A steady influx of American special operations soldiers have been passing through the Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. Boarding Dornier 328 aircraft without any military markings, they lift off and begin heading south. The aircraft, registered to the Sierra Nevada Corporation, likely belong to some combination of SOCOM, JSOC, and the CIA’s Air Branch. Most of these flights are destined for Tunisia, America’s current hub for counterterrorism operations in northern Africa.
One U.S. Special Forces team was recently caught with their pants down on one such flight when the entire team had their pictures taken, which were then published on social media. It is a telling commentary on the times we live in; you can almost forget about sending white guys with M4 rifles on anything that is supposed to be a low-visibility operation, not in the world where everyone has a camera phone in their pocket.
Libya: Hillary’s foreign policy “success” story
After America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi began to warm to the West. Reading between the lines, he was probably scared shitless that Libya was next on America’s target deck. Coercive or not, Gaddafi began dismantling his weapons of mass destruction program, which, in a pragmatic sense, was a horrible decision. Had he maintained WMDs, there can be little doubt that he would still be in power. Instead, at the urging of Hillary Clinton, who based many of her decisions on fake intelligence provided by Sid Blumenthal on her private email server, America led a coalition effort to bomb Libya and support rebel forces on the ground.
General Khalifa Haftar had been living in Virginia, in exile from the Libyan government, after being captured during the 1988 Toyota War with Chad, and was subsequently released in a deal struck by the United States. Traveling back to Libya during the 2011 civil war, he rose to become the new head of state, or at least the head of Tripoli. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there is a high probability that Haftar is the CIA’s man in Libya. Haftar rejected another democratically elected government—an internationally recognized one, the General National Congress, which fled Tripoli in 2014 and is currently camped out in a hotel in Tobruk. Then, of course, there is the odd assortment of Islamists stretching from Derna to Sirte to Benghazi.
Admiral McRaven and General Cleveland worked the aftermath of the 2011 rebellion, making a series of missteps that saw America backing the wrong players. Elements of Special Forces and Delta Force were on the ground conducting operations, all of which were later shut down over questions about the title authorities under which these operations took place.
It is into yet another failed Middle Eastern foreign policy that U.S. Special Forces step into. Currently, American and French SOF are on the ground searching for viable partner forces and conducting targeting for drone strikes. Members of 3rd Special Forces Group are working the issues and morale is reportedly high, as they feel that the Greet Berets on the ground are finally able to impact important policy decisions, i.e. decision-makers are actually listening to what they are saying.
Wild card: Italy
When Gaddafi fell, it involved a colorful cast of characters from French private military companies to Swiss bankers moving around gold bars to opposition leaders, but from a European perspective, the entire war may very well have been over the French wrestling oil contracts away from the Italians. Today, intelligence operatives from Italy’s Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE) are on the ground, and although there are rumors that operators from the 9th Parachute Assault Regiment (Italy’s answer to Delta Force) are in Libya, these appear to be false. The 9th remains on standby for Libya, but has not yet deployed.
Recent reports have indicated that Italy intends to deploy a 5,000 man-strong invasion force to Libya, but this also appears to be little more than bluster and bravado at the moment. In reality, Italy has had a plan for a full-scale invasion of Libya for at least three years. Developed by the previous minister of defense, the plan called for an amphibious landing force to come in by sea, while a ground force invaded from the east, crossing the border from Tunisia. The plan was rejected by Monti, the then-prime minister, and then the current one, Prime Minister Renzi.
The reality is that the Italian military has not even received deployment orders, and most preparations are being done on the initiative of individual unit commanders who have received word unofficially that they may be deployed to Libya sometime between September and July of this year. A more realistic number would be about 2,500 troops, but they will not constitute an invasion force. Rather, Italy needs to establish a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the Libyans to deploy, but before that can happen, they need to find a legitimate Libyan government to work with, which is hard to do with at least two governments in place—one in Tripoli and one in Tobruk.
If NATO or the EU legitimize one government or the other, then an agreement can be worked out and the Italians deployed to support that government. Ironically, the formal recognition of a government in Libya will also work to delegitimize it in the eyes of Libyan opposition leaders, who will then point to them as Western puppets.
Italy and America team up
As noted above, the Dornier flights in and out of Libya and Tunisia occur frequently, shuttling personnel who are operating in small teams under title authorities belonging to the CIA and State Department. Once in country, they are linking up with friendly militias to conduct targeting for air strikes, reconnaissance missions, and building intelligence networks. Of particular interest is the February 20th air strike against an ISIS training camp, which killed scores of terrorists. American forces conducted a close recce in the lead-up to that mission and even considered a ground assault, but upon discovering the number of bad guys on target, decided to use an F-15 air strike instead. Six to eight weeks of planning went into the operation.
When deployed to Libya for extended periods, American SOF soldiers are provided with logistical support from European allies. Italy has now given permission for the U.S. government to fly drones out of their country for strikes in North Africa. Meanwhile, Vicenza, Italy, remains one of the main hubs for the conflict in Libya as JSOC personnel are routinely seen cycling through the airbase there, as well. At this stage in the game, the alliance between Italy and the United States is deepening, as both countries want a resolution to the ISIS issue in the Mediterranean. The Islamists are way too close to home for Italy’s liking, and America wants ISIS defeated without a major U.S. troop deployment or seeing Libya turn into the next Syria, so this is a marriage of convenience.
Ramping up for another war
The White House is reportedly under immense pressure to take a more aggressive posture in Libya, even as General Haftar launches waves of attacks against ISIS. The Pentagon appears to be leaking war plans, signaling some behind-the-scenes disputes. As the former secretary of defense remarked, “Can I finish the two wars I’m already in before you guys go looking for a third one?”