ISIS Leader Moves to Libya

Shishani as a Georgian special forces soldier and as an ISIS leader.

Shishani as a Georgian special forces soldier and as an ISIS leader.

by Pete Hoekstra
IPT News
February 16, 2016

The barbaric and elusive Chechen commander who recruited British executioner “Jihadi John” has moved to Sirte, Libya to assume control of ISIS operations in the terrorist organization’s metastasizing Mediterranean caliphate.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism first learned about the movement of Abu Omar al-Shishani – among the world’s most-wanted terrorists – through its exclusive Middle East sources. Other news organizations later confirmed the account.

Al-Shishani is a former American-trained officer in the Georgian special forces. He developed a reputation for his ferocity and effectiveness while fighting against the Russians during the 2008 invasion of Georgia and later for ISIS against dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

He established his presence not long after arriving in former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte by ordering one execution and chopping the limbs off another individual.

Western intelligence officials believe that up to 6,500 ISIS fighters – twice the number previously thought – have relocated to Libya as a result of coalition airstrikes on ISIS in the Middle East and new difficulties entering Syria.

Libya’s emergence as an ideal location in which to foster its new caliphate arose after NATO assisted radical jihadists in killing Gaddafi in 2011 and abruptly abandoned the country. Left in its wake were two rival governments competing for power, which created space for Islamists to turn Libya into a cesspool of extremism.

ISIS’s new caliphate along the Mediterranean coastline reaches as close as 200 miles from the vulnerable southern border of Europe. It exploits Libya as a base to export weapons, jihadists and ideology to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Benghazi and Derna have long been nests of radicalism. They provided more fighters per capita to Afghanistan and Iraq than nearly any other geographic area in the world. The difference between then and now is that Gaddafi kept the lid on the garbage can.

With al-Shishani hanging his hat in Sirte, Libya has become a safe haven for one of the most murderous leaders in the world today. The situation demonstrates the total failure of a Western foreign policy that “leads from behind.”

Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorismand the former Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He is the author of “Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya.”

The Center for Security Policy’s Middle East and North Africa Briefing

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Center for Security Policy, Nov.13, 2015:

The Middle East and North Africa: National Security and a Secure Freedom Strategy to respond to the threats posed by the Islamic State and the Global Jihad Movement.

  • Pete Hoekstra, Shillman Senior Fellow, Investigative Project on Terrorism; Former Chairman, U.S. House Intelligence Committee; Author, Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya (2015)
  • Elliot Chodoff, Major in the IDF Reserves; Counter terrorism expertPartner, Lecturer, and Political and Military Analyst at Hamartzim Educational Services
  • Jim Hanson, Executive Vice President, Center for Security Policy, Author, Cut Down The Black Flag: A Plan To Defeat The Islamic State (2015)

Moderator: Frank Gaffney, President & CEO, Center for Security Policy.

Hillary’s Libya Post-War Plan Was ‘Play It by Ear,’ Gates Says

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Daily Beast, by Nancy A. Youssef, Oct. 20, 2015:
She still defends the invasion as ‘smart power at its best.’ But war backers like Clinton had no plan for securing the country, says ex-Pentagon chief Bob Gates.
When Hillary Clinton appears before Congress’s special committee on Benghazi Thursday, she’ll likely be asked all the wrong questions.Clinton will be peppered with queries about why she kept a private email server, what caused the 2012 attacks on the U.S. special consulate in Benghazi, and how come U.S. forces didn’t respond more quickly to the strikes. But the really important issues—the questions longstanding followers of the U.S. and NATO intervention want answered—are: Why did Hillary Clinton push for strikes that contributed to the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi? And why didn’t the Obama administration bother to plan for the all-too-predictable chaos that came next?In 2011, as the United States considered intervention, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those who pushed for intervention—without resolving just how Libya would be governed after Gaddafi, according to a senior defense official who was part of the decision-making process. Obama advisers like Samantha Power and Susan Rice also made the case alongside Clinton. They argued the U.S. had a moral obligation to save lives in Benghazi facing a threatened genocide by Libyan dictator Gaddafi. The only strategy spelled out publicly was that the Europeans’ newly formed “Libyan Transitional Council” would be at the forefront of the effort. Washington was “leading from behind,” to use a famous phrase from the era.

