Libyans say few questions being asked about attack
U.S. ambassadors killed in the line of duty: U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens is the eighth American ambassador to die in the line of duty since 1950. Here are the others.
By Michael Birnbaum and Anne Gearan, Published: October 3
The Washington Post
BENGHAZI, Libya — Three weeks after the attack that killed four Americans in this city, the investigation of its causes remains in its initial stages, with just a handful of suspects detained, the crime scenes minimally secured and Walid Faraj waiting for a phone call from someone, anyone, asking him what he saw on the night he was injured while protecting the U.S. diplomatic post here.
Faraj, a member of the militia that local officials tasked with securing Americans in Benghazi, said he saw the attack nearly from start to finish. But neither American nor Libyan investigators have paid him a visit, even as he fears that the perpetrators know who he is.
In Washington, a leading House Republican challenged on Tuesday the administration’s version of events on the chaotic night of Sept. 11, suggesting that the attack was planned and that congressional investigators have been told that requests for increased security at the U.S. diplomatic outpost had been turned down.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) listed incidents dating to April that he said created a pattern of threats.
Some of the incidents had been disclosed earlier, but others appeared to be new revelations. In one case, he said, Libyans working as private security guards at the U.S. compound were warned by family members in the weeks before the assault to quit their jobs because of rumors of an impending attack. He did not specify where the information originated.
“These events indicated a clear pattern of security threats that could only be reasonably interpreted to justify increased security for U.S. personnel and facilities in Benghazi,” Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote to Clinton.
Clinton assured Issa in a reply released by the State Department that the department would “work collaboratively with you to achieve the result we both want: a full and accurate accounting of the events and a path forward to prevent them from happening again.”
She said the department’s investigation will begin this week.
Meanwhile, an FBI team flown into Libya remains in Tripoli, hundreds of miles from Benghazi. A Libyan official involved in the inquiry said Tuesday that he was aware of only three suspects in custody. Meanwhile, members of the militant group suspected of playing a primary role in the attack have gone underground, apparently taking their weapons with them.
Faraj said he wondered whether anyone was trying to find out what happened the evening that U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed along with three other Americans.
“Since that day, nobody has called, nobody cared,” said Faraj, 28, who lost a tooth in the attack and whose legs are peppered with small wounds from the firefight. “How is it the Americans didn’t anticipate anything?”
Witnesses are scattered across Benghazi, a port town where the uprising that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi began. But many say they haven’t heard from investigators.
The U.S. and Libyan governments have not finalized a deal to allow American investigators to collaborate with Libyans in Benghazi, said Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz following a meeting in Tripoli with Elizabeth Jones, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Reuters reported.
“We are getting ready for the FBI team to go to Benghazi and meet with our team and start joint investigations together and also visit the site,” he said.
Jones talked to Libyans about ensuring “that we are collaborating, that we are being transparent, that we are sharing information,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. outpost remained deserted on Tuesday, with no guards posted at its front or rear entrances. Although its gates are now locked, the crime scene was unsecured for several days after the assault, allowing looters and others to cart away evidence.
A top prosecutor in Benghazi who is on a committee investigating the incident said on Tuesday that only three suspects have been detained in Benghazi in connection with the attack.
“We are still collecting evidence,” said Salah Adam, the prosecutor. “You can’t arrest anybody unless you have evidence.” He said the investigation probably will take months.
In Washington, Issa and Chaffetz asked Clinton to detail any requests from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for more security for U.S. installations. Their letter asks her to say by Monday whether the State Department knew about the incidents and what it did to respond. Nuland said Clinton intends to fully cooperate with the request and with a hearing slated for Oct. 10.
Nuland would not say whether there had been requests for more security, citing the State Department’s investigation.
“I think it’s fair to say that we are still working through what we have in this building in terms of documentation, in terms of information about what we knew, who knew it, when they knew it, and that’s part of the process that we have to go through,” she said.
The State Department’s five-member investigating team has not yet met, Nuland said. The department said nearly two weeks ago that the inquiry will be led by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. Clinton told Issa on Tuesday that retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also among the investigators.
Gearan reported from Washington.
After Benghazi attacks, Islamist extremists akin to al-Qaeda stir fear in eastern Libya
Abigail Hauslohner/THE WASHINGTON POST - Concrete debris and twisted metal cover the ground at a base that was until recently controlled by the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, an extremist militia in Darna, Libya. When local authorities tried to take control of the base, an explosion ripped through this main building.
By Abigail Hauslohner,
The Washington Post Saturday, October 27, 9:05 AM
DARNA, Libya — Operating from the shadows, armed Islamist extremists are terrorizing the eastern Libyan city of Darna, six weeks after the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi threw a spotlight on Libya’s growing religious extremism.
A campaign of bombings and death threats aimed at Libyan government targets is being blamed on armed Islamist extremists, including the city’s most powerful militia, the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, whose ideology residents say is akin to al-Qaeda’s.
What is unfolding here may be the most extreme example of the confrontation underway across Libya, underscoring just how deeply the fundamentalists have sown their seeds in the security vacuum that has defined Libya since the fall of Moammar Gaddafi last September.
The extremists have continued to operate here despite the popular backlash that followed last month’s attack in Benghazi, 156 miles to the west, and despite fears of possible retaliation by the United States, whose unmanned drone aircraft can now be heard humming overhead almost every day.
For now, the militants appear to have taken cover in urban homes and farms in the remote Green Mountains that surround the city. But officials say the local government remains powerless to stop them, even as the extremists push their ideology just as fervently as before.
