The Obama administration secretly encouraged Qatar to send arms shipments to Libyan rebels in their fight to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gadhafi, but US officials were soon faced with evidence that these arms were ending up in the hands of extremist Islamic militant groups, according to The New York Times.
They were “more antidemocratic, more hard-line, closer to an extreme version of Islam” than the main rebel alliance in Libya, a former Defense Department official told the Times.
According to administration officials, the White House “has never determined where all of the weapons,” paid for by US client states in Qatar and UAE, actually ended up inside Libya.
No evidence has emerged that the weapons used in the Benghazi attack on the US consulate in September were from Qatar, but they certainly fell into the hands of similar types of groups.
“Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country,” the Times reports, while “others have gone to Syria.”
This is not the only time the Obama administration found itself, directly and indirectly, on the side of foreign jihadist networks fighting an armed rebellion against a Middle Eastern state that the US was keen to see overthrown.
In October, The New York Times published an article confirming that “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists,” despite the fact that those weapons were being sent with US approval and coordination.
All along, the Obama administration claimed they had a proper vetting process which allowed them to pick and choose which of Syria’s disparate, unorganized rebel groups would receive the assistance, and avoid the thousands of jihadist fighters, many of whom are fighting under the banner of al-Qaeda.
But a US official told the Washington Post early on that the CIA knew very little about who was receiving US support, nor could they control exactly where it ended up. “It’s still the case that without actual access to Syria, it’s hard to know exactly who they are,” the official said.
The New York Times also reported that the Obama administration has been “increasing aid to the rebels” even though “we don’t really know” who is receiving it.
The US also secretly aided the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1990s, with the help of the Arab Gulf states. As former State Department advisor Aaron David Miller has recognized the Syria situation could have similarly dangerous consequences. “We saw the blowback in Afghanistan, where Saudi-inspired Wahhabi doctrine motivated a cadre of Arabs to fight first against the Russians and then against the West,” he wrote. Former Middle East analyst at the CIA, Paul Pillar, has also made this connection.