Pages: 1 2
Rather than an expected quick campaign, Libya is turning into a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nightmare. The NATO-backed rebels are still far from deposing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi despite the backing of NATO airpower and weapons deliveries from France and Qatar. And with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starting August 1 and sandstorms expected in September that would hinder air strikes, the goal of a Gaddafi-free Libya in the near future appear even dimmer.
But it is the unexplained killing of rebel military commander General Abdel Fattah Younes and two aides last Thursday that has rocked the Western military alliance and made “victory” recede even further from sight. Yunes’ mysterious death has now led to rebel groups fighting each other last weekend rather than Gaddafi’s forces, increasing NATO’s frustration with its allies.
“All those groups will disappear, and they will become one unit,’ said a senior rebel commander, indicating all the loose militia groups formed at the start of the conflict last February will now be forced to become part of a regular army structure. “None of the commanders can disagree. Anybody who does will be crushed.”
Younes was the first high Gaddafi government official to defect to the rebel cause last February. Prior to his defection, Younes had been number two in the Libyan power establishment. A close associate of Gaddafi for almost forty years, he was serving as his former boss’ interior minister when he became one of the earliest and most important government figures to desert.
Gaddafi had sent Younes to Benghazi last February to deal with the uprising. But rather than carry out a counter-revolutionary purge with the military unit he had brought with him that would have seen many people killed and the city probably severely damaged, Younes decided to join the rebel cause. For their part, the rebels overlooked the fact Younes had served Gaddafi loyally for decades.
“The rebels closed both eyes, hoping other high-ranking Gaddafi people would follow the prominent deserter,” stated one German publication.
Named commander-in–chief of the rebel armed forces, Younes appeared to serve the cause loyally. He was reported to have “brought order to the rebels’ chaotic military leadership.” Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebel provisional government, said: “Without him, our victories would not have been possible.”
But last week Younes was summoned back from the front to Benghazi, the rebel capital, to appear before a tribunal of four judges for questioning. The rebel military commander was “released on his own recognizance,” but was killed in front of his house along with two aides three hours later. Two rebel fighters have been arrested.
There is much speculation as to why Younes was targeted for assassination. The government favours the theory that Gaddafi’s thugs were responsible. Another rumour for his killing is that he was still in touch with Gaddafi and thus committing treason, which was the reason for his recall. The failure of the rebels’ recent offensive at Brega and the fatalities they suffered are attributed to his treasonous activities. In an interview last April, one of Gaddafi’s daughters indicated Younes was still loyal to her father, even though Gaddafi had put “a large price on his head.
“…the interview may well have been an attempt to discredit him inside the rebel camp, but it is important to note that fleeting loyalties are a characteristic of the Libyan conflict,” wrote one observer. “Numerous government soldiers have defected, including senior officials; the government claims that many rebels have defected back.”
Defections are not uncommon in a civil war. Sensing a weakening in the rebel position, Younes’ secret return to the government’s fold is a possibility, especially if Gaddafi was holding any members of his family hostage. Another rumour concerning his assassination had Younes in a power struggle with Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan general who had been living in exile in the United States the past ten years. When he returned to Libya, it was announced last March Khalifa was now the commander of the rebel forces, but he was eventually regulated to the position of commander of ground forces.
But the more likely explanation for his death is that Younes was the victim of personal vengeance. As interior minister, he would have overseen the imprisonment, torture and murder of many Libyans. It was reported a guard in his security detail was one of the assassins from the rebel militia group February 17 Martyrs Brigade, whose members were among the first to take up arms against Gaddafi. In their ranks are also Islamists, some of whom were probably imprisoned in Gaddafi’s dungeons. One of the arrested rebel fighters is described as “longbearded” and “from the coastal city of Darnah, a hotbed of Islamist sentiment.”
Pages: 1 2