(Thierry Ehrmann / flickr)
The military campaign against Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime has been hailed a success. In March, Permanent U.S. Representative to NATO Ivo Daalder and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis wrote in Foreign Affairs that, faced with the humanitarian disaster in Libya, NATO "succeeded in protecting those civilians and, ultimately, in providing the time and space necessary for local forces to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi." But all the celebration has covered up a worrying trend. The unrest surrounding Qaddafi's last months is now reverberating throughout North Africa and the Sahel -- a phenomenon that might be called Qaddafi's spawn.
First, there are the weapons: The neighborhood, especially Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger, was always uneasy about Libya's civil war. Many feared that it would pry the lid off Tripoli's sizeable weapons cache and lead to the dispersal of arms across the region. It turns out that they were right to be worried. Then, there is the money: Locating Libya's financial assets after the war has been another complicated matter. Members of Qaddafi's inner circle who know where the money is stashed are missing or unidentifiable. Basically, billions of dollars might wind up in the hands of individuals who could use the cash to sponsor terrorism or otherwise destabilize Libya. And finally, there are the refugees: Tens of thousands of Africans, no longer welcome in Libya, returned home this year. Besides the fact that many of them are ripe for jihadi infiltration, they will further strain the region's weak economies. Already, food security is becoming a major issue and famine looms.
The weapons bonanza, disappearing money, and wave of refugees have played out differently across the country. In Libya, militias, which amassed vast quantities of weapons during the war, are refusing to relinquish them to the interim government. Some groups, including the one that conquered Tripoli, are comprised of jihadists. Meanwhile, other groups -- tribes and private citizens -- are building their own arsenals against a background of resurgent tribalism and regionalism. The Misratans and the Zintanis, for example, have established domination over resource-rich areas. Some in Cyrenaica, which boasts most of the country's oil reserves, are threatening to secede from Libya. Meanwhile, the Toubou tribe is fighting the Zwei in Kufra and Sebha, near the borders with Niger and Chad; the Toubou have also threatened to secede. The Amazigh tribe is taking on the Arabs in the west, near the Tunisian border. And Libyan Tuaregs are locked in battle with Zintans in Ghat, near the Algerian border. Any of these conflicts could spill over soon.
Additionally, whether Libya will ever be able to recover the estimated $150 billion that the Qaddafi government hoarded or deposited in the West ($37 billion alone is thought to be in the United States), the Middle East, and Africa is doubtful. For example, with the mysterious death of Shukri Ghanem, a close ally of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi who served as prime minister and later as head of the national oil company, finding and unfreezing those assets becomes uncertain.
For its part, the U.S. Treasury promised in October 2011 to return to Libya the $37 billion that Qaddafi and his loyalists stashed in the United States, although a few congressional leaders suggested that some of it be used as payment for the NATO operations that toppled Qaddafi. Without that money, Libya's fragile economy could shatter. The International Monetary Fund is already reporting that Libya's deficit is unsustainable in the long run: "The present value of financial assets and future oil extraction indicates that from 2012, public spending will exceed the sustainable, long-term level by over 10 percent of GDP." If Qaddafi's gold is not recovered, Libya's outlook will look even worse.
Turning to Algeria, since the fall of Tripoli in August 2011, Libyan man-portable air-defense systems (or, Manpads), rocket-propelled grenades, SAM-7 missiles, and other sophisticated weaponry have made their way into the hands of al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), which is based on the Algerian border in northern Mali. In February 2012, Algerian authorities unearthed 15 Libyan Manpads and 28 SAM-7s in the southern city of In Amenas. Suspicions fell on three groups: weapons traffickers, AQIM, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, a new jihadist group that has launched numerous attacks against Algerian military targets and kidnapped European aid workers in Sahrawi refugee camps in southwestern Algeria. In September 2011, terrorists launched rocket attacks against military helicopters parked in the airfield of Jijel, in eastern Algeria. So far, no one has claimed responsibility, and it is unclear whether the weapons came from Libya, but the incident might be part of a broader AQIM campaign to destabilize the country and the region.
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