x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Calls grow for international policing of Libya's peace

Concerns about Libya's political future give rise to calls for international assistance on the ground to assist the war-torn country.

Rebel fighters observe the fighting near the main Muammar Qaddafi's compound in Bab Al-Aziziya district in Tripoli on Tuesday.
Rebel fighters observe the fighting near the main Muammar Qaddafi's compound in Bab Al-Aziziya district in Tripoli on Tuesday.

The US president, Barack Obama, may need to reconsider his outright opposition to "American boots" on Libyan territory as the international coalition decides how to help rebels maintain security after Col Muammar Qaddafi has been deposed, a former top Washington adviser claims.

Despite concerns that external intervention on the ground could lead to Iraqi-style mayhem once the Col Qaddafi regime is removed, calls are growing for international involvement in policing the peace.

Such assistance would probably include an international force for some time to come "if order is to be restored and then maintained", according to Richard Haass, formerly director of policy planning at the US State Department and a close adviser to Gen Colin Powell, then former US secretary of state.

"The size and composition of the force will depend on what is requested and welcomed by the Libyan National Transitional Council and what is required by the situation on the ground," said Mr Haass, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Writing in the London-based Financial Times, he questioned the continued validity of Mr Obama's insistence that there would not be "any American boots on the ground".

"Leadership is hard to assert without a presence," he said.

At the very least, Mr Haass went on, the outside world should be prepared to send hundreds of military and police advisers assuming "elements loyal to the former regime mostly give up the fight, the rebels stay mostly united and the population stays calm."

At the other end of the spectrum, he suggested, was the need for an international force of several thousand troops. This was "costly and risky" but less so than producing a country in which the government was not in control of its own territory.

Mr Haass's call was echoed in remarks by Michael Burleigh, the British historian and author of Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism.

"Having helped topple Qaddafi, Britain and France will be duty-bound to offer advice and assistance to those making Libya's transition to democracy," he wrote in another UK newspaper, the Daily Mail.

The depth of coalition involvement, in what began as a mission to defend civilians from Col Qaddafi's forces but quickly developed into a regime-change operation, was illustrated again when Nato planes flew sorties in support of rebels battling to complete the defeat of the 69-year-old Libyan dictator after 42 years in power.

Even before yesterday's fast-moving events as rebels targeted Col Qaddafi's fortified Bab Al Aziziya compound, coalition jets had been engaged in the final push. Correspondents at a nearby hotel reported heavy smoke drifting across the city centre.

The risks of a backlash against foreign involvement in the post-conflict phase is countered by the reality, accepted and broadly welcomed by rebels, of five months of air strikes - 7,000 in all - and, at sea, the enforcement of blockades,

The UN resolution declaring a no-fly zone was passed in March and was given wide interpretation in its aim of protecting civilians menaced by the regime.

Mr Obama's Republican opponents suggest the toppling of Col Qaddafi was protracted because the US, wary of becoming embroiled in another conflict in a Muslim country, failed to employ the full weight of its own air power.

But two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, from Arizona and South Carolina respectively, pointed out in a statement cited by Forbes website that intervention in Libya would ultimately be judged "not on the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, but on the political order that emerges in its place".

The period to come is what Mr Haass calls the hard part. "It is one thing to kill the king and oust the ancient regime, it is something very different and much harder to put a better and lasting successor in its place."

He described the rebels as a disparate mix rather than a structured coalition, participants ranging from people formerly loyal to Col Qaddafi to Islamists.

Rebel leaders have constantly downplayed differences while acknowledging that a number of Al Qaeda supporters were taking part in the fighting.

Mr Haass also spoke of the crucial need to avoid looting and tribal warfare and said it was important captured regime leaders should be handed over to international authorities, with most Qaddafi supporters integrated into the new order. This would demonstrate that the world "[post-Qaddafi] Libya will be governed by law and not revenge or whim".

At a meeting in Dubai last week, National Transitional Council representatives discussed with officials from the US, UK, Canada, Italy and the UAE plans for transition from Qaddafi rule to the administration that will replace it.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the US was accelerating attempts to prepare rebels for government but remained opposed to US presence on the ground, reflecting Mr Obama's unwillingness to be drawn too deeply onto Libyan affairs.

"This is a Libya-led operation; they will be calling the shots," a senior Obama administration official was quoted a saying of rebel leaders. "We're obviously in close contact with them at various levels on an ongoing basis, but this is their mission."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae