Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Debacle: Arming Jihadists in Libya . . . and Syria

Looking ahead to the next installment of e-mails from WikiLeaks

By Andrew C. McCarthy — August 2, 2016
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi, Libya attack during a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 23, 2013. © Jason Reed / Reuters

As U.S. armed forces attack ISIS in Libya, WikiLeaks is poised to remind us that ISIS is in Libya — indeed, that ISIS is ISIS — thanks to disastrous policies championed by Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s secretary of state. Also raised, yet again, is the specter of Mrs. Clinton’s lying to Congress and the American people — this time regarding a matter some of us have been trying for years to get answers about: What mission was so important the United States kept personnel in the jihadist hellhole of Benghazi in 2012?

Specifically, did that mission involve arming the Syrian “rebels” — including al-Qaeda and forces that became ISIS — just as, at Mrs. Clinton’s urging, our government had armed Libyan “rebels” (again, jihadists) to catastrophic effect?

It has been less than two weeks since WikiLeaks rocked the Clinton campaign on the eve of the Democratic convention by leaking hacked e-mails illuminating DNC efforts to rig the nomination chase in Clinton’s favor. Now the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, has announced that WikiLeaks is soon to publish highly sensitive government e-mails that demonstrate Hillary Clinton’s key participation in efforts to arm jihadists in Syria. Just as in Libya, where Mrs. Clinton championed the strategy of arming Islamist “rebels,” the Syrian “rebels” who ultimately received weapons included the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.

The Daily Wire and other outlets are reporting on Assange’s comments, published by Democracy Now. Clearly, we should not take Assange’s word for what is to be gleaned from the hacked records, which he says include some 17,000 e-mails “about Libya alone.” Let’s see if he has what he says he has. But it is worth setting the stage, because what is known is outrageous and has not been given nearly enough attention — largely because Beltway Republicans were complicit in the Obama-Clinton policy of allying with Islamists, and thus have shown no interest in probing the inevitably disastrous fallout.

As I have been pointing out for years, for example, we have never gotten to the bottom of why the State Department, under Mrs. Clinton’s direction, had an installation in Benghazi, one of the world’s most dangerous places for Americans.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, had touted Qaddafi as a key counterterrorism ally against rabidly anti-American jihadists in eastern Libya. Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton led the policy shift in which our government changed sides in Libya — shifting support to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, just as Mrs. Clinton had urged shifting U.S. support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Libya, this included arming “rebels,” who naturally included a heavy concentration of jihadists.

As I’ve recounted, to topple Qaddafi on behalf of the Islamists, the Obama administration — which did not seek congressional authorization for its offensive war (and preposterously maintained that bombing another country’s government was not really “war” anyway) — had to flout a United Nations resolution. The U.N. had agreed only to military operations for the purpose of protecting civilians, not offensive operations against the regime. Besides arming jihadists, the administration took no meaningful steps to make sure that Qaddafi’s military arsenals did not fall into terrorist hands. The regime was toppled and Qaddafi was brutally murdered — prompting Secretary Clinton’s bizarrely giddy quip, “We came, we saw, he died.” 

As some of us not-so-giddy types had warned would happen, Libya then became a safe haven for terrorists who turned on the American and Western forces that had cleared the path for them.
In small compass, this is the story of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in the Benghazi massacre. As Business Insider’s Michael B. Kelley recounts, before becoming ambassador, Stevens was the Obama administration’s official liaison to Qaddafi’s Islamist opposition in Libya, including its al-Qaeda-linked groups. The latter included the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Stevens worked directly with a top LIFG leader, Abdelhakim Belhadj.
When the Qaddafi regime was ousted, Belhadj took control of the Tripoli Military Council. In 2011, Belhadj met with anti-Assad “rebels” in Turkey to plan weapons shipments from Libya to Syria. As Mr. Kelley explains, in September 2012 the Times of London reported that “a Libyan ship ‘carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria . . . has docked in Turkey.’” According to that report:
The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles — the bulk of them SA-7s — that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons toshoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets. The ship’s captain was “a Libyan from Benghazi and the head of an organization called the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support,” which was presumably established by the new government.
Fox News subsequently reported that the ship, a Libyan-flagged vessel, Al-Entisar (The Victory), docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, only 35 miles from the Syrian border, on September 6, 2012. That was just five days before jihadists conducted the patently coordinated terrorist attack on the mysterious State Department and CIA compounds in Benghazi, killing four Americans including Stevens — who had been promoted to ambassador in May.

It is incontestable that the Obama administration has worked closely with the Islamist government of Turkey in efforts to arm and train “rebels” in Syria. Stevens’s last meeting on the night of September 11, 2012, right before the State Department’s Benghazi compound was attacked, was with Turkey’s consul general, Ali Sait Akin.

In the months leading up to the attack on the State Department facility, and on the even more shadowy CIA outpost a little over a mile away, jihadists in eastern Libya conducted a series of attacks against Western targets — including, on June 6, 2012, a bomb detonated just outside the State Department compound. The British government and the International Red Cross pulled their personnel out; yet the Obama administration left U.S. government personnel in, despite grossly inadequate security precautions.

Why? I believe that one significant mission was the coordination of weapons transfers from Libya to Syrian jihadists.

Remember the state of play in mid 2012. Obama was locked in a tight reelection race. He was falsely claiming that he had “decimated” al-Qaeda (which was actually thriving); that he was ending American wars (which were actually intensifying as he drew troops down despite ground conditions); and that his pro-Islamist policies were helping forge democracy in places like Egypt (then under Muslim Brotherhood rule) and Libya (which had disintegrated into a failed state under domination by Islamist militias). Prior to the November election, if Obama had openly announced that his administration was arming Syrian Islamists, it would have been highly controversial. It would have spotlighted how that same policy had failed in Libya, a fact to which neither the media nor Republicans had called public attention. This, no doubt, is why reports that Obama was “launching a covert operation to send weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time” (as the Times of London’s Christina Lamb put it) did not appear until immediately after Obama had won a second term.

Were Obama, Clinton, and others in the administration steering arms to Syrian jihadists before that time?

Recall that in mid 2012, Obama was also feeling heat — from the Islamist regimes he was appeasing, from Beltway Republicans, and even from some in his own administration, apparently including Secretary Clinton — for not doing enough to help the “rebels” drive Assad from power in Syria. There was a good explanation for this reluctance: Our government knew that the Syrian “rebels,” like the Libyan “rebels,” teemed with jihadists. Not only has this fact long been notorious; Judicial Watch managed to wangle from the government an August 2012 Defense Department memo that flatly states, “The Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [i.e., al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The memo elaborates that its reference to AQI incorporates both Jaish al-Nusra (which is al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Syria) and the Islamic State (the breakaway “caliphate” spawned by AQI).

There was no defensible security arrangement or diplomatic need for the State Department facility in Benghazi (U.S. diplomatic functions were handled in Tripoli). Was its real purpose to give diplomatic cover to covert intelligence operations (such as those at the nearby CIA compound)? If so, did those operations include aiding and abetting the arming of the Syrian rebels?

Unnamed U.S. government sources furtively described the CIA facility as, according to Reuters, “a base for, among other things, collecting information on the proliferation of weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, including surface-to-air missiles” (my italics). Putting aside the administration’s recklessness in failing to keep Qaddafi’s arsenals out of jihadist hands, what are the “other things” that the State Department and the CIA were up to?

We know, as detailed above, that Ambassador Stevens’s jihadist contact, Belhadj, moved an enormous shipment of weapons from Benghazi to the Syrian “rebels” in Turkey. And we know that, while claiming not to be directly arming those “rebels,” the Obama administration was working with Turkey, the Saudis, and other Islamist governments to determine which Syrian “rebels” should be armed. As the New York Times reported in June 2012, some three months before the Benghazi massacre:
A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
The Times elaborated that “the Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.” To repeat, however: Soon after Obama’s reelection, the Times was explaining that “with help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment.” And by June 2013, the Times reported that the administration had begun directly supplying the Syrian “rebels” with “small arms and ammunition.”

Right after Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, the U.K.’s Telegraph reported that the CIA’s facility there was an operation “to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels.” Simultaneously, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that enormous pressure was being brought to bear on CIA operatives not to reveal what the agency had been doing in Benghazi.

When Mrs. Clinton testified about the Benghazi massacre before a Senate committee in early 2013, she claimed to have no knowledge of any transfers of weapons from Libya to Turkey, Syria, or any other countries. As the The Daily Signal report details, Clinton was pointedly asked by Senator Rand Paul (R., Ken.) whether the U.S. had been “involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya.” She initially tried to deflect the question, claiming that “nobody’s ever raised that with me.” But Senator Paul kept pressing:
It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what Id’ like to know is, that [CIA] annex that was close by [the State Department facility], were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?
When Mrs. Clinton again tried to deflect, suggesting that he instead put the question “to the agency that ran the annex” — as if the State Department had had no knowledge of what the CIA was doing next door — Senator Paul countered that he was asking about what Clinton herself knew. Mrs. Clinton answered, “I don’t know. I don’t have any information on that.”

Was she telling the truth? Were U.S. personnel stationed as sitting ducks in Benghazi in order to help supply weapons to Syria, where it was inevitable they would fall into the hands of America’s enemies? Perhaps we’ll soon find out.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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