NATO's war in Libya, which began with high-minded declarations about "protecting civilians," now appears likely to end with a bloodbath that will claim the lives of many civilians, albeit pro-Gaddafi civilians, not the earlier threatened anti-Gaddafi civilians.
Ali Tarhouni, a senior official of the NATO-backed Libyan rebels, summed up this Orwellian reality with a phrase reminiscent of the famous Vietnam War quote that "we had to destroy the village in order to save it."
Tarhouni was quoted by the Associated Press as saying "Sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood -- and the faster we do this the less blood will be shed."
So, NATO's rebels set a four-day deadline for Muammar Gaddafi's remaining tribal strongholds, including his native Surte, to surrender or face a final crushing military strike, which the rebels presumably will mount as NATO aircraft pound Surte's defenses.
NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie explained that NATO still considered Gaddafi as a threat and thus NATO's warplanes were still attacking his forces, especially on "a corridor to the eastern edge of Surte."
In other words, even though Gaddafi's loyalists have retreated to a few towns where he appears to retain strong popular support, NATO is paving the way for the rebels to overrun these communities. The mission "to protect civilians" has evolved into an operation designed to open pro-Gaddafi civilians to a hostile conquest.
New evidence also has surfaced showing that Gaddafi's earlier claims that the rebel forces were permeated by Islamist extremists with terrorist affiliations were not just words; that he had reason and evidence to believe it.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that "documents unearthed from the archives of Libya's security service show the former government deeply worried about an Islamist threat to the regime, concerns that reverberated this week as veteran jihadists claimed credit for leading last week's rebel takeover of Tripoli."
In an article by Thomas Erdbrink and Joby Warrick, the Post said it had obtained documents revealing that Gaddafi had assigned his Interior Security Agency to monitor the actions of Islamic extremists, including some who had fought against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"In the records, Libyan security officials elaborately map the movements of suspected al-Qaeda fighters and regularly share information on Islamist cells with foreign intelligence agencies," the Post reported, noting that some of these jihadists have now emerged as key fighters in ousting Gaddafi from power.
"The regime fell to rebel fighters led in part by a self-proclaimed former Islamist, Abdelkarim Belhadj," the Post wrote. "He has declared himself the leader of the "Tripoli Brigade' that spearheaded the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the capital."
Belhadj was previously the commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has been associated with al-Qaeda in the past, maintained training bases in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, and was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Though Belhadj and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group deny current allegiance to al-Qaeda, Belhadj was arrested in Afghanistan in 2004 and was briefly interrogated by the CIA in Thailand at a "black site" prison before being handed over to Libyan authorities, the Post reported.
Concerns about violent jihadists in the ranks of NATO's Libyan rebels are not entirely new. In March, as NATO was ramping up its aerial campaign against Gaddafi's government, there were warnings -- both from Gaddafi and from independent terrorism experts -- about this infiltration. However, amid the excitement about overthrowing Gaddafi, those concerns were suppressed.
For all his eccentric behavior and past links to terrorism, Gaddafi had become a staunch enemy of radical Islamists, explaining why his regime was embraced by President George W. Bush last decade. Both leaders had mutual enemies.
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