Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Libyan opposition figure: Help us now and worry later about what comes next

By Elizabeth Flora Best Defense bureau of eastern Libyan affairs "Who is the Libyan opposition?" Questions regarding the nature of the uprising have confounded journalists and U.S. officials alike over the past few weeks, so when Ambassador Ali Aujali of the Libyan Transitional Council gave a talk at the Center for American Progress yesterday afternoon, it ...

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Getty Images
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By Elizabeth Flora
Best Defense bureau of eastern Libyan affairs

"Who is the Libyan opposition?" Questions regarding the nature of the uprising have confounded journalists and U.S. officials alike over the past few weeks, so when Ambassador Ali Aujali of the Libyan Transitional Council gave a talk at the Center for American Progress yesterday afternoon, it was particularly apropos that this question was the title selected. The wide variation in media rhetoric over the last week, ranging from fearful questions about al Qaeda among the rebels to proposals that the selfsame rebels be called "freedom fighters," has no doubt stemmed from a massive dearth of information that compelled journalists to flock to this event seeking enlightenment.

Aujali maintained that we "cannot believe that al Qaeda or extremists" have any role in the opposition. He was insistent on reassuring Americans of this point in order to make the case that the United States and the rest of NATO should help the rebels in their goal of ousting Qaddafi, stating, "If we want the opposition to achieve victory on the ground, they need help." In addition to continued air strikes, he is also requesting military training, weaponry, U.S. recognition of the Transitional Council as the legitimate ruling body of Libya, as well as access to Gaddafi's frozen assets.

By Elizabeth Flora
Best Defense bureau of eastern Libyan affairs

"Who is the Libyan opposition?" Questions regarding the nature of the uprising have confounded journalists and U.S. officials alike over the past few weeks, so when Ambassador Ali Aujali of the Libyan Transitional Council gave a talk at the Center for American Progress yesterday afternoon, it was particularly apropos that this question was the title selected. The wide variation in media rhetoric over the last week, ranging from fearful questions about al Qaeda among the rebels to proposals that the selfsame rebels be called "freedom fighters," has no doubt stemmed from a massive dearth of information that compelled journalists to flock to this event seeking enlightenment.

Aujali maintained that we "cannot believe that al Qaeda or extremists" have any role in the opposition. He was insistent on reassuring Americans of this point in order to make the case that the United States and the rest of NATO should help the rebels in their goal of ousting Qaddafi, stating, "If we want the opposition to achieve victory on the ground, they need help." In addition to continued air strikes, he is also requesting military training, weaponry, U.S. recognition of the Transitional Council as the legitimate ruling body of Libya, as well as access to Gaddafi’s frozen assets.

Throughout the discussion, Aujali was far more eager to discuss the occupation’s need for aid than to delve into details about the power structure of the Transitional Council. Upon being questioned about whether or not he saw a lack of cohesion in the Council’s political or military leadership, he argued that this was "not a big concern" because the opposition is united in the common goal that "Qaddafi must go." In response to concerns about the disorganized, untrained nature of the rebels, he contended that there is now far "more training" and "more discipline," referring to the troops as "well-organized."

Aujali posited that specifics such as the size of the rebel forces or the exact weaponry needed were not as important as the fact that the Libyan people are fighting "for their future" while Qaddafi is fighting for "nothing but for one family to control Libya." He ruled out any potential outcome save total opposition victory (i.e. a stalemate in which Libya would be divided in two) stating, "No Libyan will accept that." According to him, the Libyans "will fight until they get rid of Qaddafi."

Despite his adamancy about the opposition’s strong resolve, he did imply that its goal of ousting Qaddafi is unlikely to be realized if more support is not immediately forthcoming. He argued that air strikes must take out Qaddafi’s forces before they reach and occupy major cities and ominously stated that "time is not on our side."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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