BENGHAZI, AL QAEDA HIT LISTS AND US POLITCAL BAND WAGONS (UPDATED 21ST NOVEMBER 2012)
To lose and ambassador is not a good thing to do and the Obama administration must be held to account for allowing a popular one to be killed in Benghazi on 11th September 2012. It seems that the Governor Romney’s campaign people have focused their spotlight on Obama’s apparent parsimony in the matter of the diplomatic security budget and suggested that was the prime cause of Ambassador Stevens’ untimely death in Benghazi. However, I argue that this manufactured furore is a white elephant – if the GOP stalwarts will excuse the pun.
I suggest that the question Secretary Clinton should be required to answer is not, primarily, about the funding of security arrangements at the US Consulate in Benghazi. It is about a failure in old fashioned management and local knowledge which allowed Ambassador Stevens to visit Benghazi at such a sensitive time; made all the more dangerous by the violent feelings resulting from the publication in the US of an ill-conceived anti-Islamic video.
Firstly Benghazi is a volatile and, right now, a lawless city. Its citizens have often taken their grievances to the streets, sometimes violently. It was the seat of the 17th February uprising against the Gaddafi regime. It was the provincial capital of Cyrenaica, now called Eastern Libya. The oil fields are mostly within Eastern Libya, as is the source of water for the Great Man Made River which supplies Libya’s major cities. Benghazi’s people feel that they ‘own’ the oil and the water and that they were the first to risk their lives to rid the country of Gaddafi. There is an air of paranoia and Tripoli envy in the city.
There are a number of independent and heavily armed militias in Benghazi. They have developed a taste for summery justice. They were first raised in February and March 2011 to fight against Gadaffi and have neither been disbanded nor absorbed into the National Army or police force. They are employed by the Libya’s embryo government as de facto army units and police forces. One of them was called Ansar Sharia, the most likely perpetrator of the well organised attack on the US consulate during which Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation and the later attack on the CIA annex. The ambassadors’ death seems to have been a deplorable but secondary outcome of the planned attack. There were connections between the Ansar Sharia militia in Benghazi and Derna and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This must have been clear before 11th September 2012.
There was no US Consul in Benghazi. Ambassador Stevens appears to have covered the duties himself, mostly from his embassy in Tripoli. The consulate is housed in a rented villa and appears to have been guarded by a five man security team from the US diplomatic protection service and a rota of Libyan guards employed by a small British security company called Blue Mountain. This company had a Libya partner and other security contracts in Benghazi. The Blue Mountain guards were armed with Tasers and were thus not employed or equipped to defend the consulate against a heavily armed attack. Their British manager appears to have left Benghazi following a difference of views with the company’s Libyan partner. Two of his sometime employees had earlier blown a substantial hole in the consulates perimeter wall with an IED in revenge for their dismissal. The vetting and oversight of Blue Mountain may have been less than rigorous. The consulate was also guarded by members of a local armed militia.
The US consulate in Benghazi was the last to fly a foreign flag. The British had evacuated their diplomatic personnel from their Benghazi consulate after an attempt on their ambassador’s life in broad daylight in a well-guarded part of the city. This incident must surely have focused the attention of Secretary Clinton’s Libya watchers in Washington. The British have been useful allies of the US with whom they exchanged intelligence in the past. They have long and well-earned experience of diplomacy in Benghazi. The Red Cross had also left the city after its premises were attacked. They are usually the last to leave in such circumstances.
The Ansar al Sharia militia brigade is, therefore, the most likely perpetrator of the well organised attack on the US consulate and the CIA annex during which Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation. His death seems to have been a deplorable but secondary outcome of the planned attack. There are said to have been connections between Ansar Sharia and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Its rhetoric had been aimed at the US for some time. This must have been well known before 11th September 2012.
There were other pointers which must have alerted the US diplomats in Libya to potential dangers. The 11th September was the anniversary of the killing by the US in Pakistan of Abou Yahya al-Libi the al Qaeda second in command. He was a Libyan and revenge taken in Libya for his killing would have been gruesome publicity for the reach and power of al Qaeda.
There is now some speculation about Ambassador Stevens’ dairy in which he is supposed to have expressed his suspicion that he was in an Al Qaeda ‘hit list’. Perhaps he was. There is a hit list in Benghazi. He would not have been on it. It is aimed at killing senior police and military officers who had served in the Gaddafi regime. So far fifteen or so have been murdered but the killers have not yet been identified.
Ambassador Stevens was popular in Benghazi. He had been posted there very soon after the 17th February uprising and helped those who are attempting to form the new government in Libya immeasurably. He had earned the thanks of the people of Benghazi and, tragically, may have felt safe amongst them. Perhaps he was overconfident. His advisers and superiors in the State Department should have taken more care of him. So the real questions are these. Was the management of the US consulate in Benghazi effective? Was the ambassador’s visit to Benghazi necessary when the conditions there were so volatile? Was the CIA not aware of potential al Qaeda connections in Benghazi? Their expertise and effectiveness in Libya must surely be examined.
US citizens will be heartened to know that a 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’. However, there have since been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.
Update 16th October 2012
Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte in a joint
“We must remember that the events of Sept. 11 were preceded by an escalating
pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into
our consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of
our consulate in June and an assassination attempt on the British ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in
Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national-security team, whose
responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was
aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of Sept. 11,
2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred.
The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is
ultimately the job of the Commander in Chief. The buck stops there.”
Update 26th October 2012
There are a number of commentators who have never been to Libya who seem ready to write about the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi. The tragedy has become embroiled in the US Presidential election campaign. The possibility of a premature reaction by the US must alarm us all.
The Libyan Prime Minster elect, Ali Zidan, is likely to appoint a cabinet member responsible for finding the killers. There is evidence that two of the possible culprits have been apprehended, one in Egypt and the other in Tunisia.
The flowing two pieces are, therefore, interesting. Let us hope that the US government is capable of sober judgment and measured responses;
Updated 3rd October 2012
Further to the story of a suspect held in Tunis;
Update 4th October
More on Libyan Al Qaeda suspect in Egypt
Update 12th November 2012.
The plot thickens as we await the Congressional hearing on Thursday.
Update 18th November 2012
The David Petraeus story becomes very intersting for Libyans. He has given evidence before a US Congressional Committe and the LIbyan Herald carried this yesterday.
Update 21st Novemver 2012
Update 21st November 2012
This is the 18th assassination of high level security officials in Benghazi since the revolution. They were all sometime senior officials of the Gadaffi regime.