NATO’s Libya Replay




By AbdelbariAtwan

The real news from Libya last week was not the announcement by the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj that its forces had taken control of the Islamic State (IS) group’s headquarters in the Ouagadougou Conference Centre in the city of Sirte. The actual story was the majorrole played by US Special Forces, with air cover from F-16 warplanes, in this accomplishment.

The GNA is a mere fig-leaf, no more and no less. It was only brought into being in the first place to legitimize such intervention, on the ground and from the air, by US, British and French forces. Mr.Sarraj, has no say in the matter and no power, as he himself well knows.

Mr.Sarrajhad earlier claimed that he had not known that French soldiers were fighting alongside those of Gen. Khalifa Haftarin eastern Libya until it was reported that three of them had been killed. He issued a fiery statement denouncing their presence as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. But he uttered no similar condemnation regarding the American troops fighting along side forces affiliated to his government. The problem, it seems, is not the presence of such forces, but who they are fighting with –which of the country’s three rival “governments” andmultitude of militias whose leaders are vying for power and take their cuesfrom various Arab or Western sponsors.

The Washington Post reported last week that US Special Forces had for the first time provided direct support to Libyan forces fighting IS in its Sirte stronghold of. It quoted officers loyal to the GNA as saying that American and British troops wearing Libyan army camouflage uniforms and body-armour were seen in Sirte last month.

On the very  same day, Mr . Sarrajtold an interviewer from the Italian daily Corrieredella Sera that his country did not need foreign ground forces to deploy on its soil, but had only asked for US airstrikes, which he insisted should be surgically precise, limited in time and place, and always carried out in consultation with his government. This is the same deceptive approach that was employed at the time of the 2011 NATO intervention by the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdeljalil, and those around him.

So whom should we believe? The Pentagon, which has confirmed that US military personnel have been providing “unique capabilities” to the GNA and have set up a joint operations room with it along side British military advisors? Or Mr.Sarraj and his forces’ spokespersons? Or do we have to wait for some American soldiers to be killed, as with their French counterparts, for their presence to be officially acknowledged?

The February 2011 NATO intervention was accompanied by a massive concerted media campaign which promoted the line that its objective was to protect the Libyan people from massacres that were being planned by the dictatorship of Muammar al-Qadhafi and to bring about democracy and respect for human rights. It was granted spurious international cover on that deceptive basis. Now the warplanes are back, supported by ground troops, under the cover of combating Islamic State.

Ordinary Libyans were fooled the first time round. Many believed the US and Western lie, which was taken up by the Arab League and Gulf regimes, who used the formidable deceptive powers of their satellite TV channels and other propaganda outlets to promote it region-wide.  But having seen the extent of the destruction inflicted on their country, and lost any trust in the West and the Arabs alike, most Libyans are unlikely to be fooled a second time.

It is the US, NATO and the Arab and Islamic states that supported them who brought al-Qaeda and IS to Libya by turning it into a failed state, thus creating the political and security vacuum and the havens needed for such groups to establish themselves and thrive.

US and UK special forces may have succeeded in taking control of Sirte and inflicting a defeat on IS. But this victory may prove very costly. Unlike Qadhafi’s regime, IS is not a government which disappears once it collapses and its headquarters are overrun. This group is, for a multitude of reasons, not liable to melt away or cease to exist just because it loses a battle here or there.  Iraq, Syria, Egypt (Sinai), Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia provide us with examples.

Indeed, the US-British-French war on IS could work to its advantage, providing it with the kind of legitimacy that has so far eluded it and it has long been craving. This could make it easier for it to recruit despairing and marginalized Libyans to its ranks, whether those living under conditions of bloody anarchy in their country, or from among their three million-odd compatriots who have fled for safety abroad.

The first US-led NATO intervention was not aimed at protecting Libyans and saving them from a dictatorial regime. It was due to their oil, and to exact revenge against a regime that used to fight them and their colonial policies in Africa and within OPEC. Now NATO is intervening once more by air and on the ground, again for the oil, but under the new pretext of eliminating IS and the terrorist threat it poses.

The lies and deception are being replayed, with the same actors, the same plot and the same aim. But the audience has become inured and has learned to be sceptical. The outcome, therefore, is likely to be different.