14 March 2011
The news that the Arab League, along with the US and many European countries, now supports the Libyan opposition’s calls for imposing a ‘no-fly zone’ against Colonel Gaddafi is welcome. Imposing a no-fly zone is a valuable first step towards halting Gaddafi’s military offensive against the opposition and towards helping the Libyan people to drive him from power. By itself, however, a ‘no-fly zone’ is not a complete solution to the Libyan problem and it will not end either the Gaddafi regime’s offensive against rebel-held areas or his forty-year reign of terror. Indeed, with Gaddafi’s forces now mounting an increasingly successful counter-offensive against the opposition, imposing a no-fly zone alone risks being too little, too late.
Quilliam therefore proposes the following urgent actions in order to halt the Gaddafi family’s indiscriminate campaign of terror and to help the Libyan opposition to build up a military and governmental organisation that can defeat and then replace that of Gaddafi. There is a clear legal remit for the international community to take action. Clear evidence that the Gaddafi regime is perpetuating mass and indiscriminate violence against civilians and non-combatants, including against unarmed demonstrators, means that international laws are being presently violated. In addition, if the Gaddafi regime re-takes the country, its revenge against the opposition will be protracted and bloody. The international community therefore has a clear legal mandate to act to prevent both current and future violence. Further delay will likely further lead to the strengthening of the Gaddafi and the further weakening of the opposition.
Key recommended actions:
1. The international community needs to declare, impose and enforce a ‘no-fly zone’. Libya’s Interim National Council, the country’s main opposition movement, has itself repeatedly requested such action. The Arab League’s support for this proposal, seconded by the US, is only the first step towards actually implementing it. The involvement of Arab and Muslim-majority countries in such military action is vital to the political success of such action. The First Gulf War can be a model in this regard. To augment this, a ‘no drive zone’ could also be imposed against Libya’s military equipment such as tanks, artillery and naval assets to restrict their ability to fight the opposition and to terrorise Libya’s civilian population.
2. The international community should recognise the Interim National Council as the legitimate government of Libya. The INC, Libya’s main opposition grouping, currently controls a considerable part of the country and likely enjoys the support of more Libyans than the Gaddafi family. Recognising the INC will also allow it access to Libyan funds abroad and to the proceeds of oil sales. International recognition will also make it easier both legally and politically to take further action against the Gaddafi regime. France has already recognised the INC. Other countries need to quickly follow suit.
3. Offer to share intelligence with the Interim National Council. The international community can offer real-time intelligence to the INC in support of its military and political actions against Gaddafi’s forces. This will greatly strengthen the INC’s military efforts at little or no cost to the international community. It will also build trust between the INC and international actors and create the basis for a long-term relationship.
4. Offer military co-operation to the Interim National Council. The international community should be prepared to carry out surgical strikes at the request of the INC. If the INC requests it, such strikes could specifically target the Gaddafi family and their key followers. Military training can also be offered to the INC in specific areas to meet shortfalls. The use of international Special Forces can also potentially be offered to the INC in order to undertake key tasks.
5. Jam broadcasts by Gaddafi’s regime. Gaddafi’s continuing control of the Libyan media is major factor in his continuing ability to control and marshal his followers. The regime’s military radio network can also be jammed or, failing that, destroyed. The INC can also be helped to establish their own broadcasting facilities (i.e. mobile satellite transmission systems) in order to spread their message across Libya. Currently Gaddafi is monopolising such communications within Libya – to the clear detriment of the opposition.
6. Offer civil support to the Interim National Council. The INC can be offered support in creating a viable government in their own areas. Programmes can also particularly be put in place to help the INC develop political institutions and to become as broad-based and representative as possible. The international community can also offer to bring together the disparate Libyan opposition factions in order to present a more organised and united front against Gaddafi.
7. Provide humanitarian aid via the Interim National Council. The distribution of food, water, oil and medical supplies has been badly disrupted in many opposition-held areas of eastern Libya. This is not just leading to a humanitarian crisis but is also undermining popular support for the opposition and the INC. This issue needs to be rapidly addressed.
Taken together, such steps would rapidly undermine the Gaddafi’s regime’s ability to fight on and to mobilise its followers. These steps will also greatly empower the opposition forces and make them a more credible and effective alternative to Gaddafi, both militarily and politically. Perhaps most importantly, these steps would tangibly demonstrate to the many Libyans who are yet not actively committed to either side that the international community is firmly against Gaddafi and that it is consequently safe for them to come out in support of the opposition. At the moment, many Libyans have not joining the uprising simply because they believe that Gaddafi will ultimately defeat the opposition and then initiate brutal reprisals against all those who supported them.
Nb. There is no conceivable or foreseeable need for large-scale deployment of Western or foreign ground troops in Libya. The INC have adequate followers and supporters. If they receive sufficient support from the international community as outlined above, they will be able to conduct all major ground military operations themselves. External military advisors working with – and at the request of – the Libyan opposition (as was done with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001 and with Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq in 2003) can nonetheless also have a huge additional impact if used wisely.
Noman Benotman, a Libyan senior analyst at Quilliam who prior to the recent violence had acted in his private capacity as an intermediary between Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi and the Libyan Isla
mic Fighting Group (LIFG) of which he was formerly a senior member, said:
‘For the last forty years, the Libyan people have been the victims, first of the brutal Gaddafi regime, and then in the 1990s of the violent clashes between the regime and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, of which I used to be a leader. From 2007 until the start of the recent Libyan uprising I acted as an intermediary between the Libyan government and the LIFG in order to resolve both these issues within the framework of a broader democratic resolution of Libya’s problems. This process resulted in the LIFG’s rejection of jihadist violence and the release of over 700 people from Libya’s prisons.
‘At the same time it is clear to me that the Gaddafi regime has to go in order for real representative democracy to be established in Libya. If done correctly, an intervention by the international community to help the Libyan people remove the Gaddafi regime will have the support of most Libyan people. There is no time to waste. Action is needed immediately or else the Libyan opposition risk being defeated – with disastrous consequences for the Libyan people.
‘For many years Saif al-Islam presented himself to many people – including myself – as a reformer and a moderate. It is now clear that he is no such thing. He has utterly betrayed those who took his words at face value and has shown himself to be just as bad as his father, Colonel Gaddafi. The international community should consider conducting a broad democratic intervention to help the Libyan people to achieve their main goals – the removal of the Gaddafi regime and the establishment of their own democratic government.’
Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam’s director, said:
‘The mismanaged inventions of Iraq and Afghanistan should not deter us from taking action in Libya. Just as intervening can sometimes be wrong, so not intervening can also be wrong. The examples of the First Gulf War and of Kosovo show us how humanitarian intervention can work. If done right, intelligent intervention can restore the West’s reputation in the region as a force for good.
‘In the long-run the establishment of democratic, accountable and legitimate governments throughout the Middle East is the best cure not only for jihadism but also for Islamism and political extremism in general. Ordinary people across the Middle East are today crying out for international assistance. We cannot afford to stand idly by and see these democratic movements crushed. The time for talking has past. The time for action is now.’