CIA agents in Libya guide rebels West shadow force at work

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By MARK MAZZETTI AND ERIC SCHMITT NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
  • Published 1.04.11
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Washington, March 31: The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military air strikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.

While US President Barack Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Gaddafi’s military, the officials said.

In addition to the CIA presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing air strikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.

American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Gaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.

In addition, the American spies are meeting rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Gaddafi, said US government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities.

American officials cautioned, though, that the western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces. A CIA spokesperson declined to comment.

The US and its allies have been scrambling to gather detailed information on the location and abilities of Libyan infantry and armoured forces that normally takes months of painstaking analysis.

“We didn’t have great data,” General Carter F. Ham, who handed over control of the Libya mission to Nato on Wednesday, said in an e-mail last week. “Libya hasn’t been a country we focused on a lot over past few years.”

Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorising the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels, American officials said yesterday. But weapons have not yet been shipped into Libya, as Obama administration officials debate the effects of giving them to the rebel groups. The Presidential finding was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement released last evening, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to comment “on intelligence matters,” but said that no decision had yet been made to provide arms to the rebels.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, also said yesterday that he opposed arming the rebels.