“No one will stop anyone from doing anything,” said Fathalla al-Awam, the head of the largely toothless local council, and militants are free to come and go from the city and surrounding areas as they please. “There’s no police, no army and no militias. Nothing. It’s an open city from east and west.’’
Some Libyans say the extremist views are held much more broadly than just among the Islamist militias themselves, a fact they said the United States has failed to understand in the wake of the Benghazi attack. Not all of the extremists in Darna or elsewhere in Libya belong to a group, they said. But those who share al-Qaeda’s ideology are many, they said, and that creates ample opportunity for recruitment.
“It’s a way of thinking,” said Saad Belgassim, who used to work as a bureaucrat in Darna’s now defunct court system. “They kidnap people like they do in Afghanistan. They delude young people and send them off to bomb themselves.”
In some ways, the sway that Islamists hold here is not a surprise. Neglected, conservative and desperately poor under Gaddafi, Darna stood out for its fierce Islamist resistance to the old regime — and for sending more jihadists to Iraq during the U.S. occupation than any other place in Libya.
The latest bombing here came early Thursday morning, when an explosion ripped through a building on the city’s eastern outskirts that local authorities had hoped to use to support a new security force. Often, the locals say, the target is a car belonging to an official or journalist who has dared to defy the militias. A newly appointed police chief was slain in broad daylight last March with a quick round of bullets to the back as he filled up his tank at the gas station.
Those who adhere to the militias’ ideology said their goals are simple. They want the implementation of Islamic law, or sharia, and they want to see the United States pushed out of Muslim lands, said Tarik Sharqi, a fundamentalist imam in Darna, who residents said maintains a close relationship with Ansar al-Sharia, but who would only concede that “everyone in Darna is connected.”
Locals considered the drones they now hear buzzing overhead “a form of occupation,” he said, and Libyans would wage “jihad” to force them out.
Until a month ago, the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade occupied buildings and ran checkpoints around the city, operating alongside like-minded groups, including the local branch of Ansar al-Sharia, the prime suspects in the Benghazi attack.
“They were the police and they were the criminals at the same time,” said Hussein al-Misary, a local journalist. They pushed aggressively for Islamic law and threatened those who favored Tripoli’s vision of a central government and constitution. They even posted kill lists on anonymous jihadist Facebook pages, he said.
The first sightings of U.S. drone aircraft here were reported in July, in what American officials have said was an effort that preceded the Benghazi attack to gather intelligence on Libya’s extemist groups. Misary said it was those sightings that appear to have prompted militants from Ansar al-Sharia, headed by former Guantanamo inmate Abu Sufian bin Qumu, to disappear from his Darna beach house into the mountains, while members of the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade did not retreat until late September, after the Benghazi attack and in apparent response to U.S. warnings of retaliation.
At first the disappearances seemed hopeful, local authorities said. As the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade retreated, the elected local council laid claim to their sprawling main base, an old sports complex, aiming to make it a police headquarters.
Days later, a late-night explosion ripped through the base’s headquarters. Other explosions targeted the cars of a journalist and two local officials who had advocated loudly for the militias’ disbandment in the wake of the Benghazi attack. The elected authorities retreated.
“It looks like the militias are dissolved, but the reality is still the same,” said Awam of the local council.
Awam said the council tried repeatedly — before and since the militias’ disappearance — to establish a local police force.
But every man appointed to the top security position has buckled to death threats or car bombings that victims have linked to the militias.
The result has been a security void that locals said makes Darna the most precarious locale in Libya. Awam said his council has no way to confiscate the hoards of heavy weapons, including antiaircraft guns, heat-seeking missiles and tons of explosives, that the groups amassed during Libya’s revolution. The only way he could imagine solving the extremist problem now would be to give them what they want.
“I think if the government agrees to work within Islamic law, that could lead to an agreement with those groups,” he said.
Maybe, he added, that would at least quell the violence.
In the lawless aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall, Darna was an inevitable hub for extremism, officials said. And on an afternoon shrouded by storm clouds, it’s easy to see why. Yellow, dilapidated buildings slumped over sandstone cliffs toward a dark blue sea that no one swims in. There are few restaurants and no parks.
The city’s population has dwindled in recent years as those who have found the opportunity to get out do so, officials said.
That includes some 200 young men who have traveled to Syria in recent months to join the fight there, according to the local council.
“It’s the emptiness here — there is a lot of time to waste,” said Ebtisam Stieta, a member of the General National Congress (GNC) from Darna. “Most people feel like their lives are restricted, so they think only in terms of the front lines, death, and jihad.”
Over the past year, Stieta said she has lobbied the national authorities in Tripoli relentlessly to bring development opportunities to Darna to preempt the area’s potential slide into a new Yemen or Afghanistan.
“I told the ministers in the meeting that Libya should deal with these extremists first. Why are we waiting for the world to react?” she said, recounting a speech that was televised. The only people who did react were the residents of her home town.
“I immediately got death threats,” she said.
Belgassim, the former Darna bureaucrat, and others said they believed that Darna could still be saved. But awareness of the U.S. election, and President Obama’s promise “to hunt down” the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack, loom large here.
Many said they feared that U.S. pressure to retaliate for the Benghazi attack could push an already precarious situation even further over the edge. Both Sharqi and local officials predicted that a drone strike would earn the militants more friends than foes, drawing the support of foreign jihadists to an easily accessible fight, and turning Libya’s Green Mountains into a new Pakistan.
