Libya Analysis: Part X, Contemporary Libya- (i), Analyzing the Libyan Rebels; Friend or Foe?

Sundar J.M. Brown, Editor

As previously detailed, the conflict in Libya began as a series of passive, non-violent public demonstrations, most notably in the northeastern city of Benghazi.  These protests were met with an extraordinarily malevolent and violent backlash, through a series of persistent attacks cooperatively coordinated by the combined efforts of Gadhafi’s security forces and hired Central African mercenaries.  The ferocity of Gadhafi’s response is quite in line with the political and military history of the entire Middle Eastern region.  

Regions of contemporary Middle Eastern & South Asian political instability (Courtesy of CBS News)

In the early days of the protests, media attention remained non-committal and focused on Egypt.  However, as Gadhafi and his cronies began to appear publicly, making use of Libyan State Media to accuse protestors of being drugged and of being supported and inspired by al-Qaeda, using heavy anti-aircraft weaponry against crowds of civilians, the media focus rapidly shifted to Libya.  Even in the seminal stages of protestor resistance, international opinion was immediately in majority favor of the rebellion.  Gadhafi’s increasingly incoherent dialogue and narcissistic posturing had been building for years and the international community saw this as an opportunity to speak openly against his regime.  A general consensus of Gadhafi’s need to be removed or exterminated was made all that more emphatic as the world watched Gadhafi begin the systematic bombing of Libyan citizens.  This strengthened the resolve of the protestors, and, civil disobedience very quickly morphed into loosely-organized militias, albeit without training and experience, but, infuriated and impassioned with the desire for freedom.

At a recent press conference, President Obama said that Gadhafi had, "lost the legitimacy to lead."

Official political opinion then took center stage as U.S. President Barack Obama plainly stated , in a widely-viewed press conference, “It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go. We have got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts to support that policy.” 

Despite these verbal initiatives, Gadhafi’s loyalist military and security forces achieved significant inroads eastward, into rebel-held territories.  This advancement was reversed only after NATO began a series of defensive and civilian-protecting air strikes against Libyan military troops, communications centers and resource depots.  That scenario remains fluid with a regular ebb and flow of rebel campaigns and Gadhafi campaigns vying for headlines.  As is characteristic of the entire Middle East region’s nature of grave instability, the momentum of both rebel and Gadhafi victories sways indiscriminately.  Though all signs point to a long-term rebellion victory, true unpredictability remains the undercurrent of all contemporary analysis on the Libya conflict.

The Rebels

A picture has been painted of the rebels as pre-Gadhafi nationalists, freedom-desiring advocates of democracy, ready and willing to die for a cause.  Certainly, the American media has drawn parallels between the Libyan rebels and the early American freedom fighters of the Revolutionary era.  But just who are the anti-Gadhafi rebels for whom the NATO allies- of which the U.S., despite having handed off power to NATO, remains the major player- now provide military and political support?

Libyan rebels- friend...? Or potential foe?

Some questions: 

(1)   Are the rebels comprised entirely of Libyan citizens, or, are foreign fighters, disseminated throughout?  

(2)   There exists a very significant difference between being dedicated to Gadhafi’s ouster and being dedicated to the subsequent establishing of a democratic nation.  Are the rebels primarily made up of persons who want both?  

(3)   If so, what are their plans for accomplishing those goals?  If not, where and what are the divides? 

(4)   Given these unknowns, how will the U.S. be able to factually assess the conflict in which it has now become enveloped?

Some points to consider before attempting to answer those questions are the following pieces of intelligence, synthesized from a conglomeration of on-the-ground HUMINT, proprietary field resources, and open sources: 

  • Approximately 20% of the foreign fighters who were attacking and killing American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were from east Libya, home of the rebellion’s origin.
  • A significant percentage (the precise figure is unknown and unable to be determined in the present chaos) of those same men have returned to Libya and are now fighting on the side of the rebellion.
  • In early March, 2011, al-Qaeda issued a public call for supporters to back the Libyan rebellion because al-Qaeda believes it will be a strong contributor to the establishment of Sharia (Islamic Law) as the new Libyan standard.

Under fire, Libyan rebels retreat from a hot zone.

What does this indicate?  At the very least, these facts present compelling evidence that the very same jihadists whose mission it was to kill American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have now joined the revolution in Libya and are fighting against Gadhafi’s troops – with our support.  

On one side, we have Gadhafi, the brutal tyrant who (it is globally agreed upon) must be killed or removed from power. 

On the other side, we have a loosely organized collection of armed militants, a significant portion of whose ranks are comprised of pro-Islamist / anti-American jihadists whose true mission is to establish Libya as an Islamist state under the harshness of sharia law.

This is all happening in the guise of the rebel’s claims that they are fighting for freedom and democracy. 

Mujahideen fighters, Afghanistan, 1984, the forerunners of the present-day Taliban.

The present Libya engagement is thoroughly reminiscent of the scenario America found itself in during the 1980’s Russian War in Afghanistan.  During that time, large bands of mujahideen (Arabic: literally, “struggler”, “justice fighter”, “freedom fighter”) were funded and armed by American intelligence services as a means of resisting the spread of communism , the underlying goal of the Russian advances.  When the mujahideen finally drove the Russians out, the funding and weapons remained, were traded, sold, and gifted, and the collective mujahideen, in whose hands they remained, re-organized themselves into a group we now know as the Taliban.  That same group is the predominant target and combatant of the American and allied forces executing the present-day Afghanistan mission.


In the second part of this series (Part ii), I will discuss how the events in Libya impact the U.S. and the Middle East regions

Present-day member’s of one of many of Pakistan’s Taliban groups, remnants of the Taliban created in the wake of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, in a still from a video, just prior to beheading a prisoner accused of violating the laws of Islam (sharia).  The entire, gruesome event was captured on film.

Present day Taliban, Afghanistan. The Taliban was formed by mujahideen who had participated as anti-Russian combatants in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Nearly all of the mujahideen's funding and weapons came directly from U.S. sources.

Libya, by areas of tribal density


by Sundar J.M. Brown


About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: *Sundar's Blog:
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