As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who opposed the U.S. intervention, frustratingly explained to The Daily Beast: “We were playing it by ear.”

And the consequences of that improvisation are still being felt today. The country is an epicenter of the refugee crisis sweeping the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Part of Libya is under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. And the Russians use the U.S.-NATO intervention in Libya to justify their own military incursions in places like Syria.

But to Clinton, Libya was—and still remains—a major achievement. “We came, we saw, he died,” she crowed in October 2011. “Smart power at its best” is how Clinton described it during the most recent Democratic debate.

Clinton campaign aides note that she spent months working with the Libyan parliament to craft a successful state in both the run-up to American intervention and afterward, all while honoring a Libyan request for limited Western intervention. Above all else, the aides stress, the United States had a moral obligation to act in Libya.

“The alternative was so bleak, we simply had to take action,” one aide to the Clinton campaign told The Daily Beast.

President Obama, however, didn’t see things quite that way. He was reportedly reluctant about the operation—until Clinton, Rice, and Power swayed him, over Gates’s objections. “Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD [Department of Defense] resources to achieve what’s essentially the State Department’s objective,” Steve Clemons, then an analyst with the administration-friendly New America Foundation, told Foreign Policy at the time.

According to Gates, Obama told his advisers that he was 51/49 in favor of intervening. The ratio is telling. According to the New York Times Magazine, Obama was 55/45 about conducting the May 2011 raid that eventually killed Osama bin Laden.

And when Obama finally agreed to the operation, he stressed “Operation Odyssey Dawn” would be a limited effort to protect civilians from a possible genocide by the Libyan government. Removing Gaddafi was the last thing he wanted to do.

“If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air,” Obama said in March of 2011. “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq… [R]egime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

But repetition is exactly what happened. Attacks spread from the eastern city of Benghazi, where civilians were endangered, to the Libyan capital of Tripoli, 635 miles away. No one ever explained why the change in goal or who might succeed Gaddafi afterward.

During revolutionary-era Libya, no one in the upper ranks of the U.S. government seriously considered whether the newly created Transitional National Council, a rival government in rebel-held areas like Benghazi, could govern the oil-rich state. Nor did Clinton or top leaders ask about unintended consequences of an air campaign, especially if it successfully ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, according to the senior defense official who was part of the conversation at the time. And as the country was falling apart, it seems no one in the higher reaches of Clinton’s department took note. If they did, they did not take action.

As secretary of state, it was Clinton’s job to ask questions about the state of Libya, both before the intervention and after. She was secretary when the intervention began—and when the U.S. presence in Benghazi ended with a deadly attack. And while she held talks in the early months after Gaddafi’s death, Libya became largely a public afterthought. In the email caches released so far from her personal account, former adviser Sidney Blumenthal repeatedly kept Libya before Clinton, sharing his views of the situation, at the time contradicting the diplomats working for Clinton. Blumenthal, a longtime adviser to both Clinton and President Clinton, was not an expert on the region.

Read more

Also see:

During the so-called Arab Spring, new governments rose to power in Libya and Egypt with support from the U.S. But, instead of a new era of democracy, the result has been a disastrous expansion of Islamic extremist terrorism. Former head of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Pete Hoekstra spoke about his new book focusing on the topic with Full Measure.

A New Day In U.S. Foreign Policy: Obama Embraces ‘Moderate’ Islamists

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the shootings in Oregon from the White House in Washington October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the shootings in Oregon from the White House in Washington October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Daily Caller, by Pete Hoekstra, Oct. 13, 2015:

Soon after assuming office, President Obama began reaching out to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and — as noted by former UK ambassador Charles Crawford — his Cairo speech capped this new approach: “On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in which he declared that ‘America and Islam are not exclusive.’” What this really meant, Crawford paraphrased was: “Under my restrained leadership the United States will respect and accept conservative forms of Islam. Even if Islamism gets too aggressive we don’t plan to do much about it. And we may not be too active in supporting Muslim liberal trends either. Steady as she goes. And by the way I do hope you have noticed that I am not G. W. Bush.”

