The news media reported over the weekend two raids by US special forces. One in Libya resulted in the capture of Abu Anas al-Liby while the attempted capture of Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir in Somali was repulsed and the raid aborted. This illustrates how we have now reached the state where it is no longer remarkable that the US thinks it has the right to go into other countries and kidnap people off the streets.
This is not surprising since president Obama has decided that it is perfectly acceptable to send in forces or armed drones to kill anyone it deems worthy of death, along with any other people who just happen to be in the vicinity of the doomed individual. He has made the bar for what is considered acceptable behavior so low that we now view anything short of murdering anyone that the US government calls a terrorist as a sign of admirable restraint.
But the story of al-Liby illustrates another little-remarked feature, and that is that there is a very thin line that separates those who are considered enemies of the US from those it considers its friends. In fact, they can often be one and the same person, just at different times or different places, with people and groups morphing from ‘freedom fighters’ backed by the US, to ‘terrorists’ to be hunted down, then back to freedom fighters again, and then terrorists again, and so on.
The most famous example is of course the Afghan mujahedeen (many of whom reconstituted themselves later as the Taliban) and Osama bin Laden, both of whom were hailed as friends and heavily supported when they were fighting the Soviet Union but then later became enemies. A similar transition has occurred with some of the armed militias in Libya. In Syria, the US is allied with rebel groups of which al Qaeda is a part, while fighting al Qaeda elsewhere in the world at the same time.
Bill Van Auken writes of the strange history of the US relations with various characters and al –Liby in particular.
For all of the blather from these experts, however, on one thing they are totally silent: the extraordinary history of al-Liby, the target of the US raid. A review of his career points to not some implacable struggle between mortal enemies, but rather a falling out between intimate partners. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Mr. al-Liby knows some of those who planned his capture on a first-name basis. His biography provides a glimpse into the bizarre and frightening world of the CIA and its secret wars, dirty tricks and global murders.
Al-Liby joined Al Qaeda when it was fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s, providing the foot soldiers for a covert CIA-organized war for regime change against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. At the time, then-US President Ronald Reagan hailed al-Liby and his fellow right-wing Islamist fighters as the “moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers,” while the US government poured some $10 billion into financing the war.
After the Afghan war, al-Liby reportedly followed Bin Laden to Sudan, where he continued to enjoy US and Western backing. It was during this period of the 1990s that Al Qaeda funneled Islamist fighters into Bosnia to go into battle for the US-backed Bosnian Muslim regime. In 1993, Bin Laden received Bosnian citizenship and a Bosnian passport. Al Qaeda terrorists were also sent into Kosovo to join the separatist movement against Serbia, which by 1999 was backed by a full-scale US-NATO air war.
In 2002, it was revealed that six years earlier al-Liby had been a key figure in a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group cell that was paid large sums of money by the British intelligence service, MI6, for an abortive plot to assassinate Gaddafi.
For nearly two years after the African embassy bombings, al-Liby was able to continue living in the UK, fleeing only in May of 2000 around the time he and 20 other Al Qaeda operatives were indicted in a Manhattan federal court as co-defendants of Osama in the African terrorist attacks. He was placed on the FBI’s “most wanted” list.
After a decade as a wanted terrorist, al-Liby returned to Libya in 2011 and once again was transformed into a US-backed “freedom fighter,” joining one of the Islamist brigades that served as proxy troops for the US-NATO war for regime change.
Jeremy Scahill’s excellent book Dirty Wars shows that the same shifting allegiances are taking place right now in Somalia and Yemen, with all manner of unsavory characters fighting on the side of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, the military-intelligence outfit that was created to be able to act quickly outside the normal chain of command) and then becoming enemies and then back to friends again. You need a daily scorecard to see on which team any given person is playing.
While the US may think that it is using these groups to achieve its own objectives, these groups may also be using the US to achieve their own goals, such as eliminating their enemies, thus giving them a freer hand to operate.