Rebel Leader's Assassination Must Not Diminish Support for A Free Libya

Last week, Major General Abdel Fatah Younes, Chief of the General Staff of the Libyan rebel army, and two of his commanders were killed under mysterious circumstances. The Transitional National Council, a body established by Libyans to facilitate the transition to a democratic Libya, should follow through with their pledge to investigate the events surrounding Younes’ death. Furthermore, the results of this investigation must be examined and understood by the international community.

Until clarity is achieved, Younes’ death must not diminish the international community’s resolve to see a democratic Libya emerge.

Despite some assertions of certainty as to the culprits of Younes’ death, it is not clear who killed him or for what reason. This confusion is exacerbated by several fault lines within the TNC. Younes was viewed by many within the TNC as a suspicious character. His close relationship with Muammar Gadhafi (Younes was Gadhafi’s long time interior minister, founding 1969 revolutionary, and personal friend) led many to question the sincerity of his sudden break with his long-time patron.

The most widespread theory of his demise posits that members of the Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade, a tribal quasi-internal security force in Benghazi, assassinated Younes after uncovering that he may have been passing battle plans to officers loyal to Gadhafi. Other theories include the al-Jarrah Brigade executed Younes in revenge for the killing of 1,200 imprisoned Muslim dissidents, mainly from Benghazi, in 1996. However, this group is not the only potential enemy of Younes. Speculation of a “fifth column” of pro-Gadhafi fighters has dogged the opposition for months, and over the weekend 15 pro-Gadhafi fighters, who called themselves the al-Nidaa Brigade, were killed. It is certainly possible that pro-Gadhafi elements would want to exact revenge for Younes’ defection.

Additionally, there is a tribal aspect to the killing. Younes was a member of the prominent Obeidi tribe based in east Libya. When he was killed, many of his tribesmen became violently enraged, and when opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced Younes’ death, he was surrounded not by fellow TNC members, but by elders of the Obeidi tribe, in an expression of TNC solidarity. Finally, there has been an ongoing public rift within the military hierarchy between Younes and Khalifa Hifter, another leading general. One or more of these divisions may, or may not, have contributed to his killing.

Despite all of this confusion, the U.S., and other nations recognizing the TNC, must not diminish their support for free Libya. The Arab Spring shattered the oft-practiced “devil may know” theory of international relations. Abandoning, or even substantially reducing support for the TNC at this critical moment, simply because there is now externally displayed confusion within it, would betray the sea-change that has occurred in the Arab world since January. Should the international community, especially the U.S., diminish its support for a free Libya, they would degrade their already heavily tarnished image in the region.

The U.S. and the international community must continue their diligence and encourage the creation of an inclusive, accountable democracy in Libya. For all of the negative implications assigned to the assassination of Younes by the media, his death might not signal a slippage of the revolution. It is perhaps a military setback, but it could also signal the coalescing of the revolution and perhaps even provide some motivation for anti-Gadhafi fighters. The international community would be wise to maintain their support of the TNC and a free Libya.

Photo Credit: Crethi Plethi