Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘9/11

LIBYA – WAS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVENTION IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR BELATED?

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Janet Daley, writing in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’ today, appears to argue that the anti-American violence in the Islamic world is a by-product of President Obama’s Middle East policy. She states that: ‘He [Obama] retreated dramatically from confrontation in the Middle East: so much so that when the opportunity arose to remove the tyrant Gaddafi from power, he would offer only belated back-up to an Anglo-French initiative. (This did not, of course, prevent him taking credit, after the fact, for liberating the people of Libya from their oppression.)’
It is likely that he was wary of intervention for a number of reasons. As the events in Libya were unfolding I was writing my book ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’ and said this therein: ‘The French and British governments had been working hard to construct a consensus in favour of military intervention on the good and clear evidence that Gaddafi was murdering civilians. President Sarkozy of France was taking the lead, perhaps to boost his popularity ratings which had slipped alarmingly. The Arab League was in favour of intervention since a number of its members were less than happy with Gaddafi, though their contribution was unlikely to extend further than diplomatic manoeuvring.
The USA was wary. The CIA had been concerned for some time about the uncomfortable presence of Libyan jihadists in Derna and Benghazi, who had been involved in the Afghan war. Libya watchers, and there must have been some in the CIA, MI6 and elsewhere, will not have forgotten the Islamic fundamentalist violence in the Gebel Akhdar (Green Highlands) of Cyrenaica – now called East Libya – between 1995 and 1998. The violence was fomented and largely controlled by ‘The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. It was ruthlessly suppressed by Gaddafi using the Libya Air Force, though the aircraft that did the strafing and bombing were flown by Cubans and Serbs.’
In my blog of 13th September 2012 (LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011) I explained how President Sarkozy opened a ‘back channel’ with the anti-Gadaffi leadership in Benghazi and recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya thus pre-empting others. I also showed that Hilary Clinton was sufficiently impressed by the arguments raised by Sarkozy and Jebril [see my 13th September blog] that she saw to it that UN security Council Resolution 1973 was approved, permitting intervention against Gaddafi. I also noted the Sarkozy’s foreign minister was excluded from the consultations and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. was not in favour of intervention. It might be said that Sarkozy’s actions were partly motivated by a need to improve his popularity ratings.
Despite the lack of unity amongst Europeans and the anxiety about al Qaida franchises in Libya Obama authorised his forces to act. On 19th March 2011, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house. It would be as well to remember that President Obama, for a number of reasons no doubt, offered crucial but limited assistance and required NATO to assume command of the No Fly Zone.’
So Janet Daley is nearly right but her neat change of emphasis makes Obama sound weak. She states that Obama offered belated back-up. I argue that he offered timely back-up but he had good reason to be cautious. An al Qaida franchise may have been embedded in Libya.
This appeared in the Libya Herald online toady: ‘Questions are being asked both in the US and in Libya whether there is an Al-Qaida link [to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and some of his colleagues]. It is being suggested that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which supports al-Qaida, was behind the attack. National Congress Speaker Mohamed Magarief himself has already indicated that it is not coincidental that that attack took place on the anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the US.’

LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011

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A report in the Libya Herald tells us that the man from Benghazi, Mustafa Abushagur, was yesterday elected by the General National Congress as Libya’s Prime Minster. Let us hope that he has the courage to face the reckless killers of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and his colleagues on the anniversary of the outrage on 11th September 2011. Perhaps the story of how the Interim National Council asked for US, French and British help when Gaddafi’s forces were about to take Benghazi will stiffen his resolve
When Benghazi was in peril the newly formed Interim National Council needed outside help. One of France’s controversial and colourful personalities arrived in a greengrocer’s van to rescue them. The romance, for that it certainly was, has gained credence in Benghazi and may become the accepted version of events.
Bernard-Henry Lévy was the hero. Lévy, or BHL as he is known in France, was a friend of Nicholas Sarkozy. The friendship was complicated by differing political views and by a connection with Carla Bruni, the current Mrs Sarkozy.
The story may be challenged in detail but it is corroborated by a number of sources. BHL had been in Egypt to cover the events following the Arab Spring uprising. He got wind of events in Libya but was called back to Paris on business. On 27th February he contacted President Sarkozy and suggested that he was travelling to Benghazi and might contact the rebels. He appears to have obtained Sarkozy’s blessing, though what passed between them is unlikely to emerge. Lévy suggests, and he is probably right, that Sarkozy was looking for a way to contact the rebels but had no idea who to talk to.
BHL chartered an aircraft and flew to Mersah Matruh, the nearest Egyptian airport to Sollum on the Libyan border. He was accompanied by Gilles Hertzog and the photographer, Marc Rousell. They found the border crowded with refugees but managed to gain entry to Libya early on 1st March. They found a van loaded with vegetables on its way to Tobruk, in which they bought or begged a ride. From Tobruk they went to al Baida and were said to have met the Chairman of the Transitional Council, with whom they travelled to Benghazi.
Lévy, Hertzog and Rousell reached the Tebesti Hotel in Benghazi, where they heard that there was to be a meeting in a private villa of the National Transition Council on 3rd March. Lévy, who implied that he was the personal representative of the French President, managed to insinuate himself into the meeting. This was, perhaps, his finest moment.
BHL addressed the meeting with a short speech and then asked if he might contact President Sarkozy. There was nothing to lose and the Council agreed. Apparently using an old cell phone, he contacted President Sarkozy personally. On 5th March Sarkozy issued a press release, in which he welcomed the formation of the Interim National Council. This was the Council’s first sign of legitimacy. The news brought hope and a number of French flags sprouted around Benghazi.
By the following Monday Lévy was in Paris and in contact with Mr Sarkozy. By Thursday National Transition Councillor Mohammed Jebril was in Sarkozy’s office in the Elysee Palace and an agreement of considerable importance was reached. Sarkozy agreed to recognise the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Lévy, who was present, implied that the Council was certainly not asking for troops on the ground but for the imposition of a No Fly Zone. Sarkozy agreed to bomb three key airfields in Libya, notably the one in the south used for receiving mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere.
The diplomatic agreement was announced by Sarkozy without the knowledge of the French Foreign Minister who heard it when getting off a train in Brussels on his way to a conference. David Cameron had, however, been forewarned.
Sarkozy now needed a UN Security Council Resolution in favour of intervention. For this he needed the USA to approve. He believed he had the UK on his side and he could persuade the EU, the Arab League and the Africa Union.
Good fortune played another card. Hilary Clinton was due in Paris for a G8 meeting on 14th March. She agreed to meet Jebril then. He travelled to Paris on that day and was met by Lévy at Le Bourget.
Jebril found his meeting disappointing and was very upset. He was sure he had failed to convince Mrs Clinton. He had a nervous and depressing wait in BHL’s apartment until 4 pm, when Sarkozy called to say that the USA was minded to cast a vote in the UN in favour of intervention.
On Thursday 17th March, resolution 1973 was put before the UN Security Council in New York, when France, Britain and the USA were among the ten who voted in favour of the use of all necessary means to protect civilian lives in Libya. Russia and China were amongst five nations which abstained.
On 19th March, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house.
Paraphrased from The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State by John Oakes and published by the History Press in 2011

John Oakes 13th  September 2012