Another fine mess: NATO’s 'Laurel & Hardy act' in Libya not getting laughs

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
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Washington and its NATO allies are stepping up more military involvement in this devastated North African country, now experiencing an uptick in terrorist activity, in some kind of macabre reprise of the classic comedy routine.

Earlier this week, Libya’s skirmishing factions announced that they were forming a new “national unity government”. The administration, backed by the United Nations, was forged from two erstwhile self-appointed rival governments based in the western city of Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk.

But the chances of implementing national governance remain wafer-slim. The real power in the country resides with a plethora of warring militias that have an overlapping relationship with the Islamic State terror group and have carved up the country into fiefdoms.

One reason for why the “unity government” was hastily and unconvincingly formed this week is that it gives a fig leaf of legality for greater Western military intervention in Libya under the guise of helping “the authorities” to fight jihadist terrorists.

Three days after Libya’s new government was unveiled, Washington’s top military officer, General Joseph F Dunford, said that plans were under way in the next weeks for “decisive action needed against Islamic State in Libya,” according to a Reuters report.

“You want to take decisive military action to check ISIL’s expansion and at the same time you want to do it in such a way that’s supportive of a long-term political process,” said General Dunford, using an alternative acronym for the IS terror group.

The US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman was in Paris where he was consulting with French, British and Italian counterparts in the NATO military alliance.

The New York Times reported on Dunford’s announced military plans thus: “Worried about a growing threat from the Islamic State in Libya, the United States and its allies are increasing reconnaissance flights and intelligence collecting there and preparing for possible airstrikes and commando raids, senior American policy makers, commanders and intelligence officials said this week.”

For the past several months, American, British and French special forces have reportedly been working clandestinely across Libya to try to establish which militias their governments might feasibly collaborate with.

But Libya has been plunged into such tribal anarchy over the past four years since the US-led NATO powers toppled the government of Muammar Gaddafi that it is nigh-impossible to disentangle the plethora of rival militia. Many of the militia and even some of the so-called political parties in the new unity government are integrated with the terror network.

A farcical insight into the NATO-induced chaotic nature of Libya is afforded by a report on how a unit of 20 American special forces were flown into an airport in the town of Al Watiya near Tripoli last month. The US troops were expecting a “warm reception” from the militia thought to be in control of the airport because it had received American training and weapons back in 2012. It turned out the US-trained Libyan battalion were no longer the local top dog. They had been displaced by another rival militia, which wasn’t friendly to the Americans.

A shoot-out was apparently avoided, but a tense standoff ensued before the US commandos were finally allowed safe passage from the airfield.

What that snippet illustrates is the total shambles that Libya has descended into. US troops feel free to land in a country seemingly without any legal sanction and then proceed to a near-firefight with some unknown enemy holding the airport facility. This is precisely the state of ruins that Gaddafi predicted would result from his demise, just before the NATO-assisted insurgents took his life in a barbaric street lynching in October 2011 and proceeded to take over the once-prosperous, stable country.

The Americans and their NATO allies evidently haven’t a clue which groups are running Libya – and that’s months after their special forces have allegedly been reconnoitering for “partners” with which to purportedly fight against the Islamic State.

America’s top general admitted to this cluelessness in his announced plan for more military intervention in Libya.

Dunford said the “US military leadership owed President Barack Obama and the US defense secretary [Ashton Carter] ideas about the ‘way ahead’ for dealing with the [IS] militant group” in Libya.

In other words, Dunford and his NATO counterparts do not have a plan. They are simply going back into a country that is riven with mercurial militias, many of which are apparently aligned with IS.

The American top general did not detail any specific recommendations, saying: “I think it’s pretty clear to all of us – French, US alike – that whatever we do is going to be in conjunction with the new [Libyan] government… My perspective is we need to do more.”

As noted earlier, working “in conjunction with the new government” is not confidence-inspiring given that it has only been cobbled together this week after years of feuding, and given that its various political members are associated with illegally armed groups.

Tragically, Libya is the very predictable outcome when countries are self-entitled to run amok in complete disregard of international law and other nations’ sovereignty.

Washington, London and Paris, together with other members of the NATO alliance, cynically abused a UN no-fly mandate back in March 2011 to launch a seven-month aerial blitzkrieg on Libya. The NATO powers, along with the Saudi-led Arab oil monarchies, colluded with jihadist groups on the ground, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, to achieve regime change in Libya.

These same militia and their cache of weapons were then mobilized by the American CIA and British MI6 to infiltrate Syria, according to American journalist Seymour Hersh, among others. Turkey was the conduit and Saudi Arabia was the financier for the Libya-Syria “ratline”. Note that this was around the same time that the jihadist proxies had stormed the US consulate in Libya’s Benghazi in September 2012, killing the US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American officials.

Now, apparently, because of Russia’s searing military intervention in Syria in support of the Assad government forces, the jihadists are clearing out of that country to set up bases in Libya. This relocation of jihadists from Syria and Iraq to Libya has even been reported in the Western mainstream media.

So, yes, Western governments and their military chiefs may well articulate “concern” about the surge in IS terror activity in Libya. This surge is real enough.

But what Washington, its NATO allies and the Western media won’t tell you is that they incubated the jihadist terror groups in Libya from their illegal regime change against Gaddafi; and then turned the country into a festering failed state from where terror groups were spawned to carry out a covert war for another regime change operation in Syria.

And after all that, we are told that these same Western powers are going back into Libya to sort out a mess – a mess that they created in the first place. This is Laurel and Hardy of the political and military kind. Only it's far from funny. It’s a diabolically criminal sick joke.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.