British MPs deliver damning verdict on David Cameron’s Libya intervention

The Guardian reports: David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.

The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds.

The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. The findings are also likely to be seized on by Donald Trump, who has tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials by repeatedly condemning her handling of the Libyan intervention in 2011, when she was US secretary of state. [Continue reading…]

Chris Stephen writes: When Nato went to war against Gaddafi in the revolution, the US took a back seat, with Britain and France sharing the leading role. But with the revolution over, Cameron walked away.

In London, few parliamentary debates on Libya were called by the government or the opposition, even though British bombing had done so much to create the country’s new order.

When last year the foreign affairs select committee called on Cameron to give evidence in its inquiry into British planning in Libya, he informed them he had no time in his schedule.

Meanwhile, diplomats insist that Libyan leaders of all persuasions have shut out offers of support. Memories of domination by outside powers leave Libyans suspicious of the motivations of foreigners, and offers to help build a modern state were spurned.

London finally woke up to Libya last year, with people smugglers taking advantage of the chaos to build a booming business – and with Islamic State on the march.

The UK, along with the US and Italy, is a prime mover behind the troubled government of national accord (GNA), created by a UN-chaired commission last December. Unelected and largely unloved, the GNA has failed to create a security force of its own, relying instead on militias that are also busy fighting each other.

The capture of key ports by the powerful eastern general Khalifa Haftar this week may have sealed the fate of this new government, now deprived of oil wealth.

All of which leaves Libya, in the words of Britain’s special envoy, Jonathan Powell – a veteran of Blair’s meeting with Gaddafi – veering towards becoming “Somalia on the Mediterranean”. [Continue reading…]

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Colin Powell called Benghazi a ‘stupid witch hunt’ — and Condi Rice agreed

BuzzFeed reports: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the events surrounding and following the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, “a stupid witch hunt,” saying that fault partially lies with the US ambassador who was killed in the attack, according to personal emails seen by BuzzFeed News.

“Benghazi is a stupid witch hunt. Basic fault falls on a courageous ambassador who thoughts Libyans now love me and I am ok in this very vulnerable place,” Powell wrote in a December 2015 email exchange with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in the 2012 incident.

Hillary Clinton was secretary of state during the attack, which was the subject of a special congressional committee and remains an issue in the current presidential campaign.

“But blame also rests on his leaders and supports back here. Pat Kennedy, Intel community, DS and yes HRC” — the last acronym short for Hillary Clinton, added Powell, who served under former President George W. Bush.

“Completely agree,” Rice responds, adding, “Let me know when you’re in town and we’ll have that glass of wine (or two).” [Continue reading…]

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As ISIS closed in, a race to remove chemical-weapon precursors in Libya

The Washington Post reports: Late last year, as Islamic State fighters battled to expand their stronghold on Libya’s coast, ­militants came within 45 miles ­of the country’s sole remaining ­chemical-weapons site, unnerving Libyan and American officials who feared that potentially deadly chemicals could fall into extremist hands.

In May, when the fighters struck a mile from the lightly guarded desert facility, killing two security officers at a checkpoint, they decided it was time to act.

The Islamic State’s encroachment on an installation outside the remote oasis town of Waddan, where 500 metric tons of ­chemical-weapon precursor materials were stored, set off a hurried chain of events culminating in a disarmament operation involving the United States, European countries and the United Nations.

The international effort, which concluded last week when a Danish ship unloaded the materials at a German port for destruction, is one of the rare successes that Western nations can claim in Libya since dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011 pitched the North African country into lawlessness and civil war. [Continue reading…]

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Haftar forces now control Libya’s ‘oil crescent’ along coast

Al Jazeera reports: Forces opposed to Libya’s unity government have seized a fourth oil port, Brega, completing their takeover of vital installations in the North African country’s “oil crescent”, according to military sources.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli is struggling to assert its authority and has faced staunch resistance from a rival administration based in Libya’s remote east.

