A Worrisome New Plan to Send U.S. Troops to Libya as ‘Advisers’
By John Kiriakou
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Dunford, said last week that the United States is engaged in a “period of intense dialogue” that could lead to an agreement with the government of Libya that would allow U.S. “military advisers” to be deployed there in the fight against Islamic State.
“There’s a lot of activity going on underneath the surface,” Dunford told The Washington Post. “We’re just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn’t been an agreement. And frankly, any day that could happen.”
This plan should worry every American. If the past is any lesson, the new U.S. military advisers will likely be permanent and will presage a large combat contingent in Libya.
U.S. military advisers first arrived in Vietnam in 1950, a move that presaged the eventual arrival of 9,087,000 military personnel, and reaching a peak in 1967 of 545,000 combat troops. The last U.S. troops didn’t leave Vietnam until 1975, and only after 58,220 had been killed. U.S. troops entered Kuwait in February 1991 to push invading Iraqi forces out of that country. Twenty-five years later, 13,500 troops remain.
U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan after 15 years and still in Iraq after 13 years.
Sending American troops to Libya in an advisory role would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was, of course, no need for U.S. troops while Moammar Gadhafi was in power there. But after the U.S.-led military action in Libya, Gadhafi was overthrown, the central government disintegrated, militias carved out pieces of the country, and Islamic State made major territorial gains. President Obama admitted in an interview with the BBC last month that failing to prepare for the “day after” in Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency.
While his admission is nice, it does nothing to stabilize Libya, to strengthen social and governmental institutions or to push out Islamic State.
While Obama’s declaration may be sincere, sending military advisers and preparing for combat troops would be an even greater mistake than not preparing for “the day after.” U.S. troops, usually seen by local citizens as occupation forces, rarely, if ever, bring long-term stability. Iraq and Afghanistan are only recent examples of this. And trying to impose democracy on a country and culture with literally no tradition of democracy in its 2,500-year history is a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, and despite what Dunford is telling the press, the Libyans don’t even want U.S. troops in their country. Libyan Prime Minister Faiez Serraj wrote recently in the British newspaper The Telegraph:
“The international community has responsibilities towards Libya. After 2011, it simply let go. This allowed many countries to intervene and led us to where we are today. … Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not our greatest enemy. National division is. When it comes to defeating ISIL, I remind our friends that this will be achieved by Libyan efforts and without foreign military intervention. We are not asking for foreign boots on the ground, but we are requesting assistance with training, and lifting the arms embargo on Libya.”
The bottom line is that U.S. troops, whether advisory or combat, are not going to solve Libya’s problems. A restructured economy will. Negotiations between all factions focused on national reconciliation and a unified front against Islamic State will. A focus on job creation, education and the rule of law will.
Somebody ought to tell Barack Obama and Jim Dunford.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.Wait, before you go…
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