Only a handful of the Libyan opposition’s military leaders have been publicly identified by name and it is still unclear whether they are working together or in competition with each other, according to current and former intelligence officials.
Military leaders include a longtime opponent of Moammar Gaddafi who spent two decades in Northern Virginia and a former general who once helped bring the Libyan leader to power.
The CIA has dispatched operatives into Libya to quickly gather intelligence on the identity and ambitions of the rebels. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has already described the opposition’s leadership, broadly speaking, as “a very disparate, disaggregated” group.
That description appears to apply equally well to the opposition’s military leaders.
The senior defense official on the Transitional National Council, the opposition’s governing body, is listed on the group’s Web site as Omar Al-Hariri. Hariri, the former general who helped bring Gaddafi to power in 1969, was imprisoned with 300 others after a failed coup six years later and was held there until 1990, when he was placed under house arrest.
Until recently, he was still under house arrest in the city of Tobruk.
“This time, the people will be our safeguards,” the 67-year-old Hariri said in a March 2 interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper. “They will elect a new president, and he will serve for a limited time. He could be removed if he does not serve the people. And, of course, we will need a parliament and a multiparty system.”
Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis, another known military leader, spent the past two decades with the Libyan regime. Younis, who was Gaddafi’s interior minister and the commander of the Libyan special forces, broke ranks in February.
Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan army colonel who for years commanded the Libyan National Army (LNA), an anti-Gaddafi group, joined Younis in early March in Benghazi.
Like Hariri, Haftar had been part of the 1969 coup and was rewarded with a position on Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Command Council. He later led Libyan troops in their war with neighboring Chad for seven years until his capture by Chadian forces.
In 1988, he changed sides and established the LNA, allegedly with backing from the CIA and Saudi elements. In 1996, he was reported to have been behind an alleged uprising in eastern Libya. By that time, he was already settled with his family in Falls Church.
Asked about Haftar and any connection to the CIA, a senior intelligence official said it was policy not to discuss such issues.
The British newspaper the Daily Mail described Haftar as one of the “two military stars of the revolution” who “had recently returned from exile in America to lend the rebel ground forces some tactical coherence.”
But given the uncertainty within the Libyan opposition camp and the disparate nature of military forces, it is difficult to sort out any leadership structure. Younis and Haftar, for instance, have been on opposite sides for at least 20 years, leaving it uncertain whether they have been able to align their interests.
Another self-proclaimed military leader is Abdul Hakeen al-Hasadi, who had claimed that he fought against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was captured in Pakistan and jailed, probably in Bagram, until his release in 2008.
Hasidi’s presence within the Libyan opposition has drawn the attention of members of Congress. At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) confronted Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on Hasadi, asking: “Is he incarcerated? Or is he commanding rebel forces right now? Or you don’t care enough?”
Steinberg responded, “Congressman, again, I think — if we want to get into the details, I think we could have a further conversation in a closed session on this.”
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.