By: Scott Taylor
It would seem that the Western world can no longer ignore the massive mess they created with NATO’s 2011 intervention to topple president Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
A United Nations report tabled last week indicates that the number of Daesh fighters now in Libya has doubled in recent months to more than 6,000. Out of all the tribal militias and groups of Islamic extremists, Daesh is now the most cohesive and co-ordinated military force in Libya. The group claims it is the primary deterrent to any proposed international intervention to restore a functioning government in the failed state that Libya has become.
The French government has put out a call for a second intervention, and senior U.S. military commanders have echoed that sentiment.
The problem is that following the October 2011 ouster and murder of Gadhafi, no one had a practical plan for Libya’s political aftermath. The assortment of anti-Gadhafi rebels that took up the weapons NATO provided them with had no singular cause or objective other than to remove Gadhafi from power.
The rebel faction included fundamentalist Muslims who were intent on repealing Gadhafi’s secular laws, including those protecting women’s rights; criminal elements eager to overthrow the Libyan authorities that curtailed their clandestine human trafficking operations; and hotheads, racists, and psychopaths — the so-called ‘dogs of war’ who respond to the cry of havoc in any armed conflict.
As one would expect, the young overzealous men who were temporarily empowered by the provision of NATO weapons during the rebellion had no intention of relinquishing the power and authority they enjoyed and grew accustomed to. In the immediate aftermath of Gadhafi’s ouster, the rebels committed hideous war crimes against mainly sub-Saharan black Libyans and members of Gadhafi’s tribe.
There was little media coverage of these atrocities because the West was busy congratulating themselves on NATO’s military victory over Gadhafi’s feeble loyalists and, secondly, the former rebels then began battling each other, creating a violent anarchy that precluded safe reporting by international observers.
One glaring example of this total mayhem was the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. The extremists who carried out this brazen attack were never brought to justice for the simple reason that there is no functioning central authority operating in Libya. In what nation on Earth would a U.S. ambassador be assassinated without punitive consequences? It could only happen in a failed state where there is no clear culprit to punish, and no capable security force or allied faction to assist the U.S. in identifying those responsible.
It is this lack of any real authority that makes any international second intervention into Libya so daunting. There is literally no single political faction for the West to intervene on behalf of, only evildoers of numerous stripes, including Daesh, whom we are eager to intervene against.
Last week Gen. David Rodriguez, America’s top general in Africa, testified before the Senate armed services committee. In his estimation, it will take “10 years or so” to fully stabilize Libya, and that could only be achieved with long-term international military support.
In the five years since NATO first involved itself in the Libyan civil war, the magnitude of that ill thought out blunder has only continued to magnify. First it was through the export of unsecured NATO-provided weapons into the hands of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in neighbouring Mali. Then it was the export of Islamic extremists and weapons into the Syrian civil war. Many of those extremists morphed into what is now known as Daesh.
After that came the influx of Daesh into Libya, and that presence is now being felt in neighbouring Tunisia. Last week gun battles erupted in the Tunisian border town of Ben Guerdane, killing 13 Tunisian soldiers and seven civilians. In 2015 Libya-based Daesh staged a series of attacks at Tunisian tourist resorts which left dozens of Westerners dead.
There is no doubt that we screwed up massively in Libya, and since Canada took a lead role in the first intervention, we have a moral obligation to the people of Libya to shoulder our share of the burden in any future military operation. This time I suggest we start with a vision of what ‘victory’ will look like, and then methodically work towards achieving it. Arming local yahoos on the ground, and dropping bombs from 20,000 feet is not a recipe for success. We already tried that.