People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 17

April  24, 2011

  Libya: No Lie Zone Needed


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE imposition of a “no fly zone” (nfz) over Libya as the government forces were on the verge of taking over Benghazi has prolonged the tribal war that has engulfed the North African nation. The US led NATO forces as expected have gone far beyond what the UNSC has prescribed. Their aerial attacks and covert ground activities are now entirely focussed on regime change. Among the first targets to be attacked was the residential compound of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. The British foreign secretary, Liam Fox, actually told the media that it was acceptable for the Libyan leader to be targeted for liquidation provided that there was not too much collateral damage. In the mean time, Libyan tanks and armoury along the route from Tripoli to Benghazi were taken out in a “turkey shoot”, reminiscent of the carnage of retreating Iraqi soldiers by the US air force after a cease fire was announced during the first Gulf War. After the UNSC nfz resolution was passed the Libyan government had announced a cease fire and Libyan tanks had started retreating to their bases. This however did not prevent NATO planes from targeting them.


On the first day of the attacks, the US gunships fired 110 Tomahawk missiles, each costing a million dollars. US B-2 bombers also dropped 45 1000 kg bombs in the first 24 hours. These massive bombs along with the Cruise missiles launched by the British and French forces, all contained depleted uranium warheads. The US led wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq have provided evidence of the long term harmful effects of the depleted uranium on the local population. The European parliament has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the use of weapons containing depleted uranium but France and Britain have repeatedly refused calls for a ban. The bombings had allowed the rag tag rebel army, now being trained by the British and French, to once again break out of Benghazi and temporarily take over key oil producing centres.  




A counter-attack by the government forces in late March put the rebels in reverse gear, making them scamper back to their Benghazi redoubt. Gen Carter F Ham, the chief of the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), who is in overall charge of the NATO operations, admitted in the last week of March that it was western airpower that has prevented the defeat of the Benghazi rebels. Western airpower is now focussed solely on the Libyan military. There are no pretensions whatsoever that NATO is waging its war to protect civilian lives. In fact by March end, western media reports have confirmed that more than a hundred civilians have been killed as a result of NATO bombings. Interestingly, after the NATO bombardment started, there have not been any anti-Gaddafi demonstrations outside Tripoli, an indication perhaps that the crude colonial style intervention of the West has once again united the Libyan people.


Evidence is now emerging that those who took part in the violent uprising in Benghazi in late February had the covert backing of western intelligence agencies. The Obama administration has admitted that CIA operatives have been helping the rebels for weeks. Saudi Arabia and Israel were among the countries which supplied arms to the rebels at the behest of Washington. In the last week of March, the Libyan National Council, the Benghazi based group leading the western backed attempts to overthrow the Gaddafi government, announced that a long term CIA asset is the commander of the rebel forces. Khalifa Hilfer, a former senior Libyan army officer, had defected to the US in the early nineties. The Washington Post described Col Hilfer as a “leader of a contra-style group based in the United States called the Libyan National Army. It is a group similar to the “contra” terror group financed by the Reagan administration in the eighties to de-stabilise the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. According to a book Manipulations Africaine published by Le Monde Diplomatique, Hilfer and many anti-Gaddafi military officials who had defected following the war in Chad in the late eighties were later relocated in the US by the CIA. The main anti-government group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, has been financed by the House of Saud, the CIA and the French.


The “interim transitional national council” propped up by the West consists of notorious Libyan characters who have been in the pay of various governments. They have over the years been trying to overthrow the Libyan government. The interim council has now been allowed access to the Libyan government’s funds frozen in February by the West. This also means that the rebels will have to pay for the military campaign which the West has launched on their behalf. It is clear that the goal of the US is to replace Gaddafi with a more pliant authoritarian ruler. But with credible reports emerging that Al Qaeda members had played an important role in the Benghazi, some senior Pentagon officials have started having doubts about the civil war they have helped engineer.


