Montreal Gazette

NATO’S se­cret war against Gad­hafi

OF­FI­CIALLY, in­ter­na­tional forces weren’t sup­posed to take sides. In re­al­ity, they played a key role in the rebels’ vic­tory

- DAVID PUGLIESE

“We’re pick­ing up at­tacks on com­mand and con­trol fa­cil­i­ties. If Gad­hafi hap­pens to be there, all the bet­ter.” UNIDEN­TI­FIED NATO OF­FI­CER

In Part 2 of a three-part se­ries, David Pugliese chron­i­cles how NATO looked the other way while its mem­bers armed the rebels.

The ra­dio on board HMCS Char­lot­te­town crack­led with the news. The Cana­dian war­ship’s board­ing party had struck pay dirt – a ves­sel in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters loaded with weapons and am­mu­ni­tion try­ing to sneak into Libya.

It was May of 2011, three months into Libya’s civil war, and nato had set up a ring of 20 war­ships to en­force a UN arms em­bargo. No weapons, mil­i­tary sup­plies or am­mu­ni­tion were to reach Libya, ei­ther for troops loyal to the coun­try’s leader, Moam­mar Gad­hafi, or for rebels fight­ing to over­throw him.

“There are loads of weapons and mu­ni­tions, more than I thought,” the board­ing of­fi­cer ra­dioed back to Char­lot­te­town’s com­man­der, Craig Sk­jer­pen. “From small am­mu­ni­tion to 105 how­itzer rounds and lots of ex­plo­sives.”

The Libyan rebels op­er­at­ing the ship openly ac­knowl­edged they were de­liv­er­ing the weapons to their forces in Mis­rata.

Sk­jer­pen ra­dioed NATO head­quar­ters for in­struc­tions. The re­sponse was swift: Let the ship sail on so the crew could de­liver their deadly cargo.

A se­nior NATO of­fi­cer, Ital­ian Vice-ad­mi­ral Ri­naldo Veri, had boasted just weeks ear­lier that the block­ade had closed the door on the flow of arms into Libya.

Not quite. While the UN em­bargo was clearly aimed at pre­vent­ing the de­liv­ery of weapons both to Gad­hafi and those fight­ing him, NATO looked the other way when it came to the rebels. Hun­dreds of tonnes of am­mu­ni­tion and arms breezed through the block­ade, ex­pos­ing what crit­ics say was Canada and NATO’S real mo­tive dur­ing the Libyan war – regime change un­der the guise of pro­tect­ing civil­ians.

Qatar, one of two Arab na­tions to take part in the NATO-LED mis­sion, sup­plied rebels with French-made Mi­lan anti-tank mis­siles, with de­liv­er­ies made by sea. The coun­try also gave them a va­ri­ety of trucks and com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear, while Qatari ad­vis­ers slipped into Libya to pro­vide train­ing.

Egypt shipped as­sault ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion, with U.S. sup­port.

Poland sup­plied an­ti­tank mis­siles and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles.

Canada also didn’t sit on the side­lines when it came to sup­ply­ing hard­ware to the rebels.

Five months into the war, Cana­dian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials set in mo­tion a plan to pro­vide sur­veil­lance drones to rebels so they could bet­ter at­tack Libyan troops, day or night.

The Aeryon Scout Mi­cro-Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cle, de­signed and built in Wa­ter­loo, Ont., is a small spy drone that fits in a suit­case.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment put Aeryon in con­tact with the rebel’s Na­tional Tran­si­tional Coun­cil, while Zariba Se­cu­rity Corp., a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm in Ot­tawa, was to make the de­liv­ery. In July, the $100,000 drone was de­liv­ered to the rebels by Charles Bar­low, pres­i­dent of Zariba and a for­mer Cana­dian Forces of­fi­cer. He took an 18-hour boat ride from Malta to the NTC train­ing fa­cil­ity in Mis­rata, sail­ing with­out prob­lems through NATO’S block­ade.

Bar­low showed the rebels how to fly the drone, us­ing it to iden­tify a Libyan mil­i­tary po­si­tion, and left shortly af­ter.

To this day, the of­fi­cial line from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers is that nei­ther NATO nor Canada took sides in the war, although some oc­ca­sion­ally let down their guard to out­line what ac­tu­ally took place.

Af­ter the war ended with Gad­hafi’s death in Oc­to­ber, Vice-ad­mi­ral Paul Mad­di­son, the head of Canada’s navy, would tell a meet­ing of Ot­tawa de­fence con­trac­tors that HMCS Char­lot­te­town “played a key role in keep­ing the Port of Mis­rata open as a crit­i­cal en­abler of the an­tiGad­hafi forces.”

As with the arms em­bargo, NATO’S public re­la­tions strat­egy on the on­go­ing airstrikes also claimed such at­tacks were not done in sup­port of the rebels’ war aims. But like the HMCS Char­lot­te­town, NATO’S air­craft were, in re­al­ity, “crit­i­cal en­ablers” for the anti-gad­hafi forces.

Op­po­si­tion forces freely ad­mit­ted to jour­nal­ists that from the be­gin­ning they were in con­tact with the coali­tion to iden­tify tar­gets, which would then be de­stroyed by NATO air­craft.

