Tag Archives: Libya

Libyan Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destroyed

The New York Times reported yesterday that Libya had successfully destroyed the country’s chemical weapons stockpile at the end of January.  The effort, supported by the United States, was conducted by contractors trained in Europe at a site southeast of the capital, Tripoli.

A picture of a static detonation chamber, described as "an explosive destruction technology that uses an electrically heated vessel to destroy chemical munitions," from the US Army's Program Executive Office , Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives website.  The destruction of the Libyan chemical weapons stockpile in 2014 was said to have been achieved using such technology, which the US uses in the destruction of its own stockpile.

A picture of a static detonation chamber, described as “an explosive destruction technology that uses an electrically heated vessel to destroy chemical munitions,” from the US Army’s Program Executive Office , Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives website. The destruction of the Libyan chemical weapons stockpile in 2014 was said to have been achieved using such technology, which the US uses in the destruction of its own stockpile.

The New York Times piece suggested that this effort was conducted under a “a cloak of secrecy,” but the activities have been both public knowledge and actively reported on.  Last May, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, reported that Libya had destroyed approximately eighty-five percent of its declared “Category 1” chemical weapons stocks.  Category 1 consists of “Schedule 1” chemical agents as defined by the international Chemical Weapons Convention and munitions filled with those agents.  Also,  at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa in November before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory specifically noted the the chemical weapons “abatement” program being conducted at Waddan.

Regardless of how well known or not the program was, it is still an important development.  Libya continues to face significant instability following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.  International partners, including the US, are to begin work this year to train a “General Purpose Force” to provide the foundation for national security forces, but militias continue to operate with impunity across the country.  Attempts by the government to crack down on them have been met by violence and kidnapping, including the abduction just this past week of four Egyptian diplomats. 

Since 2011, there have also been concerns about the proliferation of weapons in general from the country, including conventional weapons like man-portable surface-to-air missiles.  The potential threat of Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile was recognized immediately, and securing it was an important part of the little publicized US Operation Odyssey Guard, which followed the end of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.  The destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile marks a major milestone in international efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and potentially serves as a model for the more publicized effort in Syria, as well as in other countries party to the Chemical Weapons Convention working to eliminate their stockpiles in the face of complicated circumstances.

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US Senate Committee Releases Benghazi Review

Today, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a redacted version of its review of attacks of US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya on the night of September 11th-12th, 2012.  The attacks led to the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and other US personnel and has become a major point of domestic debate in the US.  The review takes a highly negative view of the response to the attack itself and to the aftermath by a number of federal agencies.

A low quality version of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

A low quality reproduction of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The review, available in full here at Codebook: Africa, includes fourteen individual findings and subsequent recommendations that touch on issues regarding intelligence gathering, force protection, response to attacks on diplomatic facilities, interagency cooperation, and more.  The review also analyzes the unclassified talking points on the attacks provided to  House and Senate intelligence committees in the wake of the attacks.  These talking points have been a divisive issue in the domestic debate.  Additional “views” provided by the Committee’s majority, which noted that they felt the attacks were in their opinion “likely preventable” given the evidence gathered,  and specific Senators are also provided.  These include a serious criticism of General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the attack, who remains in that post.  The State Department was also soundly criticized for its actions at the time and what members of the Committee described as a lack of cooperation and accountability during the review process.

It is worth noting that even before this review, both the US Department of Defense and Department of State had already been reviewing and changing elements of their force protection policies and crisis response capabilities.  On the military side, the US Marine Corps was directed to expanded its Marine security guard elements and activated a Marine Security Augmentation Unit (MSAU) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, which could provide additional personnel to embassies in need.  The US Marine Corps also activated Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), currently station in Rota, Spain, to provide a rapid response capability for diplomatic facilities in need in the region.  The US Army also directed the activation of crisis response force elements around the world, including the East Africa Response Force (EARF) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  Both SPMAGTF-CR and the EARF have deployed in response to the recent crisis in South Sudan, where they bolstered embassy security and helped evacuate US citizens and other foreign nationals.

US Designates Groups in Libya, Tunisia as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists

On January 10th, the US Department of State announced that it was designating two groups in Libya and a group in Tunisia, all bearing the name Ansar al-Shari’a, as separate Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT).  Along with its announcement, the Department of State provided a helpful factsheet detailing the differences between the two designations.  At base the differences are as follows:

“There are two main authorities for terrorism designations of groups and individuals. Groups can be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under Executive Order 13224, a wider range of entities, including terrorist groups, individuals acting as part of a terrorist organization, and other entities such as financiers and front companies, can be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).”

What this means is that in addition to designating these groups as both FTOs and SDGTs, three individuals were also named as SDGTs in the process.  These are Ahmed Abu Khattalah, Sufian bin Qumu, and Seifallah Ben Hassine (said to be “commonly known as ‘Abou Iyadh”).  These individuals have been identified as the leaders of the groups in question.  For both FTOs and SDGT entities, the important effects of the designation is that it becomes unlawful for US “persons” (which can be taken to mean not just citizens, but also resident aliens and other categories of people legally residing in the US) to conduct transactions and other dealings with these entities and that those entities assets may be frozen or seized.