“If there are drone strikes, people will see it as Libyan sovereignty that’s being threatened,” Stieta said. “It might compel people to join these groups rather than go against them.”
Protesters disrupt Libya congress as it tries to vote on new government
By Abigail Hauslohner,
Oct 30, 2012 09:03 PM EDT
The Washington Post Wednesday, October 31, 5:03 AM
TRIPOLI, Libya — Protesters stormed Libya’s General National Congress on Tuesday, just as representatives were moving to vote on a government after months of political stalemate.
The protesters said they objected to several nominees in Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s proposed 27-member cabinet, including the minister of Islamic affairs, who they said was a secularist.
Amid the disruption, congressional leader Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf adjourned the vote until Wednesday morning. “Let it be known to all Libyans and to the whole world in what conditions we are working in,” he said during the session, which was televised.
The political impasse is rooted in an ongoing power struggle, as towns, tribes, Islamists and liberals compete for a say in the post-Moammar Gaddafi order.
Libyan officials said the absence of a functioning cabinet has hindered the government’s ability to address some of the most pressing issues in postwar Libya, including the security void in which hundreds of militias operate with impunity.
Members of the GNC, who were elected in July, said the stalemate has also slowed the government’s investigation of an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi last month that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
“It’s a tragic situation that we’re in,” said Ahmed Langhi, a member of congress who represents Benghazi. None of the government bodies charged with investigating the attack is functioning well, he said. “In the new government, all of these will work better.”
Libya’s prime minister-elect was dismissed this month after failing for the second time to secure the GNC’s approval for a new cabinet.
Many GNC members expressed frustration as they left the assembly hall Tuesday night. “You don’t want to be making decisions like this under that kind of pressure,” said Mohamed Ali Abdallah, a representative from Misurata.
The assembly will attempt to vote again Wednesday.
Ayman al-Kekly contributed to this report.
CIA rushed to save diplomats as Libya attack was underway
By Greg Miller, Nov 02, 2012 01:08 AM EDT
The Washington Post Friday, November 2, 7:01 AM
The CIA rushed security operatives to an American diplomatic compound in Libya within 25 minutes of its coming under attack and played a more central role in the effort to fend off a night-long siege than has been acknowledged publicly, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.
The agency mobilized the evacuation effort, took control of an unarmed U.S. military drone to map possible escape routes, dispatched an emergency security team from Tripoli, the capital, and chartered aircraft that ultimately carried surviving American personnel to safety, U.S. officials said.
Piecing together the latest reports on Chris Stevens' effort to boost consulate security and what it suggests about the lead-up to the attack.
The account provided by senior U.S. intelligence officials offers the most detailed chronology yet of the Sept. 11 assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. The attack has become a flash point in the U.S. presidential campaign.
The decision to give a comprehensive account of the attack five days before the election is likely to be regarded with suspicion, particularly among Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of misleading the public by initially describing the assault as a spontaneous eruption that began as a protest of an anti-Islamic video.
U.S. officials said they decided to offer a detailed account of the CIA’s role to rebut media reports that have suggested that agency leaders delayed sending help to State Department officials seeking to fend off a heavily armed mob.
Instead, U.S. intelligence officials insisted that CIA operatives in Benghazi and Tripoli made decisions rapidly throughout the assault with no interference from Washington.
“There was no second-guessing those decisions being made on the ground, by people at every U.S. organization that could play a role in assisting those in danger,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said in a prepared statement that summarized the chronology of the attack and was made available to news organizations.
The information does not address the main source of political controversy surrounding the siege: the shifting assessments offered by Obama administration officials over whether the assault was a protest that turned violent or a planned terrorist attack.
But officials reiterated that the initial intelligence was fragmentary and often contradictory. They said talking points for members of Congress and senior administration officials did not discuss possible links between the attackers and al-Qaeda because the information was classified.
“It wasn’t until after the points were used in public that people reconciled contradictory information and assessed there probably wasn’t a protest around the time of the attack,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.
The briefing and material provided Thursday focused on the hour-by-hour developments in Benghazi. Among the disclosures is that the CIA station chief in Tripoli sent an emergency security force, with about a half-dozen agency operatives as well as two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi aboard a hastily chartered aircraft while the attack was underway.
The team arrived after midnight and attempted to organize an effort to make its way to a hospital where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had been taken and was thought to be alive.
But the team was held up by a combination of the time required to secure transportation and arms from U.S.-allied Libyan militias, new reports that the ambassador was probably already dead and uncertainty about the security situation at the hospital.
Piecing together the latest reports on Chris Stevens' effort to boost consulate security and what it suggests about the lead-up to the attack.
The annex in Benghazi to which U.S. diplomatic personnel were evacuated was a CIA base that the agency had established as its first stronghold in Libya before autocrat Moammar Gaddafi was overthrown late last year.
U.S. officials said the CIA base learned of the assault on the nearby diplomatic compound in a desperate phone call about 9:40 p.m.
CIA security operatives assembled their gear and lined up vehicles even while agency officials sought, without success, to enlist Libyan militias that had been hired to provide security for the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
“Over the next 25 minutes, team members approach the compound, attempt to secure heavy weapons” from Libyans encountered along the way and “make their way onto the compound itself in the face of enemy fire,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.
Shortly after 11 p.m., an unarmed Predator drone diverted from another mission arrived over Benghazi and began providing video surveillance.