“We work on let­ting them know what ar­eas need to be bom­barded,” spokesper­son Ahmed Khal­ifa ac­knowl­edged in March.

An­other rebel named Jur­bran de­tailed for re­porters how the sys­tem worked: “I called in the strike on this tank just af­ter 4 a.m., re­lay­ing word of its po­si­tion to our head­quar­ters in Ben­ina air­field, who passed on its lo­ca­tion to the French,” he ex­plained. “They dealt with it quickly.”

The NATO strikes were highly ef­fec­tive and al­most ev­ery time Gad­hafi’s ar­moured forces moved, even in re­treat, they were de­stroyed. The rebels read­ily ac­knowl­edged the co­or­di­nated NATO at­tacks on Gad­hafi’s tanks and other ar­moured ve­hi­cles paved the way for them to cap­ture a num­ber of cities and towns.

But NATO’S stated goal to pro­tect Libyan civil­ians was seen by crit­ics as a one-way street, with the fo­cus be­ing on pro­tect­ing only those al­lied with the rebels. It would later emerge that rebel forces hunted down black Libyans they be­lieved sup­ported Gad­hafi, as well as African guest work­ers.

The BBC in­ter­viewed one Turk­ish con­struc­tion contractor who said he wit­nessed the mas­sacre of 70 Cha­di­ans who had been work­ing for his com­pany.

Cana­dian Lt.-gen. Charles Bouchard, who di­rected the coali­tion’s war ef­fort, did not respond to a re­quest for an in­ter­view.

But he re­cently told a Se­nate de­fence com­mit­tee he warned rebel forces about vi­o­lence against civil­ians, in­form­ing them they, too, could be sub­ject to NATO airstrikes.

Asked whether air strikes were launched against rebel po­si­tions to pro­tect civil­ians, Brig.-gen. Derek Joyce, who over­saw Canada’s air task force fight­ing in Libya, replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”

An equally con­tro­ver­sial as­pect of NATO’S Libyan war cen­tred on al­le­ga­tions it was try­ing to as­sas­si­nate Gad­hafi by killing him in an airstrike.

At first, U.S. and Bri­tish politi­cians and gen­er­als claimed they didn’t have a man­date to re­move the Libyan leader from power. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron told his MPS the UN res­o­lu­tion did not pro- vide any le­gal au­thor­ity for such ac­tion. But that soon changed. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced on March 25 that, “It is U.S. pol­icy that Gad­hafi has to go.” Cana­dian De­fence Min­is­ter Peter Mackay re­it­er­ated the point, adding that the war’s aims will “ei­ther in­clude the de­par­ture or im­mi­nent demise of Gad­hafi.”

The U.S., and later NATO, worked dili­gently to bring about that im­mi­nent demise. The first at­tacks on March 19 lev­elled one of Gad­hafi’s homes, but he es­caped the bomb­ing.

Bouchard, who took over com­mand of the war af­ter the ini­tial at­tacks led by the U.S., claims no at­tempt was ever made to kill the Libyan leader. NATO bombs were only dropped on “com­mand and con­trol cen­tres” that helped di­rect Libyan forces, he added.

But such rea­son­ing al­lowed for much flex­i­bil­ity, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers pri­vately ac­knowl­edge. Gad­hafi, his sons and key gov­ern­ment min­is­ters could them­selves be con­sid­ered key parts of the com­mand and con­trol ap­pa­ra­tus. If they were in a par­tic­u­lar build­ing, then that struc­ture could be claimed to be a com­mand and con­trol cen­tre and open to at­tack.

On April 30, a NATO air strike killed Gad­hafi’s 29-year-old son, Saif al-arab, and three of Gad­hafi’s grand­chil­dren. Gad­hafi re­port­edly had left the resi- dence just a few hours be­fore mis­siles hit the struc­ture. NATO said the build­ing it at­tacked was a com­mand and con­trol bunker.

Two weeks later, NATO jets bombed a build­ing re­served for host­ing VIP guests. Again, it was deemed to be a com­mand and con­trol cen­tre.

“We’re pick­ing up at­tacks on these com­mand and con­trol fa­cil­i­ties,” one of­fi­cer told a Bri­tish news­pa­per. “If (Gad­hafi) hap­pens to be in one of those build­ings, all the bet­ter.”

In June, NATO jets bombed the com­pound be­long­ing to Khoweildi al-hamidi, a close Gad­hafi con­fi­dant. Hamidi, whose daugh­ter was mar­ried to one of the Libyan leader’s sons, es­caped un­harmed. His two grand­chil­dren weren’t as lucky. They were among the 15 peo­ple killed.

A few days af­ter that air strike, U.S. House armed ser­vices com­mit­tee mem­ber Mike Turner ac­knowl­edged that U.S. Ad­mi­ral Sa­muel Lock­lear, com­man­der of the NATO Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, told him the al­liance was ac­tively tar­get­ing and try­ing to kill the Libyan leader.

