In the conflict zones of Afghanistan, where multiple fronts shift concurrently, the lines between who is, or is not, a legitimate recipient of aid and protection are not just blurred but erased. As in other counterterrorism wars, these life or death issues are exacerbated by shifting power and territorial control between a growing insurgency, shrinking coalition ground forces and an escalating use of special forces and air operations.
Bill Lawrence is director of the North Africa Project for the International Crisis Group. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer (Morocco), Fulbright scholar (Tunisia), development consultant (Egypt), State Department official, Arabic translator and filmmaker (Marrakech Inshallah, Moroccans in Boston). He has also participated in the production of 14 albums of North African music, including co-production of the first internationally released Arabic rap song. He has lived in North Africa for 12 years, six of them in Morocco. I spoke with him in Rabat on March 15.
Can you talk about the problems in Libya caused by the proliferation of militias and arms?
American and NATO media handlers are in message control mode trying to contain the fallout from the escalation of insider killings of American and NATO soldiers by trained Afghan forces, known in military parlance as “green on blue” attacks. The latest rash of insider attacks on coalition forces has left at least 45 dead in 2012 to date. Fifteen members of the international coalition were killed in insider attacks in August, 12 of them American. In 2011, there were 21 attacks, killing 35; and in 2010 there were 11 attacks with 20 deaths.
Libya is commonly counted as a success story among the ongoing Arab uprisings. NATO bombing, the story goes, saved thousands of lives and allowed Libyans to overthrow the absurd and murderous Muammar Qaddafi. The intervention proves that the West has aligned its interests in the Arab world with its values — and may even be a measure of redemption for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the deeper colonial past.
Not much of this comforting tale rings true.
The death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi has become one of the most contested moments of Libya’s eight-month war. The exact circumstances of the colonel’s demise on October 20 are unclear, but evidence is mounting that Libya’s former ruler was killed — extra-judicially executed — by the band of young gunmen who captured him.
To the average American, the NATO intervention in Libya may look like another Iraq: another US-led adventure aiming to dislodge a would-be totalitarian Middle Eastern state with lots of oil and sand. The topography of the two countries is similar: The land is flat and parched, and the architecture dun and unloved. Even the terminology sounds the same, with the “no-fly zone” subject to “mission creep” that is rapidly turning its goal into “regime change.”
Although US interventionism is part of the collective Arab experience, NATO interventionism isn’t – at least not yet. According to NATO’s “New Strategic Concept,” however, this could change soon, with European forces being propelled into global military engagements – even in the Middle East.
Ostensibly multilateral, NATO is often merely the framework for bilateral relations in which the United States is the commanding partner. Nowhere is this more the case than with Turkey, separated geographically from the other NATO allies by its main adversary, Greece, and heavily dependent on the US for military assistance. Yet Turkey has a second bilateral partner within NATO: the Federal Republic of Germany. The Bonn connection points to contradictory tendencies in Turkey’s NATO commitments.
The air show disaster in West Germany in late August that killed 62 and injured 300 was bad news for the US Air Force, even though Italian jet fighters were involved in the crash. Germans were already nervous in the wake of a series of military jet crashes earlier this year. On a single day in June, for example, three US F-16 fighters crashed on German territory. Two other planes, one French and one American, have crashed near nuclear power plants. The air show disaster became the nightmare some people had said was waiting to happen. But it brought another long-simmering issue to full boil as well.
In the last half of 1987, some 75 US, French, British, Italian, Belgian and Dutch warships steamed into the Persian Gulf in what became the largest peacetime naval operation since World War II. Six NATO countries had joined efforts specifically to police the Gulf, considerably increasing the longstanding but small Western naval presence there. The West German navy helped out by substituting for Belgian and US warships which usually patrol the English Channel and the Mediterranean.