The PJ Tatler

Who are Gaddafi's mercenaries?

Jennifer Rubin takes a look at who is fighting Gaddafi’s civil war for him. And what we find is that there’s another war behind the war in Libya. Specifically, Gaddafi has enlisted the help of a group called the Polisario Front. They are:

Backed by Algeria for the past 30 years, the Polisario lays claim to a 103,000-square-mile strip of Saharan desert, which has been held by Morocco since 1975. A bloody war was fought between Morocco and the Sahara in the ’70s; since that time, there has been a state of cold war between Morocco on one side, and Algeria and the Polisario on the other. Qaddafi, meanwhile, has exacerbated the conflict by arming and training Polisario troops. It was therefore hardly surprising that a few weeks ago Qaddafi, according to Western intelligence sources, asked Polisario leader Muhammad Abdelaziz for military support in his struggle against rebels and the West. Abdelaziz heeded the call, sending hundreds of well-trained fighters, together with weapons and supplies, to the Libyan front. For weeks, Algeria was believed to have facilitated the transfer of these soldiers and materiel. This week, the French foreign ministry confirmed as much, and went so far as to say that Algeria is secretly backing Qaddafi in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, Morocco has understandably served the Western coalition as a quiet but prominent partner in the push to end Qaddafi’s rule, and has provided intelligence support as well as diplomatic cover.

The Algerians, then, are backing a group that is now not only destabilizing its neighbor, but also menacing US and NATO troops. There is a lot to unpack and understand in all of this, and I won’t claim to know it all. Why does Gaddafi need mercenaries? Does his use of them suggest that he’s even weaker than we think? Does he have reason to suspect his army might turn on him? What are the possibilities that the Polisario’s involvement will spread the Libyan civil war beyond its borders, into Morocco or Algeria? Does our involvement increase or decrease the chances of the war spreading?

In any case, here’s yet more evidence that Gaddafi is essentially a terrorist at heart: He’s relying on a terrorist group that menaces a Western-friendly state in the region for his own survival. And it’s more evidence that our administration has involved us in a viper pit it barely understands.