Earlier this month there were reports that Algerian mercenaries were aiding Moammar Gaddifi in his slaughter of Libyan citizens. Now, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Polisario Front (the violent liberation outfit backed by Algeria) is also in on the action:
Details of a deal to recruit 450 fighters from the disputed Western Sahara region have been passed to Nato officials by a former Gaddafi loyalist who was involved in the negotiations before defecting to the rebels.
According to the defector, who has not been named, the mercenaries are being paid $10,000 each to fight for Col Gaddafi for two months. The deal with the mercenaries was arranged last month after serious anti-government protests threatened to overthrow the regime.
The majority of the fighters are reported to be members of the Sahrawi tribe who are based in the Western Sahara, and have been fighting a war of independence against Morocco as members of the Polisario Front.
The Polisario Front denies the allegation, but evidence is mounting that Gaddafi is increasingly reliant on foreign fighters:
“Gaddafi is using all his contacts in the region to bring more mercenaries into Libya to defend his regime,” said a senior Nato officer.
Col Gaddafi is also believed to have recruited mercenaries from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and possibly even Asia and eastern Europe.
I have not received responses to my requests for confirmation of the report from the State Department or the Pentagon. However, if accurate , the information is significant for at least a couple of reasons.
First, it suggests that if we apply sufficient pressure (or if we eliminated Gaddafi entirely, as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) sensibly suggested) the rebels could in fact gain the upper hand. Right now, however, Gaddafi is receiving the benefit of outside ground forces and their weaponry while the U.S. and NATO bicker about supplying the rebels with equipment.
Second, these mercenary forces are now threatening American troops and are engaged in armed conflict with NATO. If these paid fighters are there with the consent or assistance of foreign governments we should make it abundantly clear that these countries will face the consequences of effectively taking up arms against our forces. And to the extent non-state actors — who are already involved in terrorist activity — are assisting Gaddafi, they should be treated as other terrorist groups.
The United States set a dangerous precedent in Iraq when Iran suffered no adverse consequences from its contribution to the death of American troops. This was a failure of the Bush administration (reports have indicated that military officials objected to any retaliatory efforts); it is one policy in which Obama should indeed be the un-Bush.