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Former US spy speak out about Libya

Interview on Libya crisis with Colonel Anthony Shaffer former Dia officer now tv commentator and bestseller writer

Syria’s bloody mess, Iraq’s State fading, Egypt’s democratic step back and Libya’s quagmire are just a short list of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) area crisis record. The background elements are the US withdrawal from this area to better focus on Asia, and the coming back of an old fashion “colonial” style policy of some European and Gulf states; both are component of chaos receipt. We have asked an assessment about the Libyan scenario to a former US Defense intelligence agency officer, bestseller writer (Operation Dark Heart) and main TV channels foreign affairs commentator, Colonel (Ret.) Anthony Shaffer. A different point of view that could help to avoid other mistakes on the Libyan “s**t show” as stated by president Barack Obama. The suggestion  of Shaffer about the European stepback and the local neighbors (Tunisia and Egypt)  step forward opens to the real debate. Are Egypt, with al Sisi downgrading regime and Tunisia still not stabilized democracy fit for the task? 
Last March, some European press exposed a Libya plan – basically a division of the Country into three sectors: Italian (Tripoli), British (Tobrouk) and French (Fezzan). A map of national interests (oil companies) with the overview of the United States. This looks like a black&white documentary coming from Seventies – with different sponsors: the UN, Italy, Turkey, Qatar and the US backing Serraj’s new executive; the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE supporting Haftar ambitions.

Colonel Shaffer, is such a plan credible?

The European plan for Libya (Italy, France and England) is a totally return to colonial ideology that could not work in XX century and I think will not work now. Frankly the issue regarding Gheddafi, I mean the toppling of Gheddafi, was a blind ambition by the European nations, takinfor grant that removing Gheddafi would make things easier for them. It was completely a miscalculation and Europeans are suffering for that now. The key issue is to address it rapidly to bring some level of stability to the region. European powers have to step back. I do believe that they have brought back the governance of the region, but the main military means for stability cannot be Europeans. For their own interests this choice could be counterproductive. 

What could be Tunisia’s role in this game and what the role of Egypt?

Tunisia is one of the two countries that have to lead to bring stability. The two neighbors are Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia, because is a main issue for them – they have jihadists troubling them and of course Egypt. I guess the presence of Egyptians in Libya has been underestimated. Let me be clear on this side. I met with General Mohammded Farid al Tuhami a couple of years ago (he was the Egyptian General Intelligence chief till December 2014). I’ve asked him if there was any problem with refugees coming from Libya. He laughed, “It is not a problem” he said. “The problem are the Egyptians that are running the Libyan economy if they decide to come back here”. He estimated about 3 millions of Egyptians that are really part of the infrastructure running the country. 

What is the role of the Gulf States like Qatar and Saudia Arabia?

I guess Gulf  States are in the same situation of the Europeans. I don’t think that jumping in is a good thing. Clearly, Saudis have to work with the Egyptians, they already gave to Cairo a large amount of money. I don’t know what could be the Gulf States diplomatic role but one of the issues on table is to put together the concepts for an Arab “NATO”. We called it the “Red Sea Treaty Organization”. A NATO-type of organization with Egypt, Gulf States and other Arab allies in the same military condominium. Until you reach a good level of stability, establish  a justification to use military force and settle  order, we will continue to see chaos. You have to build a coalition of an Arab front like in NATO, with the dual civil/military aspect. What I see in the long term is an establishment of an Arab NATO, so it could be a positive outcome for Libya. 

But Libya is a “yesterday” problem… (However, Libya is a problem of the past…)
Absolutely. So I see the proxy and motivated actors could be only Egypt and Tunisia. Only those who live there can bring a long-term stability. In the absence of a “strong man” (such was Gheddafi) you have to find a way for local governance that is actually effective. 
What about the UN and international-backed government of Sarraj?
I think it is too weak. It is not going to work. I guess the UN has not had too many good ideas about how to make things work, at least in the past twenty years. And this isn’t one either. In Libya you need stability to give time and space for governance and the UN did not find the combination. There you have a government, but not the capacity to rule. 
I have been living in Tunisia for the last three years, and it appears to me that Tunis government has enough problems to manage its own country to think it could put on its shoulder even Libya’s quagmire
Sure, they need international support, but what I mean is use Tunisia as a vector to solve Libyan problems because Europeans cannot go directly on the ground. Europeans cannot think their own economic interests without considering the regional stability in the long term. It is not the right solution. International coalition can put resources, forces and political power at work through Tunisia on one side and Egypt on the other. We have to think about regional stability, not only about Libya. Tunisia and Egypt could be the real anchors for this area’s stability. Tunisia is even the home, the starting point of the Arab Spring. There is a huge internal problem we have to deal with. I recommend Tunisians to focus on Libya together with Europeans.

