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Of course, it should come as little surprise that the Libyan rebels apparently find themselves now locked in a deadly internal struggle. From the onset of the February uprising, it has been well known that the TNC is riddled with a rogue’s gallery of rival factions and alliances that are chock full of duplicitous characters, ranging from former Gaddafi loyalists to criminals to al Qaeda insurgents.
For starters, the Libyan rebel leader, Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, has openly said jihadists who fought against US coalition forces in Iraq are well-represented in rebel ranks. While al-Hasidi has insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” he has also said, “The members of al Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.”
Of course, an al Qaeda presence in the TNC shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. According to the US military, Libya, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, contributed more than any other nation to the ranks of those forces fighting against the United States in Iraq. In fact, al-Hasidi has acknowledged that he personally fought against the “foreign invasion” in Afghanistan before being captured in 2002 in Pakistan and sent back to Libya in 2008.
Moreover, the TNC, which has reportedly sold chemical weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah, has also been linked to supplying arms to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In addition to the notorious nature of its membership, the Libyan rebels have been repeatedly accused of committing atrocities on a par with those of Gaddafi’s forces. Those allegations include, according to Human Rights Watch, Libyan rebels in the last month “burning homes, abusing women and looting hospitals, homes and shops.”
In fact, the Human Rights Watch report led Republican Senator John McCain, a staunch rebel supporter, to write TNC leader Jalil a letter on July 20 in which he stated, “It is because the TNC holds itself to such high democratic standards that it is necessary for you and the Council to take decisive action to bring any human rights abuses to an immediate halt.”
While McCain’s belief in the TNC’s “high democratic standards” may be subject for some debate, what isn’t in question is that the killing of Younes has now created so much distrust within the rivalries, conflicting agendas and alliances of the TNC that stability will be hard to come by, even if it can successfully oust Gaddafi.
However, the prospect that the rebels can overcome Gadaffi on the battlefield looks increasingly bleak. Gaddafi’s regime controls around 20 percent more territory than it did when the uprising began in February despite the recent launching of a rebel offensive in the western mountains near the Tunisian border; more than four months of sustained air strikes by NATO; and the defection of a number of Gaddafi’s senior commanders.
As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ Admiral Mike Mullen said only weeks ago, the war remains a “stalemate,” a status not too surprising when an operation is led without a clear strategy or exit route. To that end, it appears that England and France, the two leading nations in the fight against Gaddafi, may also be tiring of the game.
This was evident in a joint press conference last week when British foreign Secretary William Hague said “What happens to Gaddafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans.” Hague’s French counterpart, Alain Juppe, echoed that sentiment by saying that Gaddafi’s fate “is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”
So, for now, the fate of Gaddafi, his regime and the future direction of Libya remain as cloudy as ever. However, what is becoming clearer by the day is that even if Gaddafi does go away, all NATO may have done is trade one insane, brutal despot for a far larger and more deadly problem.
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