Libyan Rebels Look For Way Out

Turning the tide in Libya could require more than the US is willing to shoulder

Armed with outdated, barely functioning weapons, it seems Libyan rebels will be unable to overthrow Col. Gadhafi without additional support—support on top of what they’ve been given by NATO already. While the United States is wary of igniting a third protracted war in the region, the reality of the situation is beginning to sink in on Capitol Hill.

U.S. involvement in the war escalated on April 21 with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to take outtargets, while still keeping boots off the ground.

The following day, during a visit to Benghazi, Libya, Sen. John McCain called on the United States to take this a step further. McCain called for “close air-support and precision strike assets—such as A-10s and AC-130s,” as well as giving “command and control support, battlefield intelligence, training, and weapons” to rebels, according to a statement.

Arming the rebels may be a necessary step if they are going to win the war, but doing so carries concern of where the weapons will end up—and what they’ll be used for—when all is said and done.

The United States has a rocky history with this: Weapons given to the Mujahedeen fighting the Soviets are now used by the Taliban; weapons given to Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s wound up being used to kill civilians; and similar cases happened elsewhere.

The take-home lesson for the United States and NATO is that if they do not help Libya have a soft landing into democracy through nation-building efforts—a costly endeavor all coalition countries would rather avoid—then weapons given in good faith could become oppressive tools of yet another regime.

“I think you’ve got to be careful when you start arming people because the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend,” said Drew Berquist, former U.S. intelligence officer, and author of “The Maverick Experiment,” by phone.

Typically, when the United States has armed groups in the past, it was done with “very strategic plans as to who we’re arming, when, and why,” Berquist said.

Because of the way the Libyan rebellion started—taking its lead from Egypt’s Facebook and Twitter revolution—organizations are being formed as they go. And the end goal is now being arranged though The Interim Transitional National Council, steering the country toward elections and writing a constitution.

U.S. and NATO involvement in the conflict, likewise, was a quick decision meant to prevent a humanitarian disaster. “A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful—yet fragile—transitions in Egypt and Tunisia,” President Barack Obama said in a March 28 speech.

Read the full story here.