This was the backdrop to American support of the “rebels” against [Libyan dictator Muammar] Gaddafi. Though Obama waited until hundreds of U.S. diplomats and civilians had been evacuated on February 25, 2011, to impose unilateral sanctions and explicitly call for Gaddafi to step down, it is now clear that Obama’s goal from the start was that the Libyan rebellion fully succeed.

What is striking is that this required direct cooperation with a force counting among its number countless Salafi-jihadist veterans of the global Al Qaeda network, with American policymakers seemingly content to buy jihadists’ assurances that they would pursue jihad solely in their homeland, afterward laying down their arms.

In brief, for the first time, American policymakers willingly made the distinction between “good” jihadists — those entitled to the support indispensable to their fight — and “bad” jihadists, who even now were regular targets of American drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, ideologically, and in their ultimate goals (notwithstanding professions to the contrary), the “good” and “bad” jihadists were close to identical. And both the “good” and bad” were well aware, even if the Americans were not, that according to their interpretation of the Qur’an, lying to infidels in the service of the cause was not merely permissible, but in fact encouraged.

Yet in Obama’s worldview, America was engaged not in “a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ but rather [in] … a series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” as the president himself put it. Thus, it was essential to make a “distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

It was such thinking that led the Obama administration to seek direct talks with Mullah Omar and the Afghani Taliban in 2011 and, even more astonishing in retrospect, to reach out to the Islamic Front in Syria, the coalition of Salafi-jihadist militias that in December 2013 would metastasize into ISIS.

Although early in his presidency Obama signaled his greater acceptance of radical jihadism by siding with the Iranian regime over pro-democracy protestors during the Green Revolution, as well as with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — both in 2009 — the full extent of the transformation of American engagement with the Islamists only became fully apparent in Libya. Indeed, Libya ought to have put this policy of wishful thinking to the test — and then to an end. For in Libya, where many supposed U.S. allies made only the thinnest pretense at political moderation or at readiness to embrace democratic norms, the consequences were all too quickly apparent.

Still, even with the evidence before them, Obama’s team characteristically remained obdurate, maintaining that their approach was isolating the real foe. “Al Qaeda seeks to portray America as an enemy of the world’s Muslims,” John O. Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, explained in June 2011, midway through the Libyan civil war. But, he said, America’s action on behalf of the “rebels” had made it “clear that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam,” thereby eroding “the ability of Al Qaeda and its network to inspire people.” Without any precondition, jihadists were welcomed into America’s coalition for the first time.

Pete Hoekstra is the former Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee and currently the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism. This piece has been excerpted from his new book, Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya, published by Calamo Press. (c) Pete Hoekstra 2015. All rights reserved.

Egypt, Libya: U.S. Not Supporting Us Against the Islamists

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several Islamic State flags can be seen in the crowd. (Photo: © Reuters)

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several Islamic State flags can be seen in the crowd. (Photo: © Reuters)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, April 9, 2015:

The anti-Islamist governments of Egypt and Libya are complaining publicly that the U.S. is not providing enough counter-terrorism assistance and is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. They remain appreciative of the U.S.-backed intervention to topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but criticize the U.S. for not having a plan to contend with Islamist terrorists and militias afterwards.

Egyptian President El-Sisi is gently criticizing the U.S. for not supporting the anti-Islamist government of Libya enough. He said, “there is a legitimate [Libyan] government and that government is denied the weapons it needs to confront terrorists.”

El-Sisi traces it back to original mistakes that the West made in Libya He said that the military intervention to overthrow Gaddafi was the correct decision but the West failed to implement a strategy to help Libyans tackle Islamist forces afterwards.

“The NATO operation in Libya was not complete, which led the North African country to fall under the control of militant and extremist groups,” he said. He was more forceful in another statement that “we abandoned the Libyan people to extremist militias.”

