Thursday, March 31, 2011

Surprise! CIA’s at Work in Libya

Surprise! CIA’s at Work in Libya: "

For nearly two weeks, the U.S. military has insisted it’s had no contacts with the Libyan rebels. Turns out we reporters weren’t focusing on the right agency.

In a monster scoop, Reuters’ Mark Hosenball reports that President Obama issued a secret order authorizing unspecified covert “support” for the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times add that for “several weeks,” CIA operatives have been on the ground in Libya, contacting the rebels and gathering targeting information for the air war.

Obama says that the goal of U.S. policy is to get rid of Gadhafi — only it won’t be a goal of the war, which NATO now runs. A substantial portion of his Monday speech on Libya argue that a coalition military overthrow of Gadhafi was unwise, as it would require the third U.S. occupation of a Muslim country since 9/11.

So it’s up to covert action to square the circle. That’s in line with Obama’s habit of secretly expanding military or quasi-military endeavors, in places like Pakistan and Yemen.

But according to the Times, the CIA role in Libya is more furtive. The agency isn’t giving guns to the rebels. It’s finding out precisely who they are — important, since the U.S. has “flickers” of intel that they include some al-Qaeda members. And along with British spies, the CIA teams are learning “the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots [and] the clusters of government troops inside Libyan towns.” And figure they probably have some tasking to get Gadhafi’s inner circle to abandon him.

In response to the stories, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said again that “no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.” But “all types of assistance” for the anti-Gadhafi rebels remains on the table, he said, and the U.S. has “consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters.”

The stories break right before Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen spend Thursday explaining the war to the House and Senate armed services committees. Expect legislators to ask how the Obama team’s presentation of a limited war — one in which the U.S. is supposed to scale back its combat involvement — square with the insertion of CIA teams on the ground. Presidents who send CIA teams into hellholes usually do so to avoid sending larger military elements; but often, those teams end up presaging an escalation, not substituting for one.

Photo: Flickr/AlJazeeraEnglish


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