NATO commander: Hey, let's take a closer look at the rebels

Better late than never?  Eleven days after the West started bombing Libya’s armed forces, the man who will take charge of the effort at NATO says that the US has detected “flickers” of al-Qaeda involvement in the rebel forces assisted by the bombing campaign.   NATO will now perform some “due diligence” to ensure that we’re not helping our terrorist enemies capture an entire, oil-producing nation:

Admiral James Stavridis, commander of NATO and overall chief of U.S. and coalition forces in the Libyan war, says American intelligence agents are “examining very closely” the rebel forces for whom U.S. forces have gone to war.  So far, Stavridis says, the U.S. has discovered “flickers” of the presence of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, although Stavridis calls the opposition leadership “responsible.”

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Stavridis was asked by Republican Sen. James Inhofe to comment on “reports about the presence of al Qaeda among the rebels, among those with whom we are associated.” “As you can imagine, we are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders in these opposition forces,” Stavridis responded.  “The intelligence that I am receiving at this point makes me feel that the leadership I am seeing are responsible men and women who are struggling against Colonel Gadhafi.  We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hezbollah, we’ve seen different things, but at this point I don’t have detail sufficient to say that there is a significant al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence in and among these folks.  We’ll continue to look at that very closely.  It’s part of doing due diligence as we move forward on any kind of relationship.

A “flicker”?  It’s been four days since the Italian newspaper Il Sole de 24 Ore reported on the background of one rebel leader in western Libya, Abdul Hakim al Hasadi.  US forces captured Hasadi in 2002 while fighting in Afghanistan for the Taliban, and eventually turned him over to Gaddafi.  Hasadi won his release in 2008 thanks to a deal cut between Gaddafi and an alliance of Islamist terror groups.  If that’s a “flicker,” then Waziristan must be just a 40-watt bulb of terrorism.

The administration now says it’s trying to fill the gaps on intelligence:

At Monday’s Pentagon briefing, Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked another top official, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, a very simple question: “Do you know who the opposition is, and does it matter to you?”  “We’re not talking with the opposition,” Gortney responded.  “We have — we would like a much better understanding of the opposition.  We don’t have it.  So yes, it does matter to us, and we’re trying to fill in those gaps, knowledge gaps.”  Gortney’s answer was another suggestion that the U.S. is doing critical due diligence on the fly in Libya.

Shouldn’t those gaps have been filled before deciding to stage an intervention that benefited the rebels?  After all, those bombing runs against Gaddafi’s armored divisions aren’t just protecting civilians in Benghazi.  Instead of vetting rebels to ensure we’re not enabling AQ terrorism, the White House seems to be moving full steam ahead to arm them:

The US government has not ruled out arming Libyan rebels to help them topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations said, as ministers from more than 40 countries gathered in London for a conference aimed at preventing the conflict sliding into a humanitarian disaster.

In an interview with ABC television, Susan Rice said: “We have not made that decision, but we’ve not certainly ruled that out.”

Rice also said there was no indication Gaddafi was prepared to leave power without continued pressure from the international community. Referring to reports that members of Gaddafi’s inner circle are reaching out to the west, she said: “We will be more persuaded by actions rather than prospects or feelers.”

US officials have previously said Washington could potentially arm the rebels, but it remains unclear how this would be done, as it is illegal under the terms of the UN arms embargo on the country.

Will that happen before we determine whether they’re AQ, allied with AQ and/or the Taliban, warlord militias, or other potential threats to our own national security?