US Admiral James Stavridis admitted to the presence of al Qaeda elements in the Libyan uprising. A senior Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki has written that the events in Libya and other Arab countries have been “a moment of elation for the mujahideen”. He wrote that the West seems to be unaware “of the upsurge of mujahideen activity in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Arabia, Algeria and Morocco”. The Algerian foreign ministry has warned that the unfolding events in Libya “could be considered as an extra chance given to terrorists”. The statement went on to warn that “an earthquake is going to be created by the abundance of weapons in the region, that will not only affect the Libyans but all neighbouring countries, and in particular Algeria”. The president of neighbouring Chad, Idris Deby has said the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has taken advantage of the situation and pillaged sophisticated weaponry, including surface to air missiles, from Libyan army arsenals.  “This is very serious. The AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region”, Deby said. But according to many experts on the region, the AQIM’s growing clout will give NATO countries an additional excuse to put military boots on the ground to strengthen their stranglehold on the lucrative hydro-carbon sector in the region.


American officials were aware from the outset that the conflict in Libya was essentially a tribal one and different from the democratic upheavals going on in the other parts of the Arab world. The uprising in Benghazi had started with the hanging of six policemen by the rebels. Whatever the outcome, many American analysts believe, tribal passions have been aroused once again as the East of the country battles the West. Though command of the Libyan war has been officially passed over from US to NATO, it is Washington that will have the final decisive say. The majority of the bombing missions are being carried out by the US air force and navy. President Barack Obama in a speech delivered on March 28 explicitly stated the blueprint he had in mind for Libya, “We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition and assist the other nations to hasten the day Gaddafi leaves power”.




The message to Gaddafi is that he should stop defending himself and allow the NATO backed rebels to march into Tripoli. With Gaddafi showing no such inclination, Obama has further upped the ante by announcing that Washington is now considering openly arming the rebel fighters. Though Obama has promised that there will be no American boots on the ground in Libya, covert American military activity seems to have already started. The US defense secretary, Robert Gates told the US Congress on March 31 that training and assisting the rebel forces should be left to other countries. He specifically stated that no American troops will be deployed in Libya as long as he was in charge of the Pentagon. But the British government has no such qualms. It has now officially announced that it is sending military “advisers” to help the so called rebels.


The junior team of Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron have been making their own separate threats to the Libyan government. In a joint letter, they demanded that Gaddafi “give up power immediately”. At the same time, they urged officials loyal to him to defect. The Libyan foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, is among the growing list of senior officials who have left the government. Moussa was a long serving intelligence chief and had played a key role in bringing about Gaddafi's rapprochement with the West. The French and British have their eye on lucrative oil contracts and multi-billion defence deals. The French government was particularly upset when Gaddafi did not opt for French Rafale fighter jets and nuclear power stations despite being received with full state honours at the Elysee Palace after the Libyan leader was welcomed back into the western fold. Three of the top military officials who had accompanied Gaddafi on his official visit to France had defected to the opposition in Benghazi as soon as the uprising began.  


The French and the British, at one point seemed determined to get the job of getting rid of Gaddafi all by themselves so as to deny their other western partners lucrative contracts in a client state that they hope to create. France was the first country to recognise the rump rebel government in Benghazi as “the only representative of the Libyan people”. This recognition violated all established diplomatic norms. Arab diplomats say that the French declaration was equivalent to a declaration of war against a sovereign country as France sought to replace a legitimate government. “The French have arrived at an ‘Opium Wars’ formula with Gaddafi’s Libya being punished for not buying Rafale jets and Areva nuclear plants”, said a diplomat from the region. But despite the best efforts of Sarkozy and Cameron, the mysterious rebel group that had emerged overnight in Benghazi was on the verge of a humiliating defeat. That was when UNSC Resolution 1973 was conjured up and NATO’s “Operation Enduring Dawn” was launched with the US, instead of the French, calling the shots. Only 12 NATO members are participating in the war against Libya. Germany, the most influential European NATO member, has opted out of the Libyan war.