Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who Are Libya's Rebels?

The U.S., Western allies and the Arab states are trying to learn all they can about Libya's rebels, a rag-tag army who's enlistees appear to be a very loosely held political entity, at first look. 

Ali Tarhouni, a University of Washington economist who returned to Libya a month ago after 35 years in exile and now finds himself finance minister of the rebel government, is not afraid to admit the shortfalls of the rebel fighters.

“The process was, and is, very chaotic,” Tarhouni told The New York Times.

There is much to learn about these revolutionaries, experts say.

"Well we don’t know too much about the rebellion. We have been putting some emphasis on the foreign minister of interior Abdul Fataunis but other than him we really don't know too much about this opposition," Steven Cook, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, said on ABC's "Top Line" program."

"We have essentially intervened in a civil war. What we are trying to do through the implementation of the no-fly zone is essentially level the field so that the revolutionary forces will have somewhat of a fighting chance against Gadhafi's much superior military forces,” Cook added.

The Interim National Council named Mahmoud Jabril to head an interim government and assemble a cabinet, as rejuvenated rebels in Benghazi began taking steps towards toward forming their own government.

Some rebels in other parts of the country complained the government should not be formed until the war is over and it appears there will be some wrangling over that issue. There are deep divisions in Libya's tribal society.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with Jabril, and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz has convened his own meetings with leaders of the rebel's fledgeling Interim National Council, the provisional government based in Benghazi. President Obama has named an envoy to the rebels.

Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, who defected from Gadhafi to lead the rebel army, "has perhaps the most challenging job of all in eastern Libya: organizing a coherent fighting force that can mount an invasion of the west — something that will be difficult even after an extensive foreign bombing campaign," the STRATFOR military intelligence service said.

The lack of information and relationships with the rebels has slowed the "confidence-building" process, and because of that, it has hampered efforts to coordinate with the rebels, Yahoo reported on its Middle East diplomatic intelligence and security blog.

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