my enemy’s enemy — an update

“On Wednesday [July 27th], British Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the Libyan rebels’ “increasing legitimacy, competence, and success”.

“On Thursday [July 28th], with impeccable timing, it transpired that those rebels might have murdered their top military commander.”

This is how the BBC News reported on the demise of General Abdel Fatah Younes. In the same article, Shashank Joshi, an Associate Fellow at UK defence think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), goes on to speculate on what such factional infighting within the ranks of the National Transitional Council (NTC) will mean for success of the NATO campaign against Gaddafi and the future of Libya after Gaddafi:

“These latent divisions [within the NTC] were well known. They underpinned the British and American decisions to refrain from directly arming the opposition. But as deeply embarrassed as the rebels’ international backers will be at these episodes, they see no alternative but to work through the NTC, having invested so much in the removal of Gaddafi, and absent any other viable partners.

“The concern that emerges most sharply from this incident is not so much that the NTC will splinter before Tripoli falls, but that it might do so after.

“If it struggles to represent the full spectrum of political forces in a transition period, in the face of armed factions demanding political sway, Gen Younes’ killing might not be the last political assassination amongst the self-described Free Libya Forces.”

There is no deeper scrutiny in Joshi’s analysis, of motives of “the self-described Free Libya Forces”. He presents only a strategic appraisal of what the assassination of Younes means given the “irony” that, as he puts it:

“…Gen Younes’ death threatens to unpick the NTC’s credibility and cohesion at exactly the moment of its latest diplomatic triumph – fresh endorsement from Britain, the last major rebel ally to recognise the opposition as Libya’s legitimate representatives.”1

Patrick Cockburn, however, writing in last Thursday’s [August 11th] Independent, sees “irony” from a different perspective:

“A ludicrous aspect of the whole affair is that at the very moment the rebel leaders are at each other’s throats, they are being recognised by country after country as the legitimate government of Libya. This week TNC diplomats took over the Libyan embassies in London and Washington and are about to do so in Ottawa. In a masterpiece of mistiming, Britain recognised the rebel government on the day when some of its members were shooting their own commander-in-chief and burning his body.”

His article, entitled “Libya’s ragtag rebels are dubious allies”, also goes on to question more broadly the “woefully misleading” mainstream coverage of the war in Libya:

“The foreign media had its failings in Iraq, was worse in Afghanistan but has reached its nadir in covering the war in Libya. Reporting has become largely militarised. Much of it is colourful stuff from the frontline about the dashes backwards and forwards of rebel militiamen. It takes courage to report this and reporters naturally empathise with the young men with whom they are sharing a trench. Their coverage tends to be wholly in favour of the rebels and in opposition to Gaddafi.

“When Abdel Fatah Younes was murdered almost nobody in the foreign media had an explanation as to how or why it had happened. The rebel leadership, previously portrayed as a heroic band of brothers, turned out to be split by murderous rivalries and vendettas.”2

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

See also an earlier post on Libya’s rebel forces: my enemy’s enemy

1 From a BBC News article entitled “Libya conflict: Younes death betrays rebel divisions”, by Shashank Joshi, associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, published on Saturday 30th July.

2 Taken from the Independent commentators: “Patrick Cockburn: Libya’s ragtag rebels are dubious allies”, published on Thursday 11th August.

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