The West missed out on the Arab revolt owing to misconceptions and mishandling. This was the key conclusion US and NATO intelligence chiefs reached at their first get-together in the eleven months of uprisings at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, just west of Washington, D.C in the third week of September.
Reporting here on this meeting for the first time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive sources disclose that in three days of deliberations, the top American and other Western intelligence chiefs agreed that the Arab uprisings had got out of hand and were swerving around in directions that were far from Western goals and interests.
They nailed four factors as responsible for this unfortunate outcome:
1. NATO’s military intervention in Libya achieved little beyond the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi from power. Its military performance and use of air, naval and ground forces (including the unacknowledged French and British special units) were judged “ineffectual and in many instances pathetic.”
The alliance is therefore not up to any further military expeditions in other parts of the Middle East, they concluded – except possibly for very small, tightly-focused operations – and should count itself out of major military interventions in any other Arab uprisings in the coming year.
In any case, the vetoes Russian and China cast Wednesday morning Oct. 5 to defeat a UN Security Council motion calling on Syria to desist from its brutal crackdown on dissent, effectively shut the door on any possible NATO repeat of its Libyan venture and ironically reinforced the Langley conclave's conclusion.
Ex-al Qaeda is the de facto ruler of Tripoli and other parts of Libya
2. The bid to replace toppled Arab regimes with pro-Western Arab democracies was a complete flop.
Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council -TNC is a prime example. A purportedly pro-Western interim administration was rushed into place without planning or strategic forethought. The result was a product vastly at odds with the kind of regime the West sought to set up by having NATO intervene on the side of the revolt.
The de facto government headed by the TNC which is in the process of taking power today was judged by the conference participants as fit for no governing role other than TV appearances and photo-ops at international forums.
3. The United States and NATO powers failed to fashion a new political system and administration capable of taking the reins of army and rebel forces, a repeat of their failure in Iraq.
Washington started out with a plan to fly Lt. Gen. Khalifa Belqasim Haftar from his Virginia exile to the rebel seat of Benghazi and place him in supreme command of all Libyan forces. This plan was stymied by the ex-al Qaeda rebel faction of the NTC which seized control of Tripoli and other parts of Libya in the wake of Qaddafi's flight.
4. Al Qaida, far from being crippled and fragmented by Osama bin Laden's death in Pakistan on May 2, has adapted itself remarkably well to the unrest generated by the Arab uprisings and is swimming strongly with the turbulent currents surging through the Middle East and Africa.
Elements identified with al Qaeda past or present are top dogs not only in Tripoli but swathes of both halves of Libya, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, and have moved into Darna and Tobruk near the Egyptian border. They pretend to submit to the authority of the NTC in Benghazi but carefully keep its officers out of their new fiefs.
AQIM and AQAP are now interconnected by sea
For the first time since the early 1990s, militias linked to al Qaeda have gained unfettered control of some of the biggest ports of the Mediterranean and a military airfield, including the important terminal for the oil flowing from the Sarir Field in southern Cyrenaica.
The Western intelligence chiefs were therefore forced to acknowledge that as a result of the uprising in Libya, Al Qaeda had attained a grip on Tobruk which promises al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM – free access from its Saharan and Sahel strongholds to the sea.
These takeovers, which al Qaeda never dreamed of attaining prior to the Arab uprisings, were served it on a platter by NATO's backing for the rebels. .
From its situation in a central Mediterranean port, AQIM will be better able to coordinate its operations with the fraternal Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP which is steadily making inroads on southern Yemen and aiming for the major Red Sea port of Aden. (See a separate article in this issue.)
This success will provide al Qaeda with unrestricted access to the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf – a huge gain over its position in landlocked Afghanistan and Pakistani Waziristan sans access to shipping and air ports, least of all oil resources and facilities..
As will be shown in a separate article in this series, the Western intelligence chiefs meeting at Langley this week concluded that the war in Libyan has exacerbated the perils facing a host of countries now within al Qaeda's grasp, such as Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya.