad challenges—from the uncertainty in the leadership of the Libyan military to security on the ground—made it difficult to sustain the special operation forces training.
“The selection process for what Libyan unit and what Libyan soldiers would participate was probably not as rigorous as we would have liked it to have been,” Ham continued. “But this was a Libyan decision and they had to decide what unit and what individuals to enroll in the program.”
Look how well that’s worked out in Libya. The government there can barely hold its own in the capital, and has almost no writ outside of it. Lake quotes David Gartenstein-Ross’ prediction that the Libyan government will likely expel the terrorists due to its proximity to the capital, but they haven’t done so yet despite knowing about it. This is the same government whose Defense Ministry couldn’t clear its own street of militias demanding a more Islamist line from Tripoli last year.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports on a “citizens committee” report that accuses the US of causing Benghazi through its support of the radical Islamists that Qaddafi was fighting at the time:
The Citizens Commission on Benghazi, a self-selected group of former top military officers, CIA insiders and think-tankers, declared Tuesday in Washington that a seven-month review of the deadly 2012 terrorist attack has determined that it could have been prevented – if the U.S. hadn’t been helping to arm al-Qaeda militias throughout Libya a year earlier.
‘The United States switched sides in the war on terror with what we did in Libya, knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known al-Qaeda militias and figures,’ Clare Lopez, a member of the commission and a former CIA officer, told MailOnline.
She blamed the Obama administration for failing to stop half of a $1 billion United Arab Emirates arms shipment from reaching al-Qaeda-linked militants. …
The commission and AIM filed 85 document requests under the Freedom Of Information Act, hitting the Department of Defense, State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency with demand after demand.
But most of its information has come from insiders with deep knowledge of the flow of weapons in Libya and elsewhere in the African Maghreb.
Some of the claims are a little far-fetched, as the Mail notes:
Some of the group’s claims strain credibility, including the assertion that the Obama administration’s early effort to blame the Benghazi attack on a protest against a crude anti-Muslim YouTube video ‘appears to have been well-coordinated with U.S.Muslim Brotherhood organizations as well as Islamic state members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).’
One does not have to go that far in assessing American policy in Libya vis-a-vis al-Qaeda. We knew that AQ operated in eastern Libya for years, as recruitment for their operations in Iraq relied heavily on Libyan organizations. In this case, Qaddafi and the West had a common enemy, and AQ was part of the rebellion against his regime. We picked the worst time and the worst place to decapitate a regime, and then deliberately kept boots off the ground and failed to shape the outcome. A failed state was the inevitable result.