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general, on Sunday launched an offensive on Libya’s “oil crescent” along the northern coast. [Continue reading…]

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Seizure of Libyan oil terminals prompts call for military action

The Guardian reports: Forces opposed to the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli appear to be making a clean sweep through the country’s “oil crescent”, seizing control of oil terminal headquarters and gaining a stranglehold over the export of Libya’s economic lifeblood.

The capture of the oil terminals through the weekend and Monday changes the balance of political forces inside Libya and makes the survival of the UN-backed, Tripoli-based government of national accord (GNA) less likely.

The oil ports were seized by forces under the control of General Khalifa Haftar, who opposes the GNA and supports the rival government in the east of the country. The victory for Haftar is likely to increase his prestige and his negotiating power in the event of Libya being carved up.

The clashes also mean that the possibility of an economic revival driven by oil production and export is further away than ever. Six western nations had issued a joint appeal in August urging that oil facilities be freed from the civil war.

The Libyan national oil corporation, one of the few technocratic bodies left in Libya, had produced a clear plan to revive oil production and exports this year.

Oil production, pipelines and terminals have been at the centre of the civil war since the collapse of the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Oil production has collapsed from a potential of more than 1.5 million barrels a day to just 200,000. [Continue reading…]

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A reminder of the permanent wars: Dozens of U.S. airstrikes in six countries

The Washington Post reports: While Americans savored the last moments of summer this Labor Day weekend, the U.S. military was busy overseas as warplanes conducted strikes in six countries in a flurry of attacks. The bombing runs across Asia, Africa and the Middle East spotlighted the diffuse terrorist threats that have persisted into the final days of the Obama presidency — conflicts that the next president is now certain to inherit.

In Iraq and Syria, between Saturday and Monday, the United States conducted about 45 strikes against Islamic State targets. On the other side of the Mediterranean, in the Libyan city of Sirte, U.S. forces also hit fighters with the militant group. On Sunday in Yemen, a U.S. drone strike killed six suspected members of ­al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The following day, just across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, the Pentagon targeted al-Shabab, another group aligned with ­al-Qaeda. The military also conducted several counterterrorism strikes over the weekend in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and the Islamic State are on the offensive.

Militants in each of those countries have been attacked before, but the convergence of so many strikes on so many fronts in such a short period served as a reminder of the endurance and geographic spread of al-Qaeda and its mutations.

“This administration really wanted to end these wars,” said Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and Pentagon official now at the Center for a New American Security. “Now, we’ve got U.S. combat operations on multiple fronts and we’re dropping bombs in six countries. That’s just the unfortunate reality of the terrorism threat today.”

In meeting those threats, Obama has sought to limit the large-scale deployments of the past, instead relying on air power, including drones; isolated Special Operations raids; and support for foreign forces.

But militant groups have defied eight years of these sustained counterterrorism efforts.

Nowhere are the unexpected turns of Obama’s foreign-policy record more visible than in Iraq, where thousands of U.S. troops returned after the 2011 withdrawal to support local forces’ battle against the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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A former CIA asset has become a U.S. headache in Libya

The Washington Post reports: He’s a grandfather and longtime Washington suburbanite who now commands a powerful fighting force in northern Africa. He’s also a former CIA asset and anti-Islamist warrior who stands in the way of peace in Libya.

The United States and its allies can’t figure out what to do about Khalifa Hifter, the Libyan general whose refusal to support a fragile unity government has jeopardized hopes for stability in a country plagued by conflict.

Since he emerged as an important post-revolution figure in 2014, Western governments have struggled to define an effective policy to deal with Hifter, who has styled himself as an antidote to extremists while building his own power base and shunning the political process brokered by the United Nations.

“Hifter is threatening many of the Western-backed initiatives in Libya and the establishment of a recognized political power,” said Barak Barfi, a scholar at New America, a Washington think tank. “Hifter doesn’t have the strength on the battlefield to deliver on his promises to defeat Islamists, but he can act as a spoiler.”

