Though the CIA has been in Libya since the American Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated (and also assisted in the rescue of the pilots of a fighter jet that crashed two weeks ago), the agency has taken a new role in the conflict by sending small teams of operatives into the country to obtain valuable information in the rebel cause against Col. Muammar Gadhafi.
Because CIA officials work in different capacities around the world, White House officials did not confirm or deny the CIA’s presence in Libya, but argued their presence should not be viewed as a troop deployment.
While the role of these operatives is unclear at the moment, U.S. intelligence experts told the Associated Press, “The CIA sent officials to Libya to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces battling Gadhafi in the event President Barack Obama decides to arm them.”
At this time, it’s still unclear how the White House will proceed with Operation Odyssey Dawn after the transfer of it’s Libyan air campaign to NATO on Monday. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress that President Obama does not have any military moves in mind at the current time.
Even though the president has made it clear that arming the rebels in Libya is a possibility, no concrete decision has been made.
“No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. “We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters, “We’re looking at … specific non-lethal assistance of the sort that (the rebels) might find useful.”
NATO coalition forces have recently issued a warning, advising the rebels against attacking Libyan civilians. A senior White House Official told The New York Times, “We will be compelled to defend civilians, whether against pro–Gadhafi or pro–opposition forces.”
The possibility of the U.S. arming Libyan rebels and the warning issued by NATO have fueled heated debates between lawmakers in Washington. Representative Mike Rogers (R–Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, believes the U.S. should not arm the rebels based on how little intelligence the government currently has, “We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them.”
On the other hand, Senator John McCain (R–Ariz.) expressed hope that the Obama Administration would arm the rebels. When asked on CBS’s “The Early Show” if the United States would arm the rebels, Sen. McCain replied, “It’s very possible, in fact, I hope so that if not the U.S., other countries would.”
It is worth noting that after the United States armed rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, those same rebels later joined Taliban and are now fighting U.S. troops. “Even if you think you know them, you can not guarantee that those weapons won’t later fall into the hands of bad actors,” said Rogers.
While the White House has not yet made a decision on whether or not to arm the rebels, the CIA’s presence in Libya should help President Obama make an informed decision.