The State Department announcement described the two Libyan groups and their leaders as follows:

“Created separately after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah have been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya, and the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya. Members of both organizations continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests in Libya.Ahmed Abu Khattalah is a senior leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Sufian bin Qumu is the leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah.”

It also described the Tunisian group and its leader as follows:

“Founded by Seifallah Ben Hassine in early 2011, Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia was involved in the September 14, 2012 attack against the U.S. Embassy and American school in Tunis, which put the lives of over one hundred United States employees in the Embassy at risk. The Tunisian government has declared Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia a terrorist organization, and the group has been implicated in attacks against Tunisian security forces, assassinations of Tunisian political figures, and attempted suicide bombings of locations that tourists frequent. Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia, which is ideologically aligned with al-Qa’ida and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], represents the greatest threat to U.S. interests in Tunisia.”

What is notable about these descriptions is that the Tunisian group was linked to AQIM, while the two Libyan groups were not.  The link to Al Qaeda’s resurgent regional affiliate remains a significant portion of the continuing domestic political debate in the US regarding the events in Benghazi in 2012.  The Obama administration has been accused of attempting to cover up involvement by terrorists, often specifically Al Qaeda.  Other investigations have suggested that the level of planning and coordination in the attacks is far less than has been suggested by these critics and that there is no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement.  These investigations have also been criticized.  The military response to the crisis, Operation Jukebox Lotus, was also widely criticized, and became the impetus for the expansion of US military crisis response capabilities, particularly in Africa.

Details of US Security Assistance Efforts in North Africa

Yesterday at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory provided some important information on US security assistance efforts in North Africa.  Dory specifically detailed efforts being conducted by the US government in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Here are the salient points:

Algeria

US Government departments and agencies, to include the department of defense are working with the Algerian government to expand cooperation and build security force capabilities.  This includes information sharing and training exercises, as well as equipment for “counterterrorism  purposes” and to enhance “defense capabilities.”  The testimony identified previous military equipment delivered by the US as including eight C-130 aircraft and an unnamed border security system built by Northrop Grumman.   The US military is also said to run an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program with the Algerian military to help modernize and enhance the professionalization of their forces.

Libya

The US military, as well as other government agencies, are heavily invested in the development of Libyan security forces and their capabilities.  Most notably, the United States has offered to provide “General Purpose Force” military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel.  These forces would be used to protect the government and help establish order, which has been a significant issue since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.  This is part of a larger US and international effort that builds on consensus reached at a Paris Ministerial-level meeting on supporting Libya’s security and justice sector needs in February and British Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement at the G-8 Summit in June about expanding international support for Libya’s security sector.  In addition to the US training offer, both the United Kingdom and Italy have committed to train 2,000 Libyan General Purpose Forces personnel, each.  Dory said that the US expected to begin training in 2014 using funds from the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and would be conducted at an unnamed facility in Bulgaria, which would be US leased and US run.

The US is also working to establish a Libyan special operations forces capability.  This effort is funded in two ways.  The first is an $8.42 million special operations support company and medical training program funded through Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The others is a $7.75 million special operations forces company build program funded through the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF; Section 1207 of the NDAA), which is a joint Department of Defense and Department of State fund.  It is unclear whether these programs are related to the special operations training effort that was reportedly stalled following a raid on a US-run training camp in September.

$14.9 million in GSCF funds are also to be used to improve Libyan border security capabilities and those of its neighbors, Algeria, Chad, and Niger.  Establishment of a Libyan border security company is part of this effort.

Lastly, the US is working with the Libyan government on a chemical weapons abatement program at Waddan said to total $45 million dollars.  These efforts are being conducted by contractors, who have set up a static detonation chamber and hope to have eliminated the rest of the stockpile by the end of the year.  The little reported US follow-on mission to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in 2011, Operation Odyssey Guard, involved securing Libya’s chemical weapon stockpile and the beginning of efforts to eliminate it.

Morocco

Morocco is a major non-NATO ally of the US with which there is a long history of cooperation.  Every year the US holds a bilateral training exercise, African Lion, with Moroccan forces.  The two countries conduct various other engagements regularly as well, such as an IMET program.   The US also works to provide Moroccan forces with significant materiel support through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles programs.

Tunisia

The US government is working with Tunisia to expand the capabilities of its security forces to help in regional counter-terrorism efforts and improve border security.  The US provides training and material assistance to the country through the FMF program and conducts an IMET program with the country’s security forces.

A copy of the full testimony can be found here.

US Air Force Special Operations Forces Deploy to Libya…in 1951

One thing that strikes me about a lot of reporting about US military involvement in Africa is this great sense of “newness” that seems to be generally applied to it.  The stories talk as if the US military, no longer saddled by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has “rediscovered” the continent.  With today’s news seeming to more of an unfortunate continuation of the daily grind I’ve been reporting here in recent weeks, I thought it might be worth taking some time in a different direction.

