Even before they take the fight to Gaddafi in his stronghold, the rebel front is being threatened with what will definitely demoralize their leadership or destabilize their tenuous hold on the administration.
The first major blow has hit them. General Abdel Fattah Younes, their military commander, has been killed, the rebel National Transitional Council says (according to a BBC report of July 28, 2011).
Announcing this tragedy, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil (the NTC head), said Gen. Younes was killed by assailants, and the head of the group responsible had been arrested. Two aides to Gen Younes (Col. Muhammad Khamis and Nasir al-Madhkur) were also killed in the attack.
Even though the exact motive for the killings is yet to be known, the fact is that the assassinated Gen. Younes had all along been suspected by some in the rebel camp who saw him as having ties to pro-Gaddafi forces. If his assailants turn out to be part of the rebel forces, their action might be explained away by that suspicion. But if they are from elsewhere, then, a big question mark hangs over the security and safety of the rebel leaders themselves.
That suspicion aside, some unconfirmed reports said Gen. Younes and two aides had been arrested earlier on Thursday near Libya’s eastern front. This report in itself is suggestive of the problem that confronts the rebel leaders. That the supposed incident happened near Libya’s EASTERN front is intriguing because that’s the territory which the rebels claim to be under their control. Could it be that those who arrested the deceased were rebel forces themselves or pro-Gaddafi elements? And how could they infiltrate a territory under their opponents’ control to assassinate such a powerful figure and his aides?
If this report is true, then, there is much for the rebels and their leaders to worry about. It suggests that their own backyard isn’t safe at all. Or more piquantly, it suggests lack of cohesion in the rebel leadership. This perception of disunity doesn’t augur well for them, at least, as far as public confidence in their ability to govern is concerned.
The assassinated military commander was not a common untrained rebel fighter but a Military General with many years behind him. For him to be so easily isolated and taken care of is disquieting. If he was killed by the rebel forces, then, it might only go to prove that he was an undesirable in the rebel set-up and paid the price for deserting the Gaddafi camp when he did.
Of course, having already been identified as part of the Gaddafi oppressive regime, he stood no chance of surviving for long among those who considered him as part of the problem they have to solve in ridding their country of the Gaddafi menace. In that sense, then, Gen. Younes miscalculated and paid dearly for it.
Others like him who defected from the Gaddafi side to team up with the rebels will now have a huge burden of either completely purging themselves of the Gaddafi dose and proving to the rebels that they have indeed seen the light and are genuinely interested in the pursuit of the TNC’s overall objectives or face a similar fate in consequence.
In any case, all these known Gaddafi accomplices will henceforth have a lot to contend with. Torn apart by this General’s assassination, they have a tough call to respond to, especially in the midst of over-zealous and restive rebel fighters. A major problem already facing the rebel leadership is lack of discipline or coordination of efforts to stamp their authority on affairs. What happened yesterday is a clear demonstration of the danger that the big shots in the rebel front are exposed to.
As the BBC reported, shortly after the announcement of Gen. Younes’ death, gunmen entered the grounds of the hotel in the eastern city of Benghazi where Mr. Jalil was speaking, reportedly firing into the air before being convinced to leave. This kind of flippant behaviour is dangerous and the earlier the rebel leaders stamp their authority on the situation, the better it will be for them. Otherwise, they will have themselves to blame.
The rebel camp is not without problems, especially in terms of the calibre of fighters therein or the particular grievances that unite them against Gaddafi.
Fears that those fighting against Gaddafi are al-Qaeda members or affiliates have not yet dissipated. The rebel ragtag army is made up of all manner of people whose main objective is to get at Gaddafi. That was the message that Gaddafi gave the world when the insurrection erupted in Benghazi. But no one listened to him, apparently because his opponents in the country and outside had already made up their minds to kick him out of office. Several reports confirmed that there are extremists among the ragtag rebel fighters.
Then again, it has been guessed that those bankrolling the insurgency are embittered elements who had been profiting from illegalities such as human trafficking across Benghazi to Italy and other parts of Europe and hate Gaddafi for taking action to stop their illegal activities.
Then, the political opponents of Gaddafi also came up for scrutiny as part of the band of Gaddafi opponents. So also were those who fled the country into exile, fearing Gaddafi’s ruthless rule or having already been victims and didn’t want to have anything to do with the status quo from within.
We also have those who worked closely with Gaddafi over the years, carried out his orders (which inflicted harm on the victims and perpetuated his rule for over 40 years) but jumped ship in mid-February at the start of the uprising, apparently to save their own skins. Among them is this General Younes, a former Libyan Interior Minister, who defected to the rebel side in February. He was also part of the group that helped bring Gaddafi to power in 1969.
He had been received by the rebels with guarded caution. They found it difficult to give him a blank check, seeing him as part of the Gaddafi problem. His assassination may be the beginning of many more to come.
We can’t rule out the threat that such rebel commanders or politicians face. In a country where weapons are ubiquitous and, especially under this fluid war situation, it is only natural to expect that attempts will be made on the lives of those in various capacities by infiltrators or anybody who has a score to settle.
Gen. Younnes has paid his price for deserting the Gaddafi administration and joining hands with the rebels to work against the very status quo that he had helped bring into being and that he had defended staunchly before the uprising began.
There are many more of his type who will now be forced to constantly look over their shoulders. In this climate, indiscriminate acts of sabotage and mayhem have the potential to disorient the administration and create more tension than the rebel leadership can cope with.
As I have been saying all along, the Libyan situation shouldn’t have deteriorated to this level had the different factions been tolerant enough to allow political and diplomatic means to be used to resolve the conflict.
The recent armed attacks in Benghazi gave an inkling into what could become the next phase of the armed insurrection in Libya. Those Gaddafi loyalists (the 5th Column) embedded in rebel-controlled areas are likely to begin sabotaging the rebel administration from within.
Certainly, the rebel leaders are in deep trouble. We anticipate a further deterioration of the situation as frustration over the stalemate in the war takes its hold on the rebels and their backers or as disgruntled elements begin turning their weapons on each other. Or if the Gaddafi government begins sending out paid assassins to eliminate the prominent figures in the rebel camp. In all considerations, the Libyan crisis seems to be heading toward an intractable level.