Admiral James Stavridis, commander of NATO and overall chief of U.S. and coalition forces in the Libyan war, says American intelligence agents are "examining very closely" the rebel forces for whom U.S. forces have gone to war. So far, Stavridis says, the U.S. has discovered "flickers" of the presence of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, although Stavridis calls the opposition leadership "responsible."
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Stavridis was asked by Republican Sen. James Inhofe to comment on "reports about the presence of al Qaeda among the rebels, among those with whom we are associated." "As you can imagine, we are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders in these opposition forces," Stavridis responded. "The intelligence that I am receiving at this point makes me feel that the leadership I am seeing are responsible men and women who are struggling against Colonel Gadhafi. We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hezbollah, we've seen different things, but at this point I don't have detail sufficient to say that there is a significant al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence in and among these folks. We'll continue to look at that very closely. It's part of doing due diligence as we move forward on any kind of relationship."
Stavridis' testimony raises two questions. One is the extent of al Qaeda and other terrorist presence; what is a flicker? The second question is why the United States did not complete its "due diligence" before, and not after, going to war. "I don't say this critically of you, because you didn't make this decision," Inhofe said to Stavridis, "but wouldn't that have been a good idea to find out before we took the steps we are taking?"
"I think that from the moment this crisis unfolded, there has been a great deal of intelligence applied to this," Stavridis responded.
The lack of knowledge about the Libyan opposition has become a major question in the Libya conflict. At Monday's Pentagon briefing, Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked another top official, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, a very simple question: "Do you know who the opposition is, and does it matter to you?" "We're not talking with the opposition," Gortney responded. "We have -- we would like a much better understanding of the opposition. We don't have it. So yes, it does matter to us, and we're trying to fill in those gaps, knowledge gaps." Gortney's answer was another suggestion that the U.S. is doing critical due diligence on the fly in Libya.
Finally, some of the war's most vocal supporters outside the government are having a hard time clearly portraying the nature of the opposition. In a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute Monday, former Bush deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled "The Case for Backing Libya's Rebels," was asked to name some potential post-Gadhafi leaders of Libya. "I don't have the names off the top of my head," Wolfowitz answered, "but in fact you can Google them."