The top United Nations official in Libya Tarek Mitri, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), briefed the UN Security Council on January 29th regarding the situation in that beleaguered country. He provided a mixed report. He saw some reason for optimism with regard to institutional reforms and improvements in security, but said that Libyan authorities would still need to take tough decisions on such key issues as constitution-making, transitional justice and security sector reform.
Regarding security matters in particular, Mitri said that “the security situation remains problematic.” He cited the January 3rd assassination attempt on Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf. In another incident on January 12th, unknown gunmen had fired upon the vehicle of the Italian consulate in Benghazi. The head of Benghazi’s police directorate and a top official in the city’s Criminal Investigation Department were killed. Police stations in Benghazi and Derna were regularly attacked, as were police patrols.
Moreover, Benghazi is not the only dangerous area in Libya, to say the least. Mitri admitted to UN correspondents following his Security Council briefing that his UN mission had to abandon plans to move its headquarters into a facility in Tripoli after reportedly spending as much as $2 million to fix up the facility. A bombing convinced Mitri of the difficulties in being able to defend the planned Tripoli headquarters against serious threats to UN personnel.
Although Mitri said that security along Libya’s porous borders also remains a key concern, he refused to acknowledge under reporters’ questioning, including from this correspondent, that there was any real “proof” of arms shipments from Libya to neighboring countries including Syria, Algeria and Mali. Such shipments are “possible,” he said, but mere “speculation” at this time.
In downplaying the reality of arms shipments out of Libya, Mitri sharply undermined his credibility. The proof of arms transfers is palpable.
For example, last April it was widely reported that the Lebanese navy intercepted a ship sailing from Libya with weapons including rocket launchers believed to be destined for Syrian rebel forces which include al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.
Based on shipping records examined by Fox News, it reported that “the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means ‘The Victory,’ was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun — 35 miles from the Syrian border– on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.”
The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, shoulder-launched missiles, and rocket propelled grenades.
Turkey was serving as a transit point for the transfer of arms from Libya to Syrian opposition fighters. We know that Steven’s last known public meeting was with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin.
According to informed sources, Ambassador Stevens may have been in Benghazi on September 11th in connection with discussions to facilitate further weapons transfers.
With respect to Libyan arms ending up in Mali, Time Magazine reported that within hours of Muammar Gaddafi’s death “many ethnic Tuareg fighters from northern Mali, who’d fought alongside Libyan forces as mercenaries, retreated across the Sahara, carrying as much weaponry as they could stuff into their pickup trucks.”
Time Magazine’s article, referring to a report last November by the Civil-Military Fusion Centre, a research organization run by NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Norfolk, Va., said that “Tuaregs had continued selling quantities of weapons from Libya’s stockpiles to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the major rebel group that seized control of northern Mali last March.”
Libyan arms have also been flowing into the Gaza strip, including sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Egypt intercepted two such shipments, which included not only anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles but also landmines, explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of rounds of bullets. With Egypt itself now in a virtual meltdown, the military will not have the time, capacity or interest to deal with continued smuggling of arms from Libya across the Sinai to Gaza.
In short, it is inexcusable that the United Nations’ top official in Libya, Tarek Mitri, refuses to acknowledge the mountain of proof that Libya has been turned into a wellspring of arms for militant groups including jihadists all over the Middle East and North African regions. He would have us believe that the main priority in Libya to which the international community must give its attention is to assist the Libyans in their nation-building efforts, which means more taxpayer dollars and risks to our personnel.
Mitri is dead wrong. The international community’s first priority must be to completely shut off the flow of arms from Libya into the wrong hands. Instead, our own wrong-headed policies in helping to arm the forces opposing the Assad regime in Syria, through channels involving Turkey and Qatar, are exacerbating the dangerous situation. Second, we need to catch and bring to justice the murderers who killed Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans on September 11th. Third, full security must be put into place at all U.S. facilities throughout Libya. even if that means calling in our Marines to help. Then maybe we can think about some limited assistance to help the Libyans in such matters as constitution-drafting, preparation for elections, and reforms of their justice system, all conditional on full cooperation of Libya’s security forces in keeping their borders closed to arms transfers.
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