The CIA operatives appear to have been part of a broader group of U.S. security personnel and Libyan guards who made several attempts to fight their way into a structure known as “Villa C,” which served as the safe house and the VIP residence for the mission, and where Stevens had taken cover. Each time, the would-be rescuers were forced to retreat from heavy smoke and flames that had engulfed the structure.
By 11:30 p.m., “all U.S. personnel, except for the missing U.S. ambassador, depart the mission,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “The exiting vehicles come under fire.”
By then, attackers had also descended on the CIA compound, about a mile from the diplomatic facility. The “annex,” as the CIA base was known in internal documents, continued to come under small-arms and rocket fire sporadically over the next 90 minutes.
Then, about 1 a.m., the siege went suddenly quiet, a pause that would last until near daybreak, apparently leading CIA and State Department officials to think that the danger had passed.
In the “pre-dawn time frame, that team at the airport finally manages to secure transportation and armed escort and — having learned that the ambassador was almost certainly dead — heads to the annex to assist with the evacuation,” the official said.
The team arrived, accompanied by Libyan security elements, at 5:15 a.m., “just before the mortar rounds begin to hit the annex,” the official said. Other accounts have suggested that multiple mortars were aimed at the site, initially missing their target before striking the roof, where guards had taken position and were returning fire.
Two CIA contractors, both former Navy SEALs, were killed: Tyrone Woods, a security officer based in Benghazi, and Glen Doherty, who was part of the team rushed by air from Tripoli.
That final spasm of violence lasted 11 minutes, officials said. “Less than an hour later, a heavily-*armed Libyan military unit arrived to help evacuate the compound of all U.S. personnel,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.
The account, though the most comprehensive to date, still leaves a number of questions unresolved. Among them are why the single Predator overhead was unarmed and whether a model equipped with Hellfire missiles might have been able to strike the mortar launching site used by the attackers or otherwise disrupt the assault.
Another question is why “a heavily-armed Libyan military unit” was able to arrive at the annex around sunrise but was not available earlier despite presumably frantic U.S. calls.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.
In former Gaddafi stronghold, a sign of Libya’s deepening divide
Gaia Anderson/AP - A pro-government fighter celebrates the takeover of Bani Walid along the road leading to Misrata, Libya, on Oct. 25, 2012.
By Abigail Hauslohner, Nov 02, 2012 10:57 AM EDT
The Washington Post Friday, November 2, 6:57 PM
TARHOUNA, LIBYA — A year ago, the desert hilltop town of Bani Walid was one of the last loyalist strongholds to surrender to the rebel fighters who overthrew Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
But the new Libyan government never took full control of Bani Walid, and recently, hostilities have flared again. Pro-government forces launched an offensive in late September to take control of the town from high-profile Gaddafi loyalists, who they said were using it as a hideout.
Last week, after weeks of shelling, the militias said they had cleared Bani Walid and the government declared an end to the fighting, inviting those who had fled the violence to go back. But the militias defied the government’s orders and barred their return for more than a week, relenting only on Wednesday, when residents began trickling back to a battered town with no electricity or running water.
The still-tense situation in Bani Walid, about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, underscores just how little control Libya’s central government wields over even its most loyal militias, who are being called on to provide security and maintain order across the country. But it also illustrates the deepening divide between the winners and losers of last year’s revolution.
Residents of Bani Walid, members of the Warfallah tribe that populated many of the old regime’s highest posts, said there were no prominent regime figures in their town, despite earlier claims by the militias that they had captured former Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim and killed Gaddafi’s son Khamis there. Tripoli later acknowledged that these claims were probably false.
Rather, the town’s residents said the attack fell in line with a larger pattern of discrimination and harassment that Warfallah and other loyalist tribes had suffered since Gaddafi’s fall.
For nearly 10 months, people who live in Bani Walid said they had operated with relative autonomy. A pro-government militia known as the May 28th brigade had briefly seized control at the end of last year, but was forced out by a more popular local militia, they said.
But things changed over the summer when local fighters captured Omran Shaban, a fighter from Misrata, on the Mediterranean coast, who became a national hero after he found Gaddafi hiding in a drainage pipe in Sirte in October 2011.
Shaban died in Paris on Sept. 24, succumbing to injuries that his family said were inflicted through torture and gunshots during two months of detention in Bani Walid. Several residents of Bani Walid, interviewed this week, refused to discuss Shaban’s case.
His death prompted the government, the next day, to authorize the offensive on Bani Walid. But it was Misrata’s militias, allied with the local May 28th brigade, who led the assault, and then blocked the residents’ return, according to members of parliament, the country’s acting defense minister and locals.
On Monday, Libya’s acting defense minister told reporters that the state had no power over the situation.
Residents of Bani Walid agreed. “The government has no control over these militias,” said Hassan Sultan, who fled last week with his family to the nearby town of Tarhouna. Sultan said the militias were taking revenge on those who had been loyal to the Gaddafi regime, and he fears that they may continue their assaults. “There’s a rumor that Tarhouna is next.”
The same pro-government militias that had earlier kept residents out, including the May 28th brigade, on Wednesday were running checkpoints inside Bani Walid and searching people as they returned, residents said, adding that there was strong local opposition to the militias’ presence.
Witnesses who have seen the city in recent days, including Libya’s newly appointed justice minister, who visited over the weekend, described “very significant” damage. They said Bani Walid’s municipal buildings bore the marks of heavy shelling, and that homes appeared to have been looted and burned.
Omran Shaban’s brother Mohammed, who participated in the assault, said by phone Monday that the offensive was necessary because “the loyalists are causing so many problems for the security and stability of Libya.”
A growing mistrust
But the Bani Walid residents who were forced from their homes in the past month — who local aid groups said numbered in the tens of thousands — said the town had suffered the same fate as other loyalist strongholds that have succumbed to powerful ex-rebel militias since the fall of Gaddafi.
Clustered in temporary housing in the nearby town of Tarhouna, Bani Walid’s displaced echoed their opponents, the rebels-turned militia fighters, telling stories of bitterness and deepening mistrust toward the other side. They complained of arbitrary arrests and beatings at the hands of militias in the year since Gaddafi’s fall.
They said that townspeople had participated in the election for a General National Congress last summer, but that both of the town’s representatives were subsequently ejected, after being accused of favoring the old regime.
“I voted for whom I thought was appropriate,” said Abdel Salaam Ahmed, a Bani Walid resident who had sought refuge in Tarhouna. “But everyone we vote for is labeled a loyalist.”
Ahmed and others drew comparisons between Bani Walid and Tawergha, another former loyalist town still wanting for a postwar solution.
For their part, the residents of Misrata charge that Tawergha is to blame for the bulk of the atrocities and destruction inflicted on their own town during the war, when Misrata was the most war-ravaged locale in Libya.
A year after Gaddafi’s fall, the former residents of Tawergha continue to live in limbo. Misrata rebels arrested many of the men, and forced the rest of the town into exile across the country; their city battered, burned, and covered in hateful graffiti. The Misratans said the Tawerghans can never return. And officials in Tripoli have said the government is powerless to insist otherwise.
‘We can rebuild Libya’
Rights groups and legal experts said that it is the mounting list of unpunished atrocities — gruesome murders, torture, rape, and disappearances that took place both during the war and in the time since — that has fueled many of the conflicts in postwar Libya.
“It builds up reactions and hatred, and the feeling of victimization,” said Salah Marghani, a human rights lawyer who was named the country’s justice minister on Wednesday.
In the absence of a functioning court system and stalemated politics in Tripoli, central authorities have increasingly turned to tribal mediation as a means to navigate justice since the fall of the old regime.
Both pro-government militias and members of the national congress in Tripoli said they might invoke such a solution for Bani Walid. But real national reconciliation requires more than the “We’re all brothers, big hug” approach, Marghani said shortly before his appointment.
Rather, he said, Libya needs fact-finding missions, it needs prosecutors, and it needs central law enforcement. Libyans need to feel like justice is attainable, and abuses need to be prosecuted on both sides — in Bani Walid, in Misrata, in Tawergha and in other towns across the country.
It’s an often-mentioned goal in post-Gaddafi Libya, but one that has eluded officials in the past year of political turmoil. Many Libyan officials said they hoped that the approval of a new cabinet on Wednesday might help achieve it.
“We can’t bring back those who died,” said Marghani. “But we can have rule of law. We can pay reparations to the victims of both sides. We can rebuild Libya.”
Ayman al-Kekly contributed to this report.
Newest Benghazi Scapegoat: CIA’s David Petraeus
By Spencer AckermanEmail AuthorNovember 2, 2012 | 11:36 am
CIA Director David Petraeus rings the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, Sept. 18, 2012. Photo: Flickr/CIA
There’s an unexpected casualty of the September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya: the reputation of David Petraeus, the celebrated Army general turned CIA director. For among the first times in his career, a bureaucratic effort to throw Petraeus under the bus is showing through in the press.
Last week, a Fox News story portrayed the CIA as doing practically nothing while the consulate burned. The CIA pushed back against that on Thursday, telling reporters that two different CIA teams, one on hand at the Benghazi compound and the other rushing in from Tripoli, played an active role in repelling the hours-long assault that ultimately left four Americans dead. But not everyone is happy about the CIA’s performance — including that of its director.
The Wall Street Journal cites several anonymous officials who go after Petraeus hard. The CIA, operating out of an “annex” near the 13-acre consular compound, dwarfed the regular diplomatic presence in Benghazi, with the mission of hunting down ex-dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s unsecured rockets and missiles. That apparently led to an expectation at the State Department that the CIA would secure the compound in the event of a disaster, which never congealed into a formal arrangement. The next month, after a contentious congressional hearing, the Journal reports that officials “were surprised” Petraeus attended a screening of the film Argo, a celebration of a CIA success.
The complaints compile: unlike predecessor Leon Panetta after the 2009 attack on a secret base in Afghanistan, Petraeus kept the CIA’s Benghazi role in the shadows. The Journal’s sources portray Petraeus as shielding the agency from embarrassment; keeping the agency’s role in Benghazi a secret even from top-level officials; and leaving Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to phone Petraeus directly as the attack proceeded in the hope of getting real-time intelligence.
And while the Journal piece doesn’t mention it, there’s a possible policy element to the discrepancy between the State Department and CIA. The CIA had 10 people to protect its annex in Benghazi, but the State Department relied on a previously obscure British firm, Blue Mountain, to guard the entire compound. Blue Mountain paid its Libyan guards $4 an hour. It’s speculative, but the State Department’s expectation that the CIA would be “the cavalry” in an assault, as an anonymous official tells the Journal, might have contributed to State’s relatively lax security posture at the consulate.
