Yesterday, news broke that President Obama had signed a secret order – called a ‘finding‘ – which authorised the covert support of the United States government for the Libyan rebel forces.

Basically, a finding is one of the principal forms by which the president authorises secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency.

As an Iraq War veteran, I’ve approached our increasing involvement in the Libyan civil war with a gradually escalating sense of foreboding. The lack of clarity in what we want to achieve in Libya, and how we intend to achieve it, is eerily reminiscent to me of our entanglement in Iraq. Part of me will always be that team leader in Iraq in 2003, trying to discern my commander’s intent.

There are a few things that come to mind here, now that we are ‘covertly’ supporting the Libyan rebels.

1. Colour me totally unsurprised here. Matter of fact, from a foreign internal defence perspective, I’d believe it negligent to the point of incompetence if we didn’t have people on the ground from various, um, agencies on the ground already. That’s probably who’s calling in air strikes. I’m pretty certain that the UK has folks there, and so do the French – the French most of all, since North Africa was their version of Mexico/the Caribbean.

2. When I first saw the news of our covert involvement break, I was pretty ticked off at the leak – you just don’t go yapping about what the covert community is doing. The more I thought about it, though, this sounds like a deliberately engineered leak.

So, what now? Why do I continue to feel such unease about our Libyan War?

My guess, based on following the conflict and talking to various folks/listening to various folks? The Libyan rebel army doesn’t exist. Let me say that again:

The Libyan rebel army doesn’t exist.

What you’re seeing on CNN/MSNBC/BBC/your evening news is a rabble. A gang. Those guys on pickup trucks? They’re, at best, military tourists. You maybe have about 1,000 people in the Libyan rebel rabble that could compose the nucleus of a fighting force. It’s not just a question of providing them with arms. By now, the Libyan countryside is swimming with weapons. The rebels have access to weapons, and they have access to ammunition.

What they don’t have is the training needed to use those arms effectively, and to hold any ground that they capture. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that every single time the rebels retake, say, Misrata, the very moment that they come under bombardment, whether it’s by mortars or artillery, they immediately surrender that ground. That, to me, is a mark of an untrained fighting force.  I could go on, and on, and on…but really, what you all should do is read this by Gulliver at Ink Spots:

It goes into a lot of detail as to why arming the Libyan rebels is a very, very bad idea, and other subjects as well.

Also, if you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve seen me line up along with guys like Andrew Exum of CNAS and our own Richard Allen Smith, among others, in being very concerned about our war in Libya. Part of it is because a part of me will always be that forward observer in Balad, Iraq, in 2003, trying to discern my commander’s intent.

But part of it is because we’re trying to discern the Commander-in-Chief’s intent, and we’re failing to do so. Let’s say the goal is regime change, which the President has stated. I don’t have any doubt that Gataffi will fall. Nato has committed itself to seeing that happen, in effect, regardless of what UN Resolution 1973 says. The problem right now is that at least two things aren’t clear at the moment:

  • how we get from where we are currently, with a disorganised rabble not doing much more than barely surviving against what looks like an 8,000-to-10,000 strong Libyan government force, to the fall of GDiddy’s government;
  • more importantly – what does Libya after Khaddafy look like? Simply, we don’t know jack about who will take power in Libya once Qadafi falls. There’s a multiplicity of groups and interests at work here, not necessarily in sympathy with providing the people of Libya a greater voice in government, regardless of whether that voice is friendly to our interests or not.

Right now, it really does seem as though the Administration is fighting this war by the seat of its pants. It really does feel as though people expected that the initial Nato involvement would serve as the decisive factor, allowing the rebels to defeat Kazzafi without the need for added military aid. I don’t think that was ever going to happen, nor was I the only one.

So now, the next stage of the debate is going to take place. The longer the rebels take to defeat Qadhdhafi, the greater the chances are that you’ll see ground forces deployed to Libya, regardless of what President Obama says. I’m already seeing the precursors of the arguments for that eventuality being made by folks like Anne-Marie Slaughter and John Judis, among others.

That’s why I stated earlier that maybe that disclosure of CIA presence in Libya was a planned leak. Now we have CIA on the ground. The next step will be disclosing that Special Forces are on the ground. Let’s say that it’s June of 2011, and we’re still watching the rebels futz around, which wouldn’t be surprising. You’ll see the President make another address, saying that we’re now deploying Nato forces to assist the Libyan rebels in a final push against Gheddafi’s forces…

But I digress. The bottom line is that we own Libya now, for the long term. We won’t abandon the rebels, regardless of how utterly feckless they are. We also own the Libyan aftermath – and we have no idea of how that looks like. We have a lot of hopes for what it may look like, but as we learned in Iraq, hope is not a plan. And that’s why those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were so bloody reluctant to get involved in Libya – because in some key respects, it bore a highly uncomfortable resemblance to what we experienced.

About the Author

Rafael Noboa y Rivera

Writer, student, poet, musician, and veteran.

2 Responses to The U.S. in Libya: Like it or not, we’re in for the long haul

  1. thanks for this. well put!

  2. Jess Miller says:

    I like the random spellings of Gaddafi.

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