It’s no small question, not for the generals involved, not for the Libyan rebels, and certainly not for the Obama administration. The top two commanders in the field are Abdul Fatah Younis, Moammar Gaddafi’s former Interior Minister whose defection was an early key for the rebellion’s credibility, and Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, who defected from Libya more than two decades ago after the humiliating defeat of the war with Chad. Both claim to be leading the armed forces, and the rift and dissension in the chain of command could disrupt what little military resistance the rebels can muster against Gaddafi:
It’s no small matter to the US, either. Haftar appears to be the reason that the US feels sanguine enough to provide military and diplomatic support to the rebellion. After his defection, Haftar reportedly worked with the CIA to create and maintain a militia in Libya, according to a French book titled Manipulations Africaines. He only returned to Libya in the last few weeks, reportedly to “knock the rebel force into some kind of shape.”
That sanguine feeling appears to be dissipating, however. Foreign Policy reports that the White House has blocked the transfer of $25 million in “non-lethal” aid to the rebels, but isn’t sure why:
On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed. …
“One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition – is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on this morning.
“There’s an urgent situation here and they need our help,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.
Suddenly, though, something more urgent has come up which has delayed that assistance. FP tried to find out why, but the White House won’t comment.
What could it be? The CIA was supposed to report back on the nature of the rebels, a task Obama demanded belatedly after going to war on their behalf. Perhaps the CIA has come back with some bad news about the nature of the rebellion — or perhaps the White House may wonder whether the CIA can give them a straight picture with their favorite engaging in a power struggle for control of the forces. This could also be the administration’s way of attempting to put Haftar into overall command of the forces and push out Younis.
It’s very curious, and doesn’t exactly give confidence in the mission. Why are we sending drones into Libya on behalf of a rebellion to which we’re afraid to give non-lethal aid?