The title of this post might initially seem like something you would expect to be a current event before you see the date.  As focus on US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan gives way to a broader focus, its important to be aware that the US military has historical ties to Africa that continued through the Cold War and were well in place before the events of September 11th, 2001.  Though it is correct to say that Africa was likely lowest on the list of priorities before then, it does not mean it was entirely forgotten either.

For instance, the US Air Force had established a presence in the 1950s in Libya.  Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli subsequently became a major Strategic Air Command base, primarily intended for bomber recovery.  The Libyan desert also provided ample space to establish a bombing range and US Air Forces in Europe operated a water survival school there as well.  This all continued until 1970, when Moammar Gadhafi refused to extend the lease of the facility to the US.  The Libyan government subsequently took over the facility, and it was among the targets bombed in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo's Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo’s Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Perhaps more interestingly, between 1952 and 1953, Wheelus was home to the 580th Air Resupply and Communication Wing (later the 580th Air Resupply Group, which remained at Wheelus until 1956).  The Wing had received notice of the impending deployment in November 1951.  The Air Resupply and Communications Service was the innocuous sounding name given to Air Force units in the 1950s tasked with supporting unconventional warfare missions.  Such units are among those considered to be predecessors to the current Air Force Special Operations Command.  In the 1950s, as the US formalized its concepts of unconventional warfare, the US Army, US Air Force, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an intimate and yet often fractious relationship as each entity looked to achieve primacy in the effort.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training.  These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training. These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

With its mix of specially modified B-29s Superfortresses and SA-16 Albatrosses, the Wing provided desert environment and parachute training to US Army Special Forces units (notably the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany) and CIA personnel.  In addition, the Wing performed a number of actual operations inserting and extracting agents behind the Iron Curtain, primarily in areas of Soviet influence in southern Europe.  On at least one instance, SA-16s from the Wing were called upon to rescue the pilot of a U-2 spy plane that had been forced to ditch in the Adriatic Sea after an engine flame out.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

This quick look at Wheelus Air Base and the 580th Air Resupply and Communications Wing is just one example of many of US military involvement and interaction in Africa.  I’ll look to feature more historical examples in the future.

Crises in CAR and Libya

Crises in Central African Republic and Libya have been heating up in recent weeks.  Yesterday in CAR, two people were reported killed in clashes following the killing of a local magistrate and his assistant by former Seleka rebels.  The Seleka rebel group seized power in March, after which the group’s leader, Michel Djotodia, named himself president and declared the group to have been dissolved.  Rebels unhappy with the move, which appeared to be an attempt by Djotodia to consolidate power, continue to operate in armed gangs in the outskirts of the capital Bangui, where they go largely unchecked, committing acts of violence and petty crime by most reports.  The area around the capital and the country as a whole are often described as being in a state of near anarchy.

Perhaps more alarmingly, the government of Cameroon stated that on Saturday armed men from CAR had attack Cameroonian military installations, offices, and markets, looting stores and killing two before being forced by Cameroonian forces to withdraw.  Reports said that the men were wearing CAR military uniforms.  It is also the third time that armed men from CAR have attacked Cameroon, with the first attack in August leading to Cameroon closing the border. It is possible that this latest attack was an attempt to free Abdoulaye Miskine, the leader of a Seleka splinter group called the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FPDC), who had been arrested in Cameroon in September.

Lord's Resistance Army Area of Influence, circa February 2012

Lord’s Resistance Army Area of Influence, circa February 2012

The overall situation in CAR has prompted the AU to prepare a peacekeeping mission, titled MISCA, but it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.  CAR was also a major focal point in the campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, supported by the US Operation Observant Compass.  This effort has reportedly been severely degraded following the upheaval in March.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Libya also continues to struggle with remnants of its civil war that led to the fall of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.  Militias continue to operate with impunity in many areas, and lacking a functional security service, the new government in the country relies heavily on them for its own security.  Efforts to train a functional national military and other security service elements have so far failed to produce the desired results.  This is of great concern to the United States and European powers, given the already porous nature of Libya’s borders (a security summit held in Rabat, Morocco on the 14th, which Libya attended, had already declared a need for increased border security in the Sahel-Sahara region broadly), the limited government control in much of the country, and the rise of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region.

To give a sense of things in Libya, the country’s Deputy Intelligence Chief, Mustafa Nuh, had been abducted from the airport in Tripoli by armed militiamen yesterday, only to be released today.  The country’s Prime Minister had also been briefly abducted in October, in what observers and his aides said was possibly a political plot or even an attempted coup.  This latest abduction follows a protest against militias in Tripoli on Friday that turned violent as militiamen attempted to break it up, resulting in the deaths of over 40 protesters.  Libya subsequently declared a state of emergency in Tripoli and protesters called a three-day general strike.  The Libyan government was also reportedly working to dissolve the pro-government Revolutionary Operations Bureau militia, which had been one of the groups involved in the recent violence in Tripoli and responsible for the abduction of the Prime Minister.  It remained unclear whether the government had the capability to do so, or even a real desire to do so, given the state of the country’s security forces as already mentioned.