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EDITORIAL: Libyan rebels to NATO: Get lost

Obama’s lack of leadership fans Mideast chaos

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Libyan rebels are so frustrated with NATO that they think the alliance should halt its military operations. Maybe NATO should oblige them.

Forces fighting Moammar Gadhafi have become increasingly perturbed with the support they are getting from NATO under the newly named Operation Unified Protector. The rebels blame NATO for their flagging fortunes on the battlefield and have even requested that the alliance suspend operations unless they "do the job properly." Gen. Abdel-fattah Younis, chief of staff of the rebel forces, said, "NATO is moving very slowly, allowing Gadhafi forces to advance. NATO has become our problem."

It is amazing how quickly the rebels have developed a sense of entitlement. One legitimate response would be to take them up on their request to suspend operations, wish them well and leave. Then their problem would not be NATO so much as simple survival. Furthermore, Mr. Younis has paltry credentials as a freedom fighter. His previous gig was as Col. Gadhafi's minister of the interior, which is not the kind of position one achieves from a track record of promoting tolerance and democratic values. If the rebel leadership wants to snark at the free world, they should find a more sympathetic mouthpiece.

Part of the rebel frustration is dealing with the NATO bureaucracy. Coordinating attacks involves too many levels of command and takes too long to be effective. Of course, the Libyan rebels are not the best organized fighting force in the world either. Mr. Younis is reportedly not even on speaking terms with Gen. Omar al-Hariri, the rebel defense minister. The rebel chain of command is uncertain, command and control is chaotic, and strategy is virtually nonexistent. NATO is probably doing the best it can under the circumstances.

It also does not help that al Qaeda is becoming a more prominent presence in the rebellion. There have been several reports of terrorists fighting side by side with rebel forces, most prominently from rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, an al Qaeda operative who fought in Afghanistan, was captured in Peshawar in 2002, and spent six years as a terrorist detainee in Libya. Last month, he told the Italian newspaper "Il Sole 24 Ore" that jihadists he had recruited to fight against the United States in Iraq were currently on the front lines against Col. Gadhafi. "Members of al Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader," he added.

Reports from Algerian intelligence indicate that al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb - the bin Laden franchise group that covers North Africa - is looting arms and ammunition from abandoned Libyan army outposts. The loot includes assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and, most significantly, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. These "manpads" can pose a major threat to civilian airliners. In the fall of 2002, al Qaeda fired two anti-air missiles at an Israeli passenger jet near Mombasa, Kenya, which fortunately missed. This prompted Israel to develop anti-missile flare dispensers for its airliners, which may soon be required for U.S. aircraft as well, if conditions in Libya continue to deteriorate.

The half-a-loaf strategy in Libya that President Obama sold the international community then abandoned has not brought peace to that troubled country. Rather than a safe cop-out, Mr. Obama's foreign-policy half measures are presenting the United States with some potentially deadly new problems. In a dangerous world, inexperience and lack of leadership never offer political advantages.

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