On May 15, the US government announced the restoration of normal relations with Libya and the removal of that North African country from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
The announcement came out of the blue, 26 years after relations were severed and 27 years after Libya was blacklisted as a sponsor of terrorism. The people most baffled were those who were generally in the know about US-Libyan relations. They knew it was planned – but not before the end of 2006 – at the earliest.
Some commentators linked the surprise step to the Iranian nuclear crisis; others, to the price of oil.
Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs David Welch compounded the mystery by saying obscurely: “The decision is not because Libya has oil… but because they’ve addressed our national security concerns” – without further explanation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources have learned that the White House decided to jump-start the restoration of relations with Libya by six to eight months in order to rope Col. Muammer Qaddafi in for the effort to curb the worsening crisis in Darfur.
The last two weeks saw an onrush of urgent diplomatic steps to alleviate the disaster.
May 5, a series of peace accords were signed in the Nigerian capital of Abuja by the Sudanese government and some of the militias fighting in Darfur. The African sponsors of the accord gave the two militias holding out against signing a two-week ultimatum to lay down arms or face international sanctions. The ultimatum runs out Friday, May 19.
Monday, May 15, representatives of African rulers called on Sudan from Addis Ababa to waive its opposition to the 7,000-strong African force for Darfur – AMIS – falling under the aegis of the United Nations peace force still to be set up.
Finally, on May 16, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on the parties to the Darfur conflict to implement the peace accords to the letter and the acceleration of preparations for creating the UN force.
Seven thousand peace troops cannot control an area the size of France
At that point, the US government decided that none of those steps would suffice; it would be four to six months before the UN resolution and actions on the ground began to take effect on the human calamity in the embattled Sudanese region, which has already claimed 250,000 deaths, or put a stop to the savage onslaught of the Arab militias and the janjaweed on their African tribal victims.
Washington decided that the atrocities cannot be allowed to go on this long and that horrified world and American opinion would not tolerate any further foot-dragging.
US diplomats, after playing a lead role in the international moves, were accordingly instructed to go for a short cut. They approached Libya with a request for secret talks with Qaddafi for his personal intervention in the Darfur conflict.
Our intelligence sources reveal that this diplomatic side path was broached on the strength of the picture painted by US undercover agencies:
1. The 7,000 UN troops to be deployed in Darfur have no chance of exercising control over an area the size of France. To be of any use in halting the conflict, a far larger force is needed, consisting of thousands of men trained in guerrilla combat and backed up by armored units able to move fast in desert terrain, aerial reconnaissance and patrol units, and a helicopter fleet capable of rapidly moving forces from end to end of the territory.
A military resource on this scale is beyond the United Nations membership. The world body also lacks the funds and logistical strength to deploy large-scale units.
In other words, even after the UN Security Council resolution is executed and the peace force on the ground, it can achieve at best partial containment of the slaughter in Darfur; not end it.
2. Libyan intelligence is the only undercover body with a presence among the Darfur combatants unrivalled even by the Sudanese government.
3. All intelligence activity in the region is personally controlled by Qaddafi.
Qaddafi pays all the militias stipends
“It must be said frankly,” a senior American official close to US decision-making on Darfur told DEBKA-Net-Weekly, “that Libyan intelligence maintains agents in the camp of every militia chief operating in Darfur, even those from places outside the province, including Sudan itself.”
He added: “That is not to say that the Libyans are behind the actions of any of those militias, but it can be said truly that if Qaddafi decides against a certain militia performing some action, that action will very likely not take place.”
The official went on to uncover one of the ways in which Libya has on the quiet aided America’s “national security concerns.”
“Qaddafi and Libyan intelligence recently extended impressive professional help against al Qaeda’s penetration of the Sahara region, especially Mauritania,” said the official.
(See DNW 245 of March 10: They Set up First Terrorist Home Base in a Tiny Mauritanian Mining Town.)
He concluded optimistically: “If they are as good as their word on Darfur and move as fast, we can look forward to a substantial decline in attacks and massacres very soon.”
A North African intelligence source contributed further details in a conversation with DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources.
“Qaddafi has always made sure he has tight control over the militias involved in Darfur, mainly because of his interest in the natural resources of neighboring Chad. All those militia commanders and officers receive regular stipends from Libyan intelligence. To put it bluntly, he has the clout if he wishes to remove any of their fingers from the trigger. The Libyan ruler therefore commands the most direct means available for substantially curtailing the conflict – if not ending it outright.”
Both those sources agreed that Qaddafi was the best answer for President George W. Bush‘s quest for a short cut to curb the slaughter in Darfur in the shortest possible time.