It’s worth noting that, in the CIA’s telling, the agency did come to the compound’s aid. One CIA team, at the annex inside the compound, prepared an extraction mission within 25 minutes of the attack beginning, arming itself with heavy weapons and lining up a vehicular fleet to extract personnel while dodging rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and thick smoke. A second team raced to Benghazi from Tripoli, toting a suitcase full of cash to commandeer a plane ride, and arrived about three hours later owing to Libyan officials who wanted Libyan security officers on the scene. Ultimately, the extraction proceeded without U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was lost in the chaos and died, apparently at Benghazi Hospital.
Petraeus is not used to being under the bus. His record commanding the surge in Iraq has given him a tremendous reputation, within official Washington and beyond. Politicians and the press tend to downplay his missteps, such as his less-than-impressive record training Iraqi security forces and the stalemate that persists in Afghanistan despite Petraeus’ year in command. Additionally, there is some concern that under Petraeus, the CIA is focused too much on counterterrorism and insufficiently on its broader intelligence mission, although the CIA denies that’s the case.
It’s unclear what Petraeus’ future holds, either in a second Obama term or a Romney administration. Regardless, congressional investigation into Benghazi is expected to accelerate after next week’s presidential election, including a closed-door hearing in two weeks by the Senate intelligence panel. Petraeus may have more tire-treadmarks on the back of his suit jacket before the Benghazi inquiries conclude.
U.S. Commandos Were Too Late to Stop Libya Attack (But Might Avenge It)
By Spencer AckermanEmail AuthorNovember 2, 2012 | 5:26 pm
A Naval explosives technician jumps out of a C-130 cargo plane above the Sigonella air base, 2009. Sigonella was a staging ground for two U.S. military units deployed to respond to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: U.S. Army
A day after the CIA released a new timeline of its reaction to the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the Pentagon added some detail to its recap of events as well, confirming that it had two elite military units that mobilized just slightly too late to help repel last month’s attack. But those units also had the capability to deal with the aftermath of the attack — and the Pentagon isn’t saying what happened to them once they arrived at a Sicilian airbase a few hundred miles from Libya, leaving the possibility they might play a role in hunting the perpetrators of the attack.
Much remains unclear about the Libya assault. But now different parts of the bureaucracy have taken to explaining they were thisclose to helping stop it. State Department officials last month testified to monitoring it almost in real time, but U.S. officials have said State’s hired guard force lacked the capacity to repel the attack. (They may have a point.) The CIA portrayed itself as responding to the attack from multiple fronts as it was happening, successfully extracting U.S. personnel from the site — except for the four Americans who died. (Additionally, top intelligence officials have blamed themselves for the White House’s initial, incorrect explanation that the attack emerged from a protest over an anti-Islamic video.) On Friday, Pentagon spokesman George Little weighed in, explaining a little more than previously about how the Pentagon rushed special operations units into position near Libya, except that the assault subsided before they could reach the country.
Within “hours” of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta learning of the attack, he ordered two distinct military units to Sigonella, an airbase on the Italian island of Sicily, a few hundred miles from Benghazi. One was a “Special Operations unit in central Europe,” Little said on Friday; the other, “another contingent of U.S. troops” stationed in the United States. Both units are distinct from the Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST) ultimately sent to Tripoli the following day to secure the embassy there in the wake of the attack.
The units “were not in place until after the attacks were over,” Little said. But the Pentagon didn’t know how long the emergency would last, and the units it ordered to Sigonella could prepare for “a range of contingencies” in the aftermath of the assault.
“We were ready for the need to augment security measures at our facilities in Libya, if called upon. We were prepared for the possibility, for instance, of a hostage situation as well,” Little said. “These were all the things we were looking at in the midst of an event that we did not know was going to happen in Benghazi that night.” That decisiveness is different, at least in tone, from Panetta’s remarks at a press conference last week that he lacked “some real-time information about what’s taking place” that inhibited commanders from ordering troops into Benghazi.
Little wouldn’t describe the two units with any specificity. It’s already been reported that one special operations unit was at Sigonella. The second unit is less familiar, but Little appeared to confirm an element of a Fox News report last week that mentioned a second elite special-operations unit was at the airbase, including Delta Force personnel — which would make sense, given the potential for a hostage-rescue mission, a Delta specialty.
It’s less clear what actually happened to those units after they reached Sigonella and the attack of the consulate had ended. In the days after the attack, U.S. officials spoke openly about hunting the attackers, a line reiterated by President Obama in a debate with challenger Mitt Romney. But the Pentagon has spoken less about that hunt as time has passed, and the official line has centered more on Libyan government forces leading the search for those responsible for Benghazi.
Anonymous administration officials have begun casting blame for the disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly accepted responsibility last month for the lack of security at the consulate. Behind the scenes to the press, anonymous officials, seemingly sympathetic to the State Department, portrayed CIA Director David Petraeus as an impediment to securing a consulate that was apparently little more than a diplomatic fig leaf covering a CIA operation. Panetta has not faced the same level of criticism, but now that the knives are out for Petraeus, it’s an open question who will play the scapegoat next.
The Pentagon is not saying what happened to the military units it sent to Sigonella, despite repeated inquiries by Danger Room on Friday. It’s unclear, for instance, if those units ever deployed to Libya at a later date. Nor has the Pentagon’s provided a timeline of its decisionmaking on Benghazi that possesses the specificity of the one provided by the CIA on Thursday.
“They were at Sigonella many, many hours after the attacks had ended,” is all Little said. “Orders were issued within a few hours of us learned about the events in Benghazi that evening. We did not know when the attacks would end.”