Even as militia forces, backed by U.S. air power, make progress against the Islamic State in central Libya, Hifter looms as a primary impediment to White House hopes for restoring the democratic promise of the 2011 revolution that ended dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s long rule.

Hifter’s role in a much earlier, CIA-backed attempt to overthrow Gaddafi injects another element of complexity into American efforts to end Libya’s long crisis. [Continue reading…]

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Fractured lands: How the Arab world came apart

The following New York Times Magazine feature story is more than a long-read — at 42,000 words it’s more like a short book. Scott Anderson writes: Before driving into northern Iraq, Dr. Azar Mirkhan changed from his Western clothes into the traditional dress of a Kurdish pesh merga warrior: a tightfitting short woolen jacket over his shirt, baggy pantaloons and a wide cummerbund. He also thought to bring along certain accessories. These included a combat knife, tucked neatly into the waist of his cummerbund, as well as sniper binoculars and a loaded .45 semiautomatic. Should matters turn particularly ticklish, an M-4 assault rifle lay within easy reach on the back seat, with extra clips in the foot well. The doctor shrugged. “It’s a bad neighborhood.”

Our destination that day in May 2015 was the place of Azar’s greatest sorrow, one that haunted him still. The previous year, ISIS gunmen had cut a murderous swath through northern Iraq, brushing away an Iraqi Army vastly greater in size, and then turning their attention to the Kurds. Azar had divined precisely where the ISIS killers were about to strike, knew that tens of thousands of civilians stood helpless in their path, but had been unable to get anyone to heed his warnings. In desperation, he had loaded up his car with guns and raced to the scene, only to come to a spot in the road where he saw he was just hours too late. “It was obvious,” Azar said, “so obvious. But no one wanted to listen.” On that day, we were returning to the place where the fabled Kurdish warriors of northern Iraq had been outmaneuvered and put to flight, where Dr. Azar Mirkhan had failed to avert a colossal tragedy — and where, for many more months to come, he would continue to battle ISIS.

Azar is a practicing urologist, but even without the firepower and warrior get-up, the 41-year-old would exude the aura of a hunter. He walks with a curious loping gait that produces little sound, and in conversation has a tendency to tuck his chin and stare from beneath heavy-lidded eyes, rather as if he were sighting down a gun. With his prominent nose and jet black pompadour, he bears a passing resemblance to a young Johnny Cash.

The weaponry also complemented the doctor’s personal philosophy, as expressed in a scene from one of his favorite movies, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” when a bathing Eli Wallach is caught off guard by a man seeking to kill him. Rather than immediately shoot Wallach, the would-be assassin goes into a triumphant soliloquy, allowing Wallach to kill him first.

“When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” Azar quoted from the movie. “That is us Kurds now. This is not the time to talk, but to shoot.”

Azar is one of six people whose lives are chronicled in these pages. The six are from different regions, different cities, different tribes, different families, but they share, along with millions of other people in and from the Middle East, an experience of profound unraveling. Their lives have been forever altered by upheavals that began in 2003 with the American invasion of Iraq, and then accelerated with the series of revolutions and insurrections that have collectively become known in the West as the Arab Spring. They continue today with the depredations of ISIS, with terrorist attacks and with failing states.

For each of these six people, the upheavals were crystallized by a specific, singular event. For Azar Mirkhan, it came on the road to Sinjar, when he saw that his worst fears had come true. For Laila Soueif in Egypt, it came when a young man separated from a sprinting mass of protesters to embrace her, and she thought she knew the revolution would succeed. For Majdi el-Mangoush in Libya, it came as he walked across a deadly no-man’s-land and, overwhelmed by a sudden euphoria, felt free for the first time in his life. For Khulood al-Zaidi in Iraq, it came when, with just a few menacing words from a former friend, she finally understood that everything she had worked for was gone. For Majd Ibrahim in Syria, it came when, watching an interrogator search his cellphone for the identity of his “controller,” he knew his own execution was drawing nearer by the moment. For Wakaz Hassan in Iraq, a young man with no apparent interest in politics or religion, it came on the day ISIS gunmen showed up in his village and offered him a choice.

