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Even if the anti-Gaddafi rebels aren’t reporting directly to Osama bin Laden, they are certainly drawing on the valuable experience of jihadist fighters who cut their teeth battling NATO troops in Afghanistan or coalition troops in Iraq. Libyans formed one of the largest groups of foreign fighters who battled with the American-led coalition in Iraq, and many of them are now battling Gaddafi, while American, British and Canadian pilots risk their lives to make it easier for these former insurgents to advance. Gaddafi, for all of his atrocious and unforgivable terrorist acts, did serve at least one strategic purpose for the West — he fought al-Qaeda’s influence in Libya (and initially blamed them for the protests against him) because al-Qaeda would like to see Gaddafi gone.
Such reports of the composition of the Libyan rebellion become more worrisome by the day. Since the rebels are clearly having difficulties defeating Gaddafi, and since the NATO forces are essentially stuck there until they do or Gaddafi chooses to leave, there has been speculation that the allies might choose to provide the rebels with the kinds of heavy weapons that would let them fight Gaddafi’s forces on a more equal footing. No announcement along these lines has been made, and rightly so. While arming the rebels would allow them to fight Gaddafi on a more equal footing, at this point, with no clear leadership among the rebels, no clear goal and no reason to expect that they are not at risk of falling under the influence of terrorist groups committed to our destruction, we should not be providing them with high-tech weapons that could in turn be used against us or Israel. It may be some time before we have the knowledge needed to make a reasonable assessment of whether we can trust some or all of rebels — according to reports issued Wednesday night, the first CIA teams are just starting to rush to Libya now. No doubt what they report will help determine what the allies do next in this strange and risk-laden war.
It is very possible that we have already gone too far to go back. Gaddafi’s international credibility — not that there was ever very much of that — has been destroyed. His military has been left in ruins. Many regime officials have abandoned him, and the oil export facilities that are the backbone of Libya’s economy are being captured and recaptured so often it will be a miracle if anything survives. It is hard to imagine how the rebels will not eventually have some form of influence in Libya, and if they are truly Islamist-backed, and there is rising evidence to suggest a significant percentage of them are, then there might very well be a repeat of what is unfolding today in Egypt: a dictator is toppled, and the door is opened, in a Khomeini-like scenario, to something far worse — and devastating to American and Western interests.
Thus, one of the top priorities of the NATO-led coalition must now be to avoid ushering Islamist forces into power. Whether the Obama administration, with its foreign policy incompetence and America-Last vision, is up to the task remains the agonizing and depressing question.
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