Tunisia basically has two main issues. Enhance the legitimacy of the government, fighting corruption, for example. In the war against the Islamic States (IS, or Daeesh), people’s support is a key tool. The other is that Tunisians security forces need better training, even if Ben Guardane episode showed a positive reaction of the special forces (BAT)
Obviously that was a problem for the US in trying to build capacity of local government to actually be able to fight jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can state that even IS fighters are not so well trained either. 
According to US intelligence sources, in December 2014 there were no Daeesh training camps in Libya. That was not correct, since Ansar al Sharia Libya had been running training camps there on behalf of the ‘Black Caliph’, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at least since Spring 2014. I have interviewed tens of families of foreign fighters in Tunisia, and they all have confirmed that the ‘supply chain’ was connected to both Syria and Iraq, and that few of the new fighters have left to Libya. They all went under al-Baghdadi’s black flag. You are a notable intelligence expert, and may agree there have been gaps in information gathering by agencies on the ground. What do you think should be improved?

I agree with you. There was an attempt to diminish the role of Ansar al Sharia (Libya) now we know there is a presence of AS as well as of al Qaeda, and that ISIS moved on to occupy space. Or for example we know that Daeesh is trying to establish its economical center of gravity in Libya. They are acting to manipulate the refugees flow to Europe as well as they want leverage oil resources (even if with the embargo, traffic very difficult). We know that US SOF (Special Operations Forces) are there, I cannot be more detailed on this issue. But for sure the US have invested on SOF for a certain number of operations to target jihadist leadership in Libya. We can do everything following the list of wanted men, like ISIS or Ansar al Sharia.

 Daeesh recruiting model appears to be rather clear, and so is their way of preparing the ground in advance, where they intend to establish their ruling (see Tikrit and Falluja). Why does Western intelligence prefer to count black flags on the ground? It is not that the way IS operates. In 2014, Tikrit was taken by thirty jihadists thanks to a secret deal with local tribes and criminal gangs. 

That is the point. I predicted when Gheddafi was removed, that the country would fall back in big trouble. The same happened in Afghanistan, where we can find a similar situation. The tribes in Afghanistan have the main combat power. The Taliban were just recruiting tribe’s fighters. Just like in Libya, where IS doesn’t need to have a great number of fighters, they just recruit the tribes they are fighting. You don’t need to have a great deal of menpower till you can recruit the locals. The tribes are loyal to whoever they want.  
The Operations Division of the Italian foreign intelligence service, AISE, is already in Bengazi with one unit (a unit commander plus a certain number of operatives). However, it does not look like the Italian government is intentioned of starting any boots-on-the-ground mission. Last week the Italian Joint Chief of Staff denied a press release concerning some 900 Italian troops already deployed to Libya. (Or any at all). And the Italian Defense minister stated that it is not yet the time for military operations. What do you think about Rome’s “behavior” , and of the other European actors?

Europeans have to step back. They have to find a way in order to work with their proxies. Tunisians and Egyptians are the local actors. I believe that if some nations come on their own, it could be like an “imperial” move like they worked before. Europeans have to find a different way. They have to come with a campaign plan. Let the Egyptians organize a conference, put together a focus and objectives. And in short time I guess there is nothing of achievable because of such scale. 

What could be Turkey’s future role in Libya – if any – according to you?
Turkey’s issue is greatly discussed here in the US. They are member of NATO and they could and they should play a positive role. They have been involved in Libya – I have read some reports about what they are doing there. Now Turkey has its own issue with IS and with some radical elements of the Kurds. At this time, it seems that the Turkish are more focused, should be more focused, on their borders with Syria and Iraq. They can move on a diplomatic front with the UN and get involved in economic aspects, but I don’t see they could get involved in any military operation in Libya. They can bring some good opportunities for Libyan people working with the government. 

Any suggestion for a better intelligence approach that sometimes seems to lack “cultural” understanding about the real jihadist mindset

Sure, what we don’t fully understand is how IS members operate during their “business”. For example, Ansar al Sharia (Libya) during the night of Bengasi attack. They were using heavily social media telling what they were doing. It was all actually on the internet. State Department literally dazed wandering if it was authentic. 

Pierre Chiartano for Derin Ekonomi, Turkish magazine May 2016 issue



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This entry was posted on August 21, 2016 by in analisys and tagged , , , , , .
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