As disparate as those moments were, for each of these six people they represented a crossing over, passage to a place from which there will never be a return. Such changes, of course — multiplied by millions of lives — are also transforming their homelands, the greater Middle East and, by inevitable extension, the entire world.

History never flows in a predictable way. It is always a result of seemingly random currents and incidents, the significance of which can be determined — or, more often, disputed — only in hindsight. But even accounting for history’s capricious nature, the event credited with setting off the Arab Spring could hardly have been more improbable: the suicide by immolation of a poor Tunisian fruit-and-vegetable seller in protest over government harassment. By the time Mohamed Bouazizi succumbed to his injuries on Jan. 4, 2011, the protesters who initially took to Tunisia’s streets calling for economic reform were demanding the resignation of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the nation’s strongman president for 23 years. In subsequent days, those demonstrations grew in size and intensity — and then they jumped Tunisia’s border. By the end of January, anti-government protests had erupted in Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Jordan. That was only the beginning. By November, just 10 months after Bouazizi’s death, four longstanding Middle Eastern dictatorships had been toppled, a half-dozen other suddenly embattled governments had undergone shake-ups or had promised reforms, and anti-government demonstrations — some peaceful, others violent — had spread in an arc across the Arab world from Mauritania to Bahrain.

As a writer with long experience in the Middle East, I initially welcomed the convulsions of the Arab Spring — indeed, I believed they were long overdue. In the early 1970s, I traveled through the region as a young boy with my father, a journey that sparked both my fascination with Islam and my love of the desert. The Middle East was also the site of my first foray into journalism when, in the summer of 1983, I hopped on a plane to the embattled city Beirut in hopes of finding work as a stringer. Over the subsequent years, I embedded with a platoon of Israeli commandos conducting raids in the West Bank; dined with Janjaweed raiders in Darfur; interviewed the families of suicide bombers. Ultimately, I took a five-year hiatus from magazine journalism to write a book on the historical origins of the modern Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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The grinding fight to root out ISIS in a battered Libya

Frederic Wehrey writes: In late July, on a tree-lined avenue of villas in Sirte, the coastal home town of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Islamic State snipers pinned down a group of Libyan militiamen. It was early evening, a drawn-out time when the fighting usually starts to pick up. The figures of young men crouching or darting across the street with rocket-propelled grenades cast long shadows in the soft light. Amid the snap and rattle of automatic gunfire, the stereo from a nearby Toyota played an Islamic chant known as a nashid that seemed at once elegiac and fortifying.

An armored personnel carrier, one of a few in the Libyan fighters’ inventory, finally broke the impasse. The hulking, dun-colored vehicle lumbered to an intersection. From a turreted heavy machine gun, a young fighter delivered a withering fusillade toward the snipers a few hundred metres away. Shouts of “God is great!” erupted.

In the months-long struggle in the Islamic State’s Mediterranean bastion, such confrontations have become typical. The Islamic State in Libya began to arrive in Sirte in late 2014, drawing partial support from tribes and communities that had enjoyed Qaddafi’s favors but were now excluded from the revolutionary order. Most of its real muscle, though, came from abroad: Iraqi, Yemeni, Syrian, and Saudi advisers; foot soldiers from Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, and the Sahelian states to the south of Libya.

isis was able to tighten its grip because Libya is a shattered, hollowed-out country, lacking the basic sinews of governance that define a functioning state. There is no singular army or police unit. Instead, a dizzying array of militias holds sway, most of them loyal to towns, tribes, or power brokers. Much of this disorder stems from the legacy of Qaddafi’s forty-two-year rule, but a lack of international follow-up after the 2011 revolution is also to blame. Then, in 2014, the country descended into civil war between eastern and western factions, which each fielded their own parliament, Prime Minister, and coalition of militias. Each saw the other as a more pressing threat than the Islamic State, enabling the terrorist group to take hold and spread. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Special Operations troops aiding Libyan forces in major battle against ISIS

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces are providing direct, on-the-ground support for the first time to fighters battling the Islamic State in Libya, U.S. and Libyan officials said, coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information in an effort to oust the group from a militant stronghold.

