Via Mediaite, this aired maybe 90 minutes ago and there’s already a media frenzy over it. Just one question: Is he right or wrong? Remember, the most powerful militia commander in Libya today is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, formerly known as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq when he led the jihadi outfit Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. A snippet of his bio via Foreign Policy:
Established in 1990 and officially dismantled in 2010, the LIFG was modeled along the lines of the Egyptian al-Jihad: secretive, elitist, and exclusively paramilitary. The group led a three-year, low-level insurgency mainly based in eastern Libya and tried three times to assassinate Qaddafi in 1995 and 1996. By 1998, the LIFG was crushed in Libya. Most of its leaders and members fled and joined forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They even gave a religious oath of loyalty (bay’a) to Mullah Omar. After 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, Belhaj and most of the LIFG leaders fled that country as well, only to be arrested in 2004 by the CIA and then handed over to Qaddafi’s regime, following interrogations in Thailand and Hong Kong.
The oath of loyalty to Omar isn’t surprising: Al Qaeda, including Bin Laden, has taken the same oath, as has the chief of the Haqqani network. Essentially, if you’re a jihadist with an Afghan pedigree, you’re required to swear fealty to the leader of the Taliban. The Qaddafi regime further claimed in 2002 that Belhaj had developed “close relationships” with Mullah Omar and the Al Qaeda leadership. Maybe that’s a post-9/11 exaggeration — Qaddafi used fear of jihadism for decades as a tool to legitimize his own authority — but Belhaj openly admits to having met Bin Laden in Afghanistan (while supposedly disagreeing with his ideology). Just yesterday, a rival Libyan militia leader who wants more of a role for the rebel rank and file in the new government specifically named Belhaj as someone who’s too radical to be included in the new regime. And as Mediaite notes, Belhaj isn’t the only fighter in Libya with Taliban roots. Other former members of the LIFG are there too.
Long story short, if you define “Taliban” strictly as a Pashtun Wahhabist then Cain’s wrong. If you define it as someone who’s, er, sworn allegiance to the Taliban leader, then he’s A-OK. Next time, just to play it safe, he should say “Taliban allies” and he’ll be golden. The real sin here isn’t the part about the Taliban, it’s his lame spin that his haziness on Libya during the Journal-Sentinel interview was due to the question being phrased too broadly. Feel free to watch that clip again and see for yourself how he was nudging the editors to remind him of something as basic as whether Obama was pro-rebel or not. Sure doesn’t look to me like he was overwhelmed with thoughts on the subject and simply needed the topic whittled down for him to zero in.