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Libya: Capture of Anas al Liby Exposes Weak Security Sector

Security Governance Group Research and Communications Intern Shannon Nash looks at the recent U.S. raid that led to the capture  of wanted terrorist, Anas al Liby to analyze how the event reflects on Libya’s troubled security sector. 

Senior al-Qaeda member and Libyan nationalist, Anas al Liby, was the target of a U.S. Special Forces raid in Libya on October 5, 2013. He was captured in Tripoli, while returning from morning prayers in the suburb of Noufle’een. In the wake of the capture of al Liby, many are questioning whether the raid violated Libya’s sovereignty. While there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Libya, it is likely that the U.S. would not have chosen that option because of a lack of confidence in Libya’s security sector.

According to some media reports, al Liby is accused of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. An indictment filed in United States District Court, Southern District of New York clarifies the charges laid in the embassy bombing trial against Osama bin Laden and twenty other defendants, including al Liby. According to the indictment, al Liby “unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly combined, conspired, confederated and agreed to kill nationals of the United States.” The indictment states that beginning in 1993, al Liby discussed a possible attack against the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya with other members of al Qaeda. In addition, he participated in conducting visual and photographic surveillance of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.

Scotland Yard arrested al Liby while he was living in Manchester in 1995, but released him due to a lack of evidence. After searching his Manchester home, officers found a terrorist training manual, but al Liby had fled the country. For his role in the 1998 attacks, al Liby was one of the world’s most wanted men, with a $5 million American bounty on his head. According to some reports, al Liby returned to Libya in 2010. He was an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi, but reportedly returned under a plan of reconciliation run by Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. He lived in the open and the uprising in Tripoli prevented action from being taken against him. U.S. State department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the October 5 raid showed the U.S. had “a preference, when possible, to capture terrorists.” According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the capture complied with U.S. law and al Liby was a “legal and appropriate target.”

The same weekend that al Liby was targeted, an American raid in southern Somalia failed to capture Abdullkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a member of al-Shabaab. Such raids exemplify an important aspect of President Obama’s counter-terrorism policy: strategically target enemies, while minimizing the risks of civilian and American casualties. This approach incorporates lessons learned from previous American campaigns where asymmetric warfare and guerilla tactics proved effective against the modern American army and its firepower. The Vietnam War is a glaring example of this juxtaposition. The use of drones carry legal and moral ambiguities, but Obama’s capture and prosecute approach is a focused way to project American power while minimizing civilian casualties.

The seizure of al Liby highlights a number of deficiencies in Libya’s security sector that makes the country an unstable partner in American counter-terrorism operations. Libya has a “fragile security situation due to the existence of militias that challenge the state’s monopoly of the legitimate use of force.” Furthermore, Libya struggles with security malaise, there are deficiencies in the rule of law, regional instability, an unclear chain of command in the Libyan army, a lack of inclusiveness in the political process, a weak central government, ill-policed borders that allows for arms smugglingand a base for militant extremist operations, and the country is in the midst of a delicate political transition. Although the raid was successful, it cannot be a permanent strategy to combat threats from Islamic extremists in Libya. This was somberly illustrated by the brief kidnapping of Libya’s Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, by militia members for his apparent consent for the raid.

The stability of Libya’s security sector depends on the country developing its own security forces and strengthening the transitional government. Furthermore, the Libyan government needs to build a security sector focused on accountability and inclusivity. The burden of these changes will largely need to be borne by the Libyan government, however the U.S., Europe, and Arab world countries will need to offer support during the transition. Libyan foreign minister, Mohamed Abdelaziz acknowledged the significant problems in Libya and encouraged international support saying: “Democracy will not be instituted by the Libyans alone.”

The U.S. has an interest in supporting Libya’s security sector reforms in the long-term, as at this point in time, the chaotic Libyan system is more of a liability to America’s counter-terrorism efforts, than an asset. The instability in Libya, and its effect on U.S. security, was starkly underscored when militant groups in Benghazi killed American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in September 2012. Given that al Liby was a senior Al Qaeda member, and a wanted man for over a decade, the U.S. either excluded the Libyan government from the operational plans (Tripoli denies being implicated), or informed only a very small number of officials. With time, support, and a reformed security sector, Libya may prove to be a reliable partner in American counter-terrorism efforts. Until that day, Obama’s counter-terrorism policy will exclude such unreliable partners.

Article by Shannon Nash, Security Sector Reform Resource Centre.

This article was originally published here.

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