Gaddafi supported terrorism, hid chemical weapons and spread anti-Americanism and radical Islamic propaganda. His relatively secular dictatorship stimulated Islamism and committed gross human rights violations. The NATO and Arab League alliance militarily intervened when the Libyan rebels—a mixture of Islamists, designated terrorists and secular-democrats—were about to experience a bloodbath in Benghazi.

The Muslim Brotherhood lost the first elections in a landslide despite massive organizational advantages. Unfortunately, the U.S. turned a blind eye to Islamism and even welcomed the participation of Qatar, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest allies.

The Qatari-backed Islamists stabbed the West in the back by undercutting the secular-democrats and using its influence to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood’s political and militia operations. The West doesn’t even see the backstabbing because it doesn’t view the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the problem.

Libya is now in a civil war. The internationally-recognized government in the east, based in Tobruk, is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. A rival government is based in the west at Tripoli and it has a coalition of loyal Islamist militias named the Libyan Dawn. This government is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan. The West is neutral.

The chaos has allowed ISIS to grow in the north. The terrorist group has captured Derna and expanded to Sirte. ISIS is reported to have 800 fighters in Derna alone. The Libyan Foreign Minister says 5,000 foreign jihadists are now in the country.

And it’s getting worse. The spiritual leader of Ansar al-Sharia, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, announced his allegiance to ISIS. Abu Abdullah al-Libi tweeted a photo of a book titled, The Legal Validity of Pledging Allegiance to the Islamic State” and started a pro-ISIS Arabic website.

One of the biggest problems facing ISIS is that the legitimacy of its caliphate was widely rejected on procedural grounds and al-Libi can help craft rebuttals. He is presented expert on Sharia Law so he speaks with religious authority, making him a dangerous addition to the relatively unpopular ISIS’ ranks.

ISIS says Tunisia is next and its largest training camp is less than 30 miles from the border. The anti-Islamist government there faces a major threat because Tunisia is the greatest source of foreign fighters for ISIS.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni chastised the U.S. and Europe in February for not providing its army with the weapons to fight ISIS and the Libyan Dawn coalition of Islamist militias who loyal to the rival government in Tripoli. A growing chorus of U.S. officials are urging a lifting of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

“Libya Dawn is part of militant Islamists which get weapons, ammunition and supplies from all over the world, but America and Britain have other ideas against the interest of the Libyan people,” Al-Thinni said.

He accused the U.S. and U.K. of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and trying to get the “terrorist grouping” into political power. Al-Thinni said his country would instead look to Russia and accused Turkey of supporting the Libyan Dawn forces.

“The British are trying with all their power to save the Brotherhood and ensure their involvement in Libya’s political scene,” said an anonymous member of Al-Thinni’s cabinet in December.

The Libyan Foreign Minister likewise lamented that his country is “not part of any international strategy against terrorism.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya pushed back against Libya and Egypt’s statements in February that the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist militias are part of the same problem as ISIS. She rejected the notion that the U.S. should favor the Tobruk-based secular-democratic government over the Islamist one.

” This is not to suggest that ideology has played no role in Libya’s internal conflict, although it is not the defining role that some – particularly external parties – have sought to highlight; Libyans are by and large conservative, Sunni Muslims who share similar values.  Labels are unhelpful and misleading,” she wrote on the fourth anniversary of Libya’s revolution.

The Libyan embassy’s charge d’affairs and women’s rights activist Wafa Bugaighis said the U.S. is not supporting the Libyan government enough with intelligence-sharing, arms transfers and training. She emphasized that Libya is not requesting U.S. airstrikes or ground forces.

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Will a Rogue General Undo Obama’s Regime Change in Libya?

Khalifa Hifterby :

It didn’t take Egypt very long to revert back to a military oligarchy. The Arab Spring was trumpeted as a new era in the history of the Middle East. But the Middle East is better at undoing history than the media is at writing it.

In Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi brushed away the Arab Spring. Now in Libya, General Khalifa Hifter is set to undo Obama’s military intervention which put the Muslim Brotherhood on the road to taking over Libya.

Forty-five years ago a group of officers led by Colonel Gaddafi seized control of Libya. Gaddafi enjoyed support from the military and Federalist opponents of a central government.