Be­cause of NATO’S re­lent­less air strikes, the days were in­deed num­bered for Gad­hafi. Tripoli fell in Au­gust and NATO in­creased its bomb­ing of Bani Walid and Sirte, Gad­hafi’s home­town.

NATO air­craft ham­mered the once pros­per­ous Sirte into the ground. Rebel forces also bom­barded the city with ar­tillery and rock­ets, spark­ing crit­i­cism about in­dis­crim­i­nate shelling. But those among the rebel forces had lit­tle sym­pa­thy; they saw the civil­ians in Sirte as Gad­hafi sup­port­ers.

Sirte soon took on an ap­pear­ance sim­i­lar to the bombed cities of the Sec­ond World War.

Joyce, the Cana­dian bri­gadier-gen­eral, told the Cit­i­zen the air at­tacks on Bani Walid and Sirte were nec­es­sary since pro-gad­hafi snipers were hid­ing in the rub­ble, tar­get­ing civil­ians.

By early Oc­to­ber, the 69-year-old Gad­hafi was trapped in Sirte, mov­ing house to house with a force of about 150 men.

He hadn’t come to grips with the fact he had lost power. Gad­hafi still be­lieved Libyans would rise up against the rebels and NATO forces.

On the morn­ing of Oct. 20, a NATO air­craft spot­ted a con­voy of ve­hi­cles trav­el­ling at high speed and at­tempt­ing to break through the rebel gaunt­let around Sirte.

A NATO air­craft opened fire on a num­ber of ve­hi­cles, while a U.S. Preda­tor drone un­leashed a Hell­fire mis­sile. Dozens of Gad­hafi sup­port­ers in the con­voy died in­stantly.

Ac­cord­ing to a NATO spokesper­son, Cana­dian Col. Roland Lavoie, the flee­ing con­voy was at­tacked be­cause it was “con­duct­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and pre­sented a clear threat to civil­ians.”

Bouchard would later claim the al­liance had no idea Gad­hafi was in one of the ve­hi­cles.

But Bri­tish re­ports in­di­cate coali­tion forces did in­deed know the Libyan leader was in the con­voy af­ter a sur­veil­lance air­craft in­ter­cepted a satel­lite phone call he made.

Gad­hafi sur­vived the at­tacks and was soon a cap­tive of rebel forces.

Those fight­ers would later say he ap­peared dazed and had asked, “What’s go­ing on? What did I do?”

Videos taken of his cap­ture show the Libyan leader’s face cov­ered in blood as rebels jos­tle him. An­other video ap­pears to show one of the men sodom­iz­ing him with a bay­o­net.

Shortly af­ter, the colonel would be dead. Libya’s new prime min­is­ter, Mah­moud Jib­ril, said Gad­hafi had been “caught in the cross­fire” as he was be­ing taken to hospi­tal. He had been shot in the head and chest.

Some, how­ever, be­lieved the killing was noth­ing more than an ex­e­cu­tion. Wil­liam Hague, Bri­tain’s for­eign sec­re­tary, ac­knowl­edged the videos and pho­tos sug­gested Gad­hafi had been mur­dered.

Still, Western lead­ers and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers re­joiced.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter John Baird brushed aside con­cerns Gad­hafi had been ex­e­cuted.

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper noted the ap­par­ent ex­e­cu­tion was not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing Libya was “emerg­ing from 42 years of psy­chotic dic­ta­tor­ship with killing and im­pris­on­ment on a mas­sive scale.”

But Harper didn’t delve into why his gov­ern­ment had, in 2009, sought closer eco­nomic ties with the same man he now branded a psy­chotic dic­ta­tor.

NATO and the rebels had suc­ceeded in killing Gad­hafi and two of his sons. An­other son, Saif al-is­lam, is in cus­tody and is to be tried by the new Libyan gov­ern­ment. The rest of Gad­hafi’s fam­ily has es­caped into ex­ile.

NATO’S job was done. “Let there be no doubt that the in­ter­ven­tion in Libya was just and war­ranted,” Bouchard would later say.

 ?? LT (N) M. MCWHIN­NIE DEPART­MENT OF NA­TIONAL DE­FENCE ?? While the UN em­bargo was clearly aimed at pre­vent­ing the de­liv­ery of weapons both to Gad­hafi and those fight­ing him, NATO looked the other way when it came to the rebels. Hun­dreds of tonnes of am­mu­ni­tion and arms breezed through the block­ade.
LT (N) M. MCWHIN­NIE DEPART­MENT OF NA­TIONAL DE­FENCE While the UN em­bargo was clearly aimed at pre­vent­ing the de­liv­ery of weapons both to Gad­hafi and those fight­ing him, NATO looked the other way when it came to the rebels. Hun­dreds of tonnes of am­mu­ni­tion and arms breezed through the block­ade.
 ?? CPL. CHRIS RINGIUS DEPART­MENT OF NA­TIONAL DE­FENCE ?? To this day, the of­fi­cial line from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers is that nei­ther NATO nor Canada took sides in the war.
CPL. CHRIS RINGIUS DEPART­MENT OF NA­TIONAL DE­FENCE To this day, the of­fi­cial line from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers is that nei­ther NATO nor Canada took sides in the war.

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