Son's unit may be one of Gaddafi's last lines of defense

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 25, 2011 4:32am EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's grip on power may depend in part on the performance of an elite military unit led by one of the Libyan leader's younger sons, according to U.S. and European national security and intelligence officials.

U.S. and European officials, as well as secret State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks, describe Libya's 32nd Brigade, led by Gaddafi's son Khamees, as a relatively well-equipped special forces outfit that, in the words of one cable, is one of the Libyan leader's last-ditch "regime protection units."

The 32nd is the most elite of three "regime protection units," which together total about 10,000 men, U.S. officials said. These units are the only armed forces directly loyal to Gaddafi, while the rest of the military is made up primarily of conscripts and is seeing heavy desertion, they said.

Some witnesses in Libya say the 32nd Brigade has lately been involved in fighting against some insurgent forces. A witness told Reuters by telephone on Thursday that the unit controlled by Khamees Gaddafi had attacked anti-government militias controlling the town of Misrata, 125 miles east of Tripoli, killing several people.

U.S. officials say that while the 32nd Brigade has advanced weaponry and high morale when compared to other Libyan military units, it is not clear how deeply engaged the unit is in active fighting to maintain Gaddafi's grip on power.

Elite is also a relative term.

Compared to elite military units in some neighboring countries or in the West, the 32nd Brigade is "not very skilled," in the words of one U.S. official. "They're not very good," the official added.

While well-equipped by Libyan standards, the brigade's equipment is far from cutting edge. According to some U.S. officials, it may even have suffered intermitted fuel shortages -- a surprising problem in oil-rich Libya.

"The situation is way too fluid to know whether the regime will survive or not, but they're certainly trying to hold things together with duct tape and Krazy Glue," said a U.S. official who is familiar with official government reporting from the region,

State Department cables obtained by Wikileaks describe attempts by representatives of Khamees Gaddafi to obtain military supplies from the United States and Britain.

According to a November 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, in 2008 British authorities turned down a license that would have permitted a British company to export 130,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Libya. The same cable quotes a Libyan businessman saying he had signed a contract with a Romanian company for the supply of 100,000 AK-47 rifles, which were destined for the Khamees brigade.

A December 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli reported how an associate of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar's best-known son and one-time heir apparent, was trying to get the Obama administration to allow the export of new military helicopters to the Khamees brigade -- and complained that such sales were being stalled by legal technicalities and red tape.

The cable described the attempted arms deal as a possible attempt by Saif al-Islam to "curry his youngest brother's (Khamees') favor" adding that: "Given the fact that the "Khamis Brigade is considered the best equipped and most capable of defending the regime, it seems only natural that anyone intent on assuming power would try to align himself with Khamis."

It was unclear which, if any, of the weapons deals went ahead. Neither the Obama administration nor British officials had any immediate response to queries as to whether the U.S. and Britain ever allowed such weapons shipments to Libya to proceed.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Comments (3)
Silverquark wrote:
U.N. is a tower of babble and resolutions “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” If Gaddafi or his son, Khamees, employ WMD on their people, perhaps we ought quietly pop a smart drone on them and finish the job Reagan started.

Feb 25, 2011 8:53am EST  --  Report as abuse
kc10man wrote:
1. We may be have been willing to allow the investment game to happen, after 2004, but there is no way in hell the US, or its strategic allies (not France) would be willing to sell weapons to Libya. AK 47s are a very low tech, yet reliable, weapon. First thing that comes to mind is why a Libyan would try to buy AK47’s from England in the first place.

A point of interest should be the fact that Tripoli has served as a suedo black market for “middle class” weapons for the past 30 years. Heck even the Israelis have been selling to their own enemies through Libya since the 50’s. The most likely reason for a purchase of AK 47’s for the market, not the military.

The army was, by Arab standards, well equipped. But the Air Force has been a train wreck since the 90’s.

What is most disturbing about the military’s performance over the past few weeks is the fact that so many Libyan bases have been deserted. It is never a good thing when a civilian population gets their hands on anti aircraft weapons. Its a real shame that the military has acted the way it has. So you don’t agree with attacking your own people, fine, stay on the base. Maintain yourself, because when the power vacuum comes, the military will be needed to create stability.

Feb 25, 2011 10:34am EST  --  Report as abuse
Wes20 wrote:
Well our former president, Bush, decided to welcome Libya back to the international scene. The unfortunate thing is, when one removes the chain from a “Mad Dog” and set its free, the mad dog will do what mad dogs do, attack and kill. For to long the international community has been unable to come up with a reliable plan on how to deal with mad dogs. If its our mad dog, than they are ok and if not, than they are not. The problem is, everyone likes their mad dogs and hates the other nations mad dogs. This was true than and it will true in the future, there will be nations that will protect the likes of Saddam, Gaddafi and so on. Different names same “mad dog illness” that has been problematic. Yes, the previous mad dogs have been taken out but soon they will be replaced with new ones, its a ritual we can not stop ourselves from being a part of. Who will be the next mad dog we support for another 30 years before we take them out again and repeat the cycle again?

Feb 25, 2011 10:59am EST  --  Report as abuse
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