Should the attackers resurface, however, it’s possible that we may hear more about the units that made it to Sigonella. At least one of them has openly mocked the U.S. hunt for the assailants while meeting with a New York Times reporter. Another suspect in the assault, Ali Ani al-Harzi, is in Tunisian custody, and two U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) announced on Friday that the Tunisians will make al-Harzi available to the FBI. Maybe those elite units sent to Sigonella will make an appearance in Libya, if they didn’t actually make it to Benghazi in September.
Senators Want Petraeus Testimony on Benghazi Attack
Nov. 13, 2012 - 05:34PM
By JOHN T. BENNETT
U.S. senators from both political parties indicated Nov. 13 they want former CIA Director David Petraeus to testify about a deadly Libyan consulate attack, and Republicans said a classified briefing failed to answer some questions.
As demanded by lawmakers, senior CIA and other Obama administration officials briefed members of Congress about the Sept. 11 Embassy attack that left the U.S. ambassador and three others dead. But as Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emerged from the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, they told reporters the officials had not filled in all the remaining blanks.
“There’s a lot more work to be done,” said Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. “There’s still questions.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters “there are continued questions about a couple items.”
Among those issues are why the White House dispatched U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to publicly state after the attack that it was spawned by “a spontaneous protest stemming from a YouTube video, as opposed to an organized and orchestrated terrorist attack,” Rubio said.
Another is how has the administration applied lessons from the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to ensure other American diplomatic facilities are secure.
“Those are questions that need to be answered,” Rubio said.
The Florida senator called on outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify on Capitol Hill about the Obama administration’s handling of the incident.
Republican senators called for Petraeus, now a private citizen, to be called to Capitol Hill to brief members.
“I think we need to hear from David Petraeus, as well,” Rubio told reporters.
“I think there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be asked to fill in some of the holes,” Risch said following the late-afternoon briefing.
“We’re hearing explanations, but there’s a lot of us that want clearer explanations.”
Asked about the kinds of answers Republicans want, Risch said, “The great majority of it is classified.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee briefing came one day before three GOP Senate Armed Services Committee members who have been harshly critical of the administration’s handling of the attack are slated to meet with reporters.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are expected to keep up their critical tone. The trio has sent President Obama and several Cabinet members a long list of questions about how the administration responded to the attack, and McCain has called Obama “incompetent.”
A senior Senate Democrat also indicated the briefing left unresolved questions.
“I hope we can get to the bottom of it, find all the facts, the timeline, and hold those [responsible] accountable,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The majority whip said he would leave it to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders to decide whether to summon Petraeus to Capitol Hill to testify.
“If he has some personal knowledge of this, I just don’t know,” Durbin said.
Durbin said he is unsure what remains to be known about the attack on the Benghazi facility, saying the officials described “a chaotic situation.”
“There were some genuine acts of heroism by Americans trying to save those who were lost,” he said. “I’m afraid much of this has been lost in the political rhetoric.”
Meantime, Republican senators indicated Rice’s role in offering an incorrect explanation in the immediate wake of the attack could keep her from becoming secretary of state.
“I’m concerned about the fact that she went on the Sunday [morning political talk] shows and said this was the result of a spontaneous uprising,” Rubio said. “Obviously, she based those comments on directives or information she received from someone, and it’s important to know who that directive came from and what that information was.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who could become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee after the new Congress is seated in January, said, “I’ve had conversations with the CIA, and my sense is they were also baffled by her comments.”
Libya faces growing Islamist threat
Exclusive: Diplomats warn that militants squeezed out of Mali by western intervention are hitting targets in Tripoli
Chris Stephen in Tripoli and Afua Hirsch in Timbuktu
The Guardian, Sunday 28 April 2013 19.06 BST
Libyan security personnel gather outside the French embassy in Tripoli following a car bomb blast last week. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media
Diplomats are warning of growing Islamist violence against western targets in Libya as blowback from the war in Mali, following last week's attack on the French embassy in Tripoli.
The bomb blast that wrecked much of the embassy is seen as a reprisal by Libyan militants for the decision by Paris the day before to extend its military mission against fellow jihadists in Mali.
The Guardian has learned that jihadist groups ejected from their Timbuktu stronghold have moved north, crossing the Sahara through Algeria and Niger to Libya, fuelling a growing Islamist insurgency.
"There are established links between groups in both Mali and Libya – we know there are established routes," said a western diplomat in Tripoli. "There is an anxiety among the political class here that Mali is blowing back on them."
That anxiety escalated last week after militants detonated a car bomb outside the French embassy, wounding two French guards and a Libyan student, the first such attack on a western target in the Libyan capital since the end of the 2011 Arab spring revolution.
"The armed groups we are fighting are fleeing to Libya," said Colonel Keba Sangare, commander of Mali's army garrison in Timbuktu. "We have captured Libyans in this region, as well as Algerians, Nigerians, French and other European dual-nationals."
France sent troops to Mali in January after an uprising in the north started by the ethnic Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), named for the independent state it hopes to create.
The impetus for this uprising came from ethnic Tuareg soldiers who had fought alongside Muammar Gaddafi and fled south when his regime fell. They were later augmented by jihadists from Libya and across north Africa, who triggered international condemnation for their destruction of ancient Sufi Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. The fear across the Maghreb is that the French operation that has pushed them out of the northern cities has inadvertently compounded problems elsewhere in north Africa as jihadist units disperse.
