Since the attack in Benghazi, tensions have grown between U.S. intelligence and elements of the Syrian opposition, as have concerns expressed that foreign fighters, many of them from Libya, may pose a long-term danger to the United States.
Concerns are rising due to the presence in Syria of increasing numbers of Libyans and Jihadis armed with heavy weapons, including shoulder-launched SAM missiles, known as MANPADs, looted from the vast arms stockpiles of the deposed Gadhaffi regime. Shipments of these have been observed being moved into Syria in recent months, and recently seen being distributed elsewhere across the region.
During the seven weeks since the September attack that took the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, it has become evident that Eastern Libya has become a base for al Qaeda militants who have seized a growing military and political role in western-supported regime change operations in Syria.
In addition, concerns are rising that Libyan MANPADs are a prize that al-Qaeda seeks, and the US appears to have lost control over thousands of these missiles. Of the estimated 20,000 once held by the Libyan armed forces, only about a quarter have been accounted for or destroyed, despite efforts of the U.S. and several countries to buy back or seize them after the revolution.
CNN confirmed yesterday that US intelligence has for the first time publicly acknowledged that some of the attackers belonged to the same al-Qaeda groups that the US fought in Iraq, now a growing part of the Syrian opposition. http://security.blogs.cnn.com/...
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As has been noted here, the attack on the Ambassador and US intelligence personnel in Benghazi on September 11 coincided with the reported delivery to anti-Assad opposition groups of a number of missiles aboard a Libyan freighter that docked in Turkey. See, http://www.dailykos.com/...
Another backstory that has emerged is that Gadhaffi’s ouster late last year was the key role of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens took in personally leading the regime change operation in Libya. Details emerged how the Ambassador arrived aboard a freighter in April last year, and how he promptly set up shop in Benghazi coordinating opposition Libyan groups. Since his death, we have also begun to hear about the reports he wrote in 2008 detailing the central role of Libyan militants from Benghazi in al-Qaeda operations against US forces in Iraq, particularly Jihadists from Eastern Libya who made up a disproportionately large percentage of suicide bombers in Iraq. Ironically, members of these same groups now appear to have been involved in his killing.
CNN confirmed yesterday that US intelligence has for the first time publicly acknowledged that some of his assailants belonged to the same al-Qaeda groups. http://security.blogs.cnn.com/...
US Intel believes some Benghazi attackers tied to al Qaeda in IraqIn an initial September 14 analysis, it was reported here that the Libyan groups then known to be suspected of the attack were part of “a far larger conglomeration of Jihadi terrorist groups that have originate in, and openly train and operate, in eastern Libya. Little has apparently been done to suppress these groups, which have been up until now free of the sort of armed drone attacks against similar groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Ironically, Stevens catalogued a number of al-Qaeda groups in a 2008 State Dept. cable he put together at the time many of these groups were still actively carrying out their holy war against US and Shi'ia targets in Iraq.” See, http://www.dailykos.com/...
By Suzanne Kelly, Pam Benson and Elise Labott
U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN.
That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Previously, intelligence officials said there were signs of connections to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of the terror group.
The revelation that members of al Qaeda in Iraq are suspected of involvement in the Libya attack comes at a time when there is a growing number of fighters from that group also taking part in the Syrian civil war.
It was noted two weeks later that The Times of London carried a September 14 article, captioned,“Syrian rebels squabble over weapons as biggest shipload arrives from Libya.”
Meanwhile, ABC reported that one of three Americans killed with Ambassador Stevens was part of group assigned to locate these looted Libyan MANPADS, shoulder-fired missiles that can be used to shoot down airliners.
On September 24, the New York Times carried a front-page story cryptically entitled, "Attack in Libya was major blow to CIA efforts”, http://www.nytimes.com/... Without really identifying what those efforts have been, the Times alluded to the fact that:
American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of the former Libyan Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces.Other rumblings have emerged of late from the major media about the conflicting roles of the CIA in both coordinating the arming of the Syrian opposition and problems with anti-terrorism operations, as evidenced by the fatal attack on Americans in Benghazi.
Concerns are beginning to be heard that efforts against al-Qaeda and other radical Salafist groups has been compromised as a result of enormous amounts of money and arms being pumped into the Syria opposition by Sunni Muslim states, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar.
The NYT ran an article on October 15, in which it explicitly warned in the title, “Jihadists receiving most arms sent to Syrian rebels”: http://www.nytimes.com/...
“That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.”….Rebel groups in Syria are playing up their Islamist credentials, including growing fundamentalist-style beards, to secure arms from conservative Gulf-based donors, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian rebels said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various rebel groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.
“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”….
American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received such a large share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition. “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one unidentified American official….
“Groups with no ideological affiliation whatsoever began to adopt the symbols, rhetoric and facial hair associated with Salafism for that purpose,”Most recently, even the Israelis have joined in the rising cry of alarm about the regional consequences of the role of Libyan arms and fighters within the Syrian opposition. The Washington Post reported on the 17th, “Israel Official says Gaza militants getting anti-aircraft missiles from Libya”, see, http://www.democraticunderground.com/.... In my comment on that report, I said that even with these mounting concerns being voiced, the central issue still isn’t really being dealt with openly and candidly:
The money flow from conservative donors did more than strengthen Salafi factions relative to their mainstream counterparts. It also pushed non-Salafi combatants toward joining Salafi units capable of providing them with the requisite weapons and ammunition. Groups with no ideological affiliation whatsoever began to adopt the symbols, rhetoric and facial hair associated with Salafism for that purpose.
(The Issue raised about) security at the Benghazi consulate is really secondary to the question not being discussed about what the US Ambassador was doing there. How is US national security actually impacted by US covert involvement in regime changes in the region? That is the major policy issue nobody is now talking publicly about.
Nonetheless, one can now safely conclude that the larger policy issue of US coordination of regime change operations in the MENA region is implicated by these events, and that there are serious second-thoughts emerging about the wisdom of allowing Islamic militants to be recruited, armed and trained in areas that the US has recently had a role in regime change. This casts the Syrian regime change strategy into doubt.
There are increasing indicators that the policy of regime change in the MENA region may amount to an historic instance of blowback, and that some in Washington may have finally recognized that terrible potential.