Now General Khalifa Hifter is leading another military coup while vowing to free Libya of chaos, instability and corruption. His forces pounded Islamic militias in Benghazi, including those responsible for the murder of four Americans, and seized the parliament in Tripoli.

Hifter, who has spent a long time living in the United States, claims to have American support, but his real support probably comes from the east.

Like Gaddafi, Hifter is supported by the military and the Federalists. However he isn’t fighting a weak monarchy, but the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other Islamist militias. But like Gaddafi, his takeover was probably inspired by Egypt and possibly even planned out by Egypt.

Egypt’s new government, which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, can’t risk allowing the group to control a bordering country and one of the largest oil reserves in Africa. Gaddafi used Libya’s oil wealth to fuel his insanity and fund terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood would funnel it into pursuing its program of regional and global takeovers and the Islamic militias that control much of Libya would become a problem for Egypt.

Egypt’s immediate security agenda is to control border instability fed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and Sinai. It would only be natural for Egypt’s new rulers to turn their attention to their country’s large western border with Libya.

Read more at Front Page

Rogue Libyan General Bombing Benghazi Militias that Attacked US Mission

libyan-revolutionary-khalifa-hiftar-450x253Front Page, By Daniel Greenfield:

The US could have used a rogue commanders while Americans were being murdered in Benghazi. That doesn’t necessarily mean this is a good thing. But it may not be a bad thing.

General Hiftar has lived in the US for decades and has ties to the CIA and the State Department that go back for some time. I don’t believe that the current administration would back this type of action, but Hiftar may be demonstrating to the US why we should back him.

After Obama’s illegal regime change attack on Libya, the country is a mess. There are two prime ministers, one is a Muslim Brotherhood man, the other is in exile. Much of the country is run by various militias with ties to Al Qaeda and the Brotherhood.

This looks like a strongman’s bid for power by showing that he can control the country. Muslim countries in the Middle East invariably revert to strongmen. Now Libya may have found its strongman.

The heaviest fighting in Libya since the Arab spring revolution broke out in the eastern capital of Benghazi on Friday as forces led by a retired general attacked militias on the ground and with jets.

Air strikes pounded militia bases at dawn and 6,000 troops converged on the city, storming a series of bases and checkpoints.

Eyewitnesses described a city in chaos, with jets streaking low over rooftops, tanks on the streets, heavy detonations and aggressive fighting.

“The fighting is close to my house,” said one resident in the Hawari district. “Planes are going very low, there are explosions, there is fighting around the February 17 [militia] base.”

The Feb 17 militia was hired by Hillary’s State Department to protect the US mission. And then State stopped paying them. The militia is loosely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and even to Al Qaeda. It may have also played a role in the attack.

The attack is led by Khalifa Hiftar, a former commander of the 2011 uprising that deposed Muammar Gaddafi. Hitfar announced the operation was launched to clear Benghazi of Islamist militias and restore Libya’s dignity.

Hiftar, who called on the army earlier this year to mount a coup against the government, appears to have the support of a significant proportion of Libya’s armed forces. He insisted the operation was sanctioned by army commanders, saying: “All reserve forces are mobilised. If we fail today, the terrorists win.”

But Libya’s government insisted the operation had no official sanction, with the chief of the general staff, Abdul Salam Jadallah, branding Hiftar a criminal and ordering Benghazi’s militias to fight back.

Air force planes struck the bases of the Rafalla al-Sahati and Ansar al-Sharia militias, the latter blamed by Washington for the attack two years ago on the US consulate that led to the death of ambassador Chris Stevens.

Abdul Salam Jadallah (Major-General Abdulsalam Jadallah al-Salihine al-Obeidi) is from Benghazi and was appointed last year.  He defected from Gaddafi’s forces, but then went rogue refusing to follow the orders of the former Prime Minister. He’s calling for Benghazi militias to fight back which is rather revealing of his ties to them.

Khalifa Hiftar obviously commands a sizable portion of the military which means that he can do what the government can’t.

In the Muslim Middle East that’s often all the qualification for running an otherwise anarchic collection of tribes that you need.