"If you squeeze a balloon in one part, it bulges out in another," said Bill Lawrence, of International Crisis Group, a political consultancy. "There's no question that the French actions in Mali had the effect of squeezing that balloon towards Algeria and Libya."
Timbuktu residents say there are links between Tuareg militants there and in southern Libya. "There were many Tuaregs in Mali who left during the drought of 1973 – some of them became senior figures in the Libyan army under Gaddafi," said Mahaman Touré, 53. "I personally know a local Tuareg who became a general under Gaddafi and was here with the jihadists. Now they have all gone back to Libya."
Diplomats say jihadists cross the Sahara to join cadres in Libya's eastern coastal cities of Benghazi and Derna. Police stations in both cities have been hit by bombings in the past few days, part of an insurgency that threatens to undermine the country's fragile new democracy. Chad's president, Idriss Déby, claimed at the weekend that Benghazi was now home to training camps for Chadian rebel fighters.
"From the perspective of an Islamist, it makes sense," said Dr Berny Sèbe, an expert on the Sahara region from Birmingham University. "If you are in northern Mali, the best thing that you can do is to make your way across Niger and then into southern Libya, where there is no state control."
Eastern Libya has long been a base for Islamists, who launched an unsuccessful uprising against Gaddafi in the 1990s. Their units reappeared in the uprising two years ago, and while many have integrated with government forces, others are campaigning for a state ruled by clerics rather than secular politicians. Benghazi has become a virtual no-go area for foreigners following attacks on the British, Italian and Tunisian consulates, the fire-bombing of an Egyptian Coptic church and the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens in September when militants overran the American consulate. The bombing in Tripoli indicates that terrorism has now spread to the capital.
"Libya suffers this Mali blowback in two ways," said a diplomat in Tripoli. "First there are the fighters arriving here, second there are units carrying out attacks in support of their brothers [in Mali]."
The result is not only being felt in Libya. In January, units from al-Qaida in the Maghreb, an Algerian-based al-Qaida offshoot, struck the In Amenas gas plant, killing 38 hostages, in what they said was retaliation for the France's Mali offensive.
Ordinary Libyans are suffering. Watching French police investigators sifting through the mangled wreckage outside the abandoned embassy, neighbour Emad Tillisy, a Tripoli businessman, shook his head. "This is so bad for Libya," he said. "It is the worst message we can send out to the world. We need to have foreigners coming here for business, to build our country, but after this [bombing] they say 'no thanks, have a nice day'."
Libya's efforts to tackle the militants are restricted by the distrust felt by much of the population for government security units, many of them drawn from former Gaddafi-era formations. Twin rocket attacks on oil and gas pipelines earlier this month south of Benghazi have meanwhile sent a shudder through Libya's oil industry, almost its only export earner.
Libya has already piled resources into cutting the jihadist flow of men and weapons over its southern border, declaring its entire desert region a "free fire zone" for patrolling jets. In the south-west, work has now finished on a 108-mile trench cut through the desert to deter smugglers crossing into Libya.
But experts say the Libyans face a herculean task. "To ensure that these borders are completely sealed off is impossible – we are talking about desert areas with mountains and very narrow valleys," said Sèbe.
Libya's prime minister, Ali Zaidan, has vowed to launch a clear-out of militias in Benghazi, but many wonder if he has enough reliable units for the job.
In December Washington provided drones and an Orion electronic warfare aircraft to support government units arresting jihadist suspects in Benghazi. It is now delivering border surveillance equipment to Libya and setting up a base for drones in Niger, from where it can monitor both Mali and Libya.
This policy has its critics, who say experience in Afghanistan and Iraq shows military action works only when coupled with a political process that ensures the grievances of all sections of the population are met, denying militants popular support. "A drone-only approach to intelligence gathering can backfire," said Lawrence. "There's always bad guys who may blow up buildings – the question is what sea are they swimming in? The priority should be the support of a legitimate government that reflects the aspirations of all elements of Libyan society."
The rise of Islamism in north Africa has spawned a galaxy of competing jihadist organisations, with alliances as fluid as the borders they cross. The units that staged the northern Mali uprising were drawn from both Libyan Tuareg fighters and jihadists, despite the fact that they fought on opposite sides in Libya's civil war. "For me, they are all the same – the Islamists and the MNLA," said Ahamadou Tahir, who was attacked by militants while delivering medical supplies 60 miles north of Timbuktu. "They all have guns and they all want to cause us harm."
US Repositioning 200 Marines in Italy as Precaution for Libya Unrest
May. 15, 2013 - 10:50AM
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ROME — Italy on Wednesday said the United States was transferring 200 Marines and two planes to its base at Sigonella in Sicily to deploy in Libya in case US diplomats come under attack as they did last year.
Speaking in parliament after leftist lawmakers complained they had not been told about the deployment, Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the transfer was "in accordance with bilateral agreements" between Italy and the United States.
"This is a reinforcement for the security of US personnel in Libya or for possible evacuations," she told parliament, adding that 75 marines would arrive first followed by 125 more as well as two additional military planes.
Sigonella is both a US Navy installation and an Italian air force base.
The Pentagon this week said the US was stationing extra military elements at Sigonella to protect or evacuate diplomats in Libya if necessary, saying they would come from an air base in Spain where 500 marines were recently deployed.
Armed insurgents set fire to the main US consular facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 and then attacked a nearby CIA annex.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The Pentagon has since faced criticism by those who said it should have been able to more quickly mobilise forces to thwart the attack.