From Libya to Mali, Nigeria and Somalia, NATO’s 2011 intervention against Moammar Gadhafi has had an undeniable domino effect — but when do the dominoes stop falling?
A revolutionary forces commander, Wajdi Badri, right, stands next to a pre-Gadhafi flag as he celebrates the new take over of the western main square in Sirte, Libya, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. The general commanding NATO’s mission in Libya said at the time that isolated groups of forces loyal to ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi continud to be a threat to local people would be unable to coordinate their actions.
WASHINGTON — Bernardino León, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, told NPR last week that Libya is on the verge of complete economic and political collapse. Adding to this, he asserted, there could be more than half a million people waiting in the country to seek asylum across the Mediterranean in Europe.
Commenting on the situation, David J. Francis from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, a foundation established to strengthen peacebuilding policy and practice, told MintPress News that he was aghast at the reaction of the Western audience watching the crisis unfold.
Francis explained to MintPress:
“Part of the deal of bringing Gadhafi back from the cold to rehabilitate him as a legitimate player in the international community after spending decades of presenting him as the ‘Mad Dog’ of the Middle East was the fact that he would control immigration, and he delivered on that.”
Francis was referring to negotiations between Libya and the United Kingdom, which began the normalization of relations between the North African country and other Western countries, including the United States, from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
Despite this, U.S., French, British, and NATO forces attacked the country in 2011, hoping rebels on the ground would overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Washington also spent $25 million in nonlethal aid to support rebels in Libya. Some rebel groups were connected to al Qaeda.
Chaos immediately ensued, followed by a self-indulgent and triumphalist American media and political apparatus that proclaimed victory and righteousness following the destruction of the country. Even today, Libya’s oil fields, controlled by the country’s National Oil Company, are under constant threat from extremist groups and militias.
“President Obama made the right, albeit belated, decision to join with allies and try to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from slaughtering thousands of Libyans,” The New York Times editorial section proclaimed on March 28, 2011.
Writing for The Intercept earlier this year, Glenn Greenwald noted that advocates for the war, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, and Nick Kristof, a columnist for The Times, applauded the U.S. decision to support anti-Gadhafi rebels in Libya.
Meanwhile, NATO leaders David Cameron, the British premier, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, visited the country for what Scott Peterson, Istanbul Bureau Chief for The Christian Science Monitor, described as “a victory lap” and a “pep talk.”
Military intervention into Libya was preceded by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which secured legal authority to intervene. The resolution imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, similar to what Turkey currently wants to implement over Syria, strengthened the arms embargo, and opened the door to the arming of anti-Gadhafi rebels.
Permanent U.N. Security Council members China and Russia abstained from the vote, but, more importantly, did not vote against the resolution, which allowed the intervention to legally proceed. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s current prime minister and former president, has since stated: “Russia did not use its power of veto [of Security Council Resolution 1973] for the simple reason that I do not consider the resolution in question wrong.”
He added, “It would be wrong for us to start flapping about now and say that we didn’t know what we were doing. This was a conscious decision on our part.”
However, it was the U.S. and its NATO allies which spearheaded the operation, with France and England taking the initiative. A no-fly zone was imposed over the country, and from March to October NATO bombed Gadhafi forces until the Libyan leader was shot dead by rebels.
President Obama declared on Oct. 20, 2011: “[T]his is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.” But that was only the beginning for Libya and the fallout NATO actions had across the African continent.
Alan J. Kuperman, associate professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, and author of “The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda,” wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this year:
“Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased several fold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).”
Mali, Nigeria and Somalia: The beginning of an end
Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, left, Libya’s NTC leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, center, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, gesture during their visit to Benghazi, Libya, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. Cameron and Sarkozy gave Libya’s new rulers strong support during a landmark visit to Tripoli on Thursday, vowing to release billions of dollars more in frozen assets and to push ahead with NATO strikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s last strongholds.
Fallout from the invasion didn’t affect only Libya, though. Ethnic Tuaregs from Mali, a nomadic Berber people, who Gadhafi had recruited to fight in his army in the 1990s, returned home to fight against the Bamako government after the Libyan leader’s fall. They brought with them heavy weaponry.
“So the actual outbreak of the war in Mali is directly linked to the fallout of the exit of Gadhafi and the way and manner it was mismanaged,” Francis, who is also the head of Peace Studies and director of the John & Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies at the University of Bradford in the U.K., told MintPress.
Francis wrote in an assessment of the Malian crisis in April 2013:
“Together with previous Tuareg rebel groups, they formed the MNLA [National Movement for the Liberation on Azawad] in 2011 as the political military platform to continue their fight for self-rule. It was these heavily armed and well-trained MNLA-led fighters that routed the government forces in March 2012 and declared northern Mali the independent state of Azawad.”
The MNLA is a conglomeration of Tuareg rebels with historic grievances against the Bamako government and Ansar al-Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”). The movement is led by former Tuareg rebel leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, who is thought to have links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Delaware Sen. Christopher A. Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, declared in 2012 that northern Mali had become “the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world.” Those extremists included al-Qaida and ISIS.
By April 2013, the situation was so serious, Francis wrote that, “Northern Mali had become not only their [religious extremists] new operational base, but also a magnet for foreign jihadist fighters. Mali, with its mountainous and desert terrain, is fast becoming the centre of gravity for jihadists and has led to a shift away from the traditional jihadist focus on South Asia to North Africa and the Sahel.”
Still, it should be added that Mali’s internal problems existed well before the fall of Gadhafi. NATO intervention in the North African state served as a spark to an already unstable situation. “Although the conflict in Libya may have provided the trigger for the Malian crisis, the fundamental problems that caused the crisis are largely domestic,” Francis noted.
Dramatic developments have since taken place.
On Monday, three Malian soldiers were killed in Bambara Maounde, Mali, about 73 miles south of Timbuktu. The violence comes on the heels of a peace deal between the Bamako government and rebel separatists to the north which was supposed to be signed last week. The signing was stalled because the Coordination of Movements for Azawad (CMA), an alliance of Tuareg and Arab-led rebel groups, demanded that amendments be made to the agreement.
Alan Kuperman, the professor and author, wrote: “The terrorism problem was exacerbated by the leakage of sensitive weapons from Qaddafi’s arsenal to radical Islamists across North Africa and the Middle East.”
Many of those weapons are believed to have spread throughout the continent, leading to unrest in Burkina Faso. They’re even believed to have fallen into the hands of Boko Haram, which has been leading a religious extremist insurrection in Nigeria, and al-Shabab in Somalia.
On a recent trip to Africa, Francis was told by African Union intelligence sources that most of Boko Haram’s arms came from Gadhafi’s arsenal. And the same can be said of some of al-Shabab’s weaponry. “Some of the Boko Haram terrorists were already training in a disused warehouse in Mogadishu [Somalia],” he added.
He said, “The arms were coming through the desert region from Mali. And of course when you cross from Mali, you can find your way from Mauritania, and from Mauritania to Nigeria. It has been easy.”
Meanwhile, Kuperman has warned about how intervention that is packaged and sold as “humanitarian” should be viewed in the future.
Writing in International Security in 2013, a journal for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Kuperman asserted:
“NATO’s experience in Libya offers important lessons for humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. First, potential interveners should beware both misinformation — resulting from inaccurate reporting or their own biased perceptions — and disinformation from concerted propaganda campaigns.”
He explained how American media regularly played into the hands of those propaganda campaigns and helped to disseminate disinformation:
“Libya’s initial uprising was not peaceful, nationwide, and democratic—as reported and perceived in the West—but violent, regional, and riven with tribalism and Islamist extremism. Qaddafi’s response was not to slaughter peaceful protesters or bombard civilian areas indiscriminately, as reported in the West, but rather to target rebels and violent protesters relatively narrowly, reducing collateral harm to noncombatants.”