The positioning of a small number of elite U.S. personnel, operating alongside British troops, in the coastal city of Sirte deepens the involvement of Western nations against the Islamic State’s most powerful affiliate.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a mission that has not been announced publicly, said the American troops were operating out of a joint operations center on the city’s outskirts and that their role was limited to supporting forces loyal to the country’s fragile unity government. [Continue reading…]

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Libya, U.S. face entrenched ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: Even with the U.S. launching airstrikes on an Islamic State stronghold in Libya, the battle to uproot the extremists from the oil-rich North African nation is expected to be long and difficult.

The U.S. began the attacks on Monday and struck again on Tuesday in support of a ground offensive to retake Sirte, a strategic port on the Mediterranean coast. But Islamic State is also entrenched in other pockets across the country, including parts of the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest; Derna, another eastern city; and the western town of Sabratha, near the Tunisian border.

The competing militias and centers of power that have stoked Libya’s civil war complicate the fight against Islamic State. The chaos has given the group an opening to gain its first territorial foothold outside its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Libya has two rival governments — one that is internationally recognized in the capital, Tripoli, and another based in the east. The competing governments so far have refused to work together to defeat Islamic State or toward national unity, despite international efforts. [Continue reading…]

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Libyan forces push into Sirte after U.S. air attacks

Middle East Eye reports: Forces loyal to Libya’s unity government have advanced inside the Islamic State group’s stronghold of Sirte following the first US air attacks on positions in the city.

Fighters seized the central district of al-Dollar after clashes that killed five of their members and wounded 17, they said on social media on Tuesday.

The Tripoli-based unity government launched an operation in May to retake Sirte, which the militants have controlled since June 2015.

The fall of the coastal city, 450km east of Tripoli, would be a major blow to IS, which has also faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

The US air raids would continue as long as the unity government continued to request them, the US defence department said on Monday. [Continue reading…]

TSG IntelBrief says: The metastasizing nature of the so-called Islamic State has required the military effort to combat the group to grow alongside it. Though the U.S. has struck high-value targets in Libya before — most recently in February — it has not engaged in a sustained air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya. However, the announcement on August 1 of two airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte may be an indication that the operational tempo against the group in Libya is about to increase. The strikes came at the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been trying to battle the Islamic State while simultaneously attempting to navigate the numerous militias and armed rivals that make foreign intervention highly problematic.

For a time in late 2015, it appeared that the Islamic State was on the verge of making Sirte its de facto third capital after Mosul and Raqqa. Unlike Iraq and Syria, the environment in Libya has posed unique challenges for the Islamic State’s ‘fight everyone everywhere’ strategy; the lack of a sectarian wedge in Libya blunts the group’s appeal. Still, the Islamic State managed to take control of the important coastal city of Sirte in May 2015, and estimates of the group’s total strength in Libya ballooned to 4,000-6,000 fighters in April 2016.

To prevent another Raqqa or Mosul, the U.S., as well as France, the UK, and others, have spent months building liaison relationships with various militia and GNA forces. These relationships take time to build, as do intelligence gathering networks that can generate information accurate enough for targeting purposes. The August 1 strikes in Sirte indicate that cooperation and coordination has progressed to a level in which all parties are comfortable moving ahead. The scale and pace of any U.S. air campaign in Libya will not compare to those in Iraq or Syria, but comments made by U.S. officials indicate airstrikes will continue as the GNA seeks to gain footing in the fractured country. [Continue reading…]

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