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August 08, 2011

Rifts Exposed in Libya's Rebel Ranks

by Elizabeth Arrott

Libya's rebel leadership is being reshuffled after the killing of its military commander. The death of General Abdel Fattah Younis late last month exposed divisions within the Benghazi government, a rift echoed in the split between rebels in the east and west.

Rebel politician Mamoud Jabril has been asked to come up with a new executive board for the rebel's Transitional National Council. A rebel spokesman says the new members are expected to be announced soon, although no deadline was given.

Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil dismissed the 14-member board Monday, following accusations that some were directly involved in General Younis' death.

TNC probes Younis' death


The rebel military commander was shot and killed July 28 after being summoned to Benghazi for questioning about possible lingering ties to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The TNC said it is investigating his death, which has further divided the fledgling rebel government.

The rebel leaders also are moving to unify the military forces. An official in the opposition interior ministry announced Tuesday there will be a reorganization of the rebel's military forces.

Ahmed Hussein said that current "security formations" will be dissolved and brought in under the command of either his ministry or the army.    

Tensions within the opposition military have been apparent for some time, fueled largely by a rivalry between Younis and Khalifa Haftar, a popular opposition figure who returned from exile in the United States.

Rift impedes TNC progress

Zaid Akl is an analyst on Libya at the Ahram Center in Cairo and believes such tensions have been more than the TNC can always handle.

"The degree of institutionalization of the Council is still somewhat immature and that is why a lot of personal interferences sort of influence the outcome, the general, organized political behavior of the Council," said Akl.

Six months into the uprising, the Council is still trying to solidify its position. In addition to the political and military reshuffle, officials say they will insist that cabinet members spend more time in Benghazi, rather than drumming up support in foreign capitals.

The international politicking has paid off, however, with a string of nations granting diplomatic recognition to the government in Benghazi.  Less clear is the opposition's military success. Despite the massive air support provided by NATO, working under a U.N. mandate, rebels in the east have been bogged down in the oil port of Brega for months.

Imbalance for military operations

What little success the opposition has enjoyed mainly has been the work of rebel forces in the west. They currently hold the western town of Bir al-Ghanam, about 80 kilometers from Tripoli, the closest the rebels have been to the capital yet.

Akl believes a certain amount of decentralization has been necessary.

"The separation between the power in the east - of the National Transitional Council - and the forces in the west, take place on a very small level that would allow for quick, on-the-field sort of assessment of the situation, and yet that would allow also for a degree of cooperation and coordination between the existing authority in the east and the field forces in the west," he said.

But Akl doesn't underestimate the fault lines within the opposition.

"It would be very naive to think Libya would be unified and united under one opinion or one banner. This will not happen. Libya was always divided under three regions. But the authority and the legitimacy of the National Transitional Council, that is very much opposed to the disintegration of Libya, will be a major factor here," he said.

Despite the council's current troubles, Akl argues the theme of national unity, along with foreign support, and the relative success in the day-to-day running of eastern Libya, will go far to support the TNC's claim of representing all of the rebel movement.