The United States has a long and mixed record of supporting rebels in internal conflicts, so it should know that helping out anti-government forces can sometimes backfire. However, history may be about to repeat itself.
The international community permitted intervention in Libya to protect civilians from Colonel Gaddafi, but Washington wants to go further than that and is considering arming the rebels.
While officially denying that toppling Gaddafi is the objective of its involvement in Libya, President Obama has reportedly signed a secret order authorizing covert American support for rebel forces seeking to oust the Libyan leader.
“Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” Obama said just hours ago.
Critics of the US taking sides in a civil war warn of the consequences.
“We help to accelerate the chaos and in creating more chaos, which we think somehow we are going to be able to direct the outcome, it is the same hubris that has visited the United States in Iraq. The same hubris that keeps us pinioned in Afghanistan, causes us to believe that somehow we are going to direct the events and the outcome in Libya. We cannot do that, nor do we have the right to determine who the leader of Libya should be,” said Dennis Kucinich, US Representative (D-Ohio).
Many fear radical forces could take advantage of the chaos in Libya.
Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who renounced his Al-Qaeda affiliation in 2000, says he estimates 1,000 jihadists are among the rebels in Libya.
One Libyan rebel commander has openly admitted his fighters have Al-Qaeda links.
Other reports say terrorists seized Libyan surface-to-air missiles when arsenals were looted.
NATO intelligence reports claim “flickers” of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah have been found among the rebels in Libya, but maintain there is no reason to believe their presence is “significant.”
But a US military study three years ago said Libyans made up the second-largest group of jihadists in the world, right after Saudi Arabia.
All of that seems to have been discarded as the US is trying to prop up the opposition in Libya, as some analysts say, in an attempt to forge a relationship with them which would be favorable for the United States in the future.
Experts say as of now, the opposition in Libya hardly has a defined face, or power.
The head of Russia’s State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev predicts that, “These people will not be able to take control over the situation as soon as the current regime goes. And that means that somebody else will be tempted to take over the country. We know that the only well-organized force, not in the country but in the region, is unfortunately Al-Qaeda.”
Dennis Kucinich says arming the rebels could backfire.
“We’ve been in this situation in Afghanistan. One day we help people and the next day they shoot at us. If we are not cautious about military intervention, the blowback is sure to happen in Libya.”
In Afghanistan, back in the ’80s, the US had a narrow goal – to help the mujahideen fight Soviet troops. Subsequently the same mujahideen militants turned their weapons and training against the US.
Among them was Osama Bin-Laden, whose group eventually evolved into Al-Qaeda.
Vince Cannistraro, CIA analysis and operations chief in the 1980s, says back then the US did not see the dangers of arming Afghan militants.
“No they didn’t think about what would happen. That what we were seeing was the tribal society, that breaking up separate tribes would be leading to the construction of the Taliban,” Cannistraro said.
More than two decades after arming the Afghan mujahideen, America is now considering giving weapons to another rebel band with an unclear identity – simply because of who they are fighting against.