Intelligence on Libya rebels shows "flickers" of Qaeda

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 29, 2011 6:42pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Intelligence on the rebels battling Libya's Muammar Gaddafi has shown "flickers" of al Qaeda or Hezbollah presence, NATO's operations commander said, but U.S. officials said there were no indications militant groups are playing a significant role in Libya.

"We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces," Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, said in testimony to a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday.

But several national security officials quickly and firmly denied that al Qaeda or Hezbollah were significantly involved.

"If anyone thinks there are vast numbers of al-Qaeda terrorists running the rebel movement in Libya, then Churchill never smoked a cigar in his life," one of the officials said.

"No one's saying there isn't a relative smattering of bad guys in Libya. After all, there always have been goons in the country," the official told Reuters.

"But let's get real here. This is, at its core, an anti-Gaddafi uprising rooted in major opposition to a repressive regime that has brutalized its own people for decades."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice agreed that any al Qaeda involvement with the rebels was limited.

Asked whether she had seen any evidence to support Stavridis' assessment, Rice told Fox News: "I would like to think I'm reading much of the same stuff and no."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made clear the wisps of information on al Qaeda and Hezbollah that Stavridis had alluded to were not based on hard intelligence.

"We do not have any specific information about specific individuals from any organization who are part of this, but of course, we're still getting to know those who are leading the Transitional National Council," she said in London after a conference on Libya.

Gaddafi's troops on Tuesday reversed the westward charge of rebel forces as world powers met in London more than a week after the United States and other nations launched a military campaign aimed at protecting Libyan civilians.

"SMALL NUMBERS"

"Think in terms of very small numbers of Libyan rebels being affiliated with al-Qaeda," a U.S. official familiar with internal government reporting told Reuters. "While there are some limited connections, don't think that the rebels are somehow being led by al Qaeda. That's just not the case."

Even as the rebels struggle against Gaddafi's better-armed, better-organized troops, Stavridis said the Libyan leader was likely to go if the coalition brought a range of military power to bear against him.

"If we work all the elements of power, we have a more than reasonable chance of Gaddafi leaving, because the entire international community is arrayed against him," he said.

Two national security officials and a former White House counterterrorism expert said they could not confirm, and were puzzled by, Stavridis' assertion that intelligence showed possible involvement of Hezbollah with Libyan rebels.

Juan Zarate, a former counterterrorism advisor on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said he had no information to confirm Hezbollah involvement and it would be "incongruous" with what U.S. experts generally understand to be the makeup of Libyan rebel forces.

"I would find it unlikely at this stage that we have hard and fast evidence" that these groups are involved in a significant way in Libya, Zarate told Reuters.

Senators' questions at the hearing about the make-up of the Libyan opposition reflected skepticism in Congress about the Obama administration's preparedness for a campaign that came together quickly after weeks of speculation about whether the United States would intervene.

It also underscores worries about who might take over in Libya if Gaddafi does go.

"It's premature to say what is our exit strategy until we have a little more clarity moving forward," Stavridis said.

The Libya campaign has also intensified fears in Congress about the high cost of military activities overseas.

The war in Afghanistan, for example, costs the United States around $9 billion a month. Stavridis said the Libya mission had cost "hundreds of millions of dollars" so far.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball. Writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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Comments (15)
NobleKin wrote:
Interesting blurb.

Is this loose reporting a means by which Republicons can gain a toe hold to say the President supports terrorists?

The disgusting commentary from most on the Right last night was two sided and laughably contradictory. On the one hand they say even with the speed of this operation as a cohesive multinational effort it was too slow and should have been done sooner (so they can cling to the weak “dithering” argument) and on the other hand they are saying: Well, we really don’t know who these rebels are and what they want. (i.e. we shouldn’t have supported this effort without knowing more about the people we are helping) as in being more deliberate and taking more time to attack. What? Can you really present these arguments in the same breath in an attempt to attack the President?

And can anyone really listen to and support the commentators when they do this?

Republicon artistry at its most pathetic.

On the other hand, reporting of this sort is predictively preemptive as a “just in case” statement to say, we were the first to report it, without the need for substance.

What exactly is a flicker anyway? Is that like a spark? or a glowing ember? or rumor? myth? bogeyman story?

Amazing.

Mar 29, 2011 11:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
tomwinans wrote:
Examine all that you want. I think terrorists are quite capable of masquerading, and I believe our best intelligence has been duped before. More distressing, we have willingly consorted with the enemy …

It is never right to do wrong to do right …

Mar 29, 2011 11:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
dannnnnR wrote:
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I’ve been preaching this for 2 weeks in comments sections. Gaddafi was not for from the truth, and the U.S. has known about this for some time. They were in quiet diplomacy with Libya since the late ’90s, and Gaddafi was getting tamer and tamer, and was suppressing Jihadist elements infiltrating the East.

McCain has no idea what he’s asking for in a new government if everyone supports the revolution, or simply says its in support of civilians. Every country in the Middle East has a unique personality. You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to each one.
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Mar 29, 2011 12:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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