The Obama administration “secretly” approved arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, however, U.S. officials quickly became concerned as evidence suggested Qatar was handing the weapons over to Islamic militants, The New York Times reports, citing a number of United States officials and foreign diplomats.
There is no evidence available that suggests the U.S.-approved weapons were involved in the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead on Sept. 11. But the revelation is sure to ignite speculation.
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But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.
The experience in Libya has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from other countries.
The Obama administration did not initially raise objections when Qatar began shipping arms to opposition groups in Syria, even if it did not offer encouragement, according to current and former administration officials. But they said the United States has growing concerns that, just as in Libya, the Qataris are equipping some of the wrong militants.
The United States, which had only small numbers of C.I.A. officers on the ground in Libya during the tumult of the rebellion, provided little oversight of the arms shipments. Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011, the White House began receiving reports that they were going to Islamic militant groups. They were “more antidemocratic, more hard-line, closer to an extreme version of Islam” than the main rebel alliance in Libya, said a former Defense Department official.
“To do this right, you have to have on-the-ground intelligence and you have to have experience…If you rely on a country that doesn’t have those things, you are really flying blind. When you have an intermediary, you are going to lose control,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser who is now dean of Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
The startling revelations raise even more concerns regarding the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
The secret transactions began in the early months of the Libyan rebellion that ended in Qaddafi’s death. Various officials sought to assist the rebel forces trying to oust the Libyan dictator.
It was a short time later that Mahmoud Jibril, then prime minister of the Libyan transitional government, voiced his concerns to administration officials that the U.S. government was allowing Qatar to arm Islamist militant groups that were against the new Libyan leadership, anonymous U.S. officials said.
The Obama White House has not learned where all the weapons, paid for by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, ended up in Libya, according to officials.
Qatar is accused of shipping machine guns, automatic rifles and ammunition by air and sea. Some of the weapons have since ended up in the hands of militants with ties to al-Qaeda in Mali, where radical Islamists have implemented Shariah law in the northern part of the country, according to a former Defense Department official. Other small arms have gone to Syria several American and foreign officials and arms traders told the Times.
To read The New York Times’ full report, click here.