Is the US secretly training Libyan militiamen in the Canary Islands? And if not, are they planning to?
That’s what I asked a spokesman for US Africa Command (AFRICOM). “I am surprised by your mentioning the Canary Islands,” he responded by e-mail. “I have not heard this before, and wonder where you heard this.”
As it happens, mention of this shadowy mission on the Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa was revealed in an official briefing prepared for AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez in the fall of 2013. In the months since, the plan may have been permanently shelved in favor of a training mission carried out entirely in Bulgaria. The document nonetheless highlights the US military’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems—with a well-documented potential for blowback in Africa and beyond. It also raises serious questions about the recurring methods employed by the US to stop the violence its actions helped spark in the first place.
Ever since the US helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with air and missile strikes against regime targets and major logistical and surveillance support to coalition partners, Libya has been sliding into increasing chaos. Militias, some of them jihadist, have sprung up across the country, carving out fiefdoms while carrying out increasing numbers of assassinations and other types of attacks. The solution seized upon by the US and its allies in response to the devolving situation there: introduce yet another armed group into a country already rife with them.
The Rise of the Militias
After Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, a wide range of militias came to dominate Libya’s largest cities, filling a security vacuum left by the collapse of the old regime and providing a challenge to the new central government. In Benghazi alone, an array of these armed groups arose. And on September 11, 2012, that city, considered the cradle of the Libyan revolution, experienced attacks by members of the anti-Western Ansar al-Sharia, as well as other militias on the American mission and a nearby CIA facility. During those assaults, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, local armed groups called on for help or which might have intervened to save lives reportedly stood aside.