Time to arm Libyan rebels: Here's how
The options available to the United States and its partners in Libya have sharply narrowed. As the US did in Bosnia, NATO and others must develop a train-and-equip program for the Libyan rebels that would help the opposition government gain control, oust Qaddafi, and establish a democracy.
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To do so requires looking at a future beyond Qaddafi. The long-term objective of a train-and-equip program for the Libyan revolutionary government would be to create a professional military force in a post-Qaddafi Libya that could support democratic institutions free of extremist elements. So how to get there?Skip to next paragraph
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What could work best in Libya now is a program like the one the US established in the mid-1990s to train and equip the armed forces of the Bosnian Federation. As in Libya today, there were concerns then about the presence of extremists on the Bosnian Muslims’ side.
Iran had been a major provider of arms to the Bosnian Muslims since the beginning of the war and had gained significant influence. Thousands of foreign, mostly Arab, volunteers fought in the mujahideen brigade of the Bosnian army. One of the goals of the Bosnia train-and-equip program was to eradicate Iranian and foreign radical influences from Bosnia. The train-and-equip program gave the US leverage with the Bosnian government to achieve this objective.
Mindful of the Bosnia experience, here’s what could be done in Libya.
Three steps to help Libyan rebels, opposition government
First, establish a task force to organize and supervise a train-and-equip program for the Libyan government in Benghazi. This is best done as soon as possible. This should not be a unilateral US effort and should include all partner nations willing to participate, especially Arab nations. Judging from some Obama administration comments, it is not clear if the US would be involved at all. But such a program is not likely to get off the ground without US initiative.
Second, an assessment could be made of the organizational, training, and equipment requirements of a professional democratic Libyan army.
Third, there would need to be a concerted effort to secure donations of appropriate equipment from donor countries. Training could be provided by military personnel of participating countries or by contractors, as was the case in Bosnia. The equipment and training would go to selected units of the Benghazi government armed forces. Accountability procedures would help to ensure that the arms provided are not diverted to improper purposes or unauthorized units.
None of this would require foreign combat troops in Libya or run contrary to the principles enunciated by President Obama in his speech on Libya. The Bosnia Train and Equip Task Force successfully administered the program with fewer than a dozen members, plus trainers. It enlisted the cooperation of more than a dozen countries in different aspects of the program. That program could serve as a roadmap for a similar program in Libya to mitigate risks and advance Western interests.
Angel M. Rabasa, a member of the Bosnia Train and Equip Task Force in the early 1990s, is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.