Source: Danger Room
Photo: Flickr/Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The (still unfinished!) Libya war is waged by a patchwork quilt of established military giants: the United States and Britain, for instance. Less heralded — but no less important to the Libyan revolutionaries — was a new entrant in Mideast security: teeny, tiny Qatar.
If the Persian Gulf nation has any defense profile at all, it’s mostly for hosting the giant al-Udeid air base, a major transit point for U.S. troops and material heading to Iraq and Afghanistan. But despite having very few men under arms, Qatar not only helped keep Moammar Gadhafi’s planes grounded, it helped turn the ragtag Libyan rebels into a real fighting force — and even, according to one well-placed source, played a key role in getting them into Tripoli.
“The principle source of support for the rebels came from ‘Q-SOC,’” the Qatari special forces, says this source, who would only be identified as a former U.S. intelligence contractor with direct knowledge of operations in Libya. With the advance on Tripoli impending, the “Q-SOC” teams went to work getting rebels ready to finish the war, teaching them how to use the shoulder-fired missiles they looted from Gadhafi’s weapons stocks and even the basics of shooting straight.
“They went west into the Nafusa mountains and provided minimal basic shooting and tactics training to individual rebel brigades. That’s why those rebels are generally in three-color desert uniforms,” the source tells Danger Room. The Los Angeles Times described those Nafusa-based rebels as “gritty, and gave them a large share of credit for turning the tide of the war. “They also selected 100-plus western-region Libyans for small-unit leadership training, and flew them to Qatar and then back to Nafusa for the big push.”
That was just one aspect of the Qatari aid to the rebels. The Qataris, however improbably, were the first foreign military on the ground providing military training. “They have been more effective than any other nation,” a rebel military representative told the Washington Post in May. “They just haven’t boasted about it.”
Qatar provided air support, too. And while the Qataris couldn’t match the contributions of major NATO air forces, they made a massive commitment, relatively speaking.
“The Air Force didn’t just send some planes, they sent what probably amounts to the majority of their operational air force,” says the director of Qatar’s Royal United Services Institute, David Roberts. “They have 12 [Mirage] jets, and they sent six or eight for the no-fly zone.”
The Libya war amounts to a “coming out party” for the Qatari military, which may have been trained by British and French forces, but boasts only 8,500 soldiers and hasn’t ever attempted an operation far from home. “For all intents and purposes, it’s the first time they’d done anything quite this autonomous and real,” Roberts says. “It’s a genuine surprise to everyone here.”
But don’t expect a repeat performance. Qatar’s involvement in Libya was the result of something of a perfect storm, from Roberts’ perspective: the opportunity for a hated strongman’s downfall with the desire on the part of an unconstrained royal elite to demonstrate that “Arabs should solve Arab problems,” not the birth of Qatari bellicosity.
Plus, while the cash-flush nation might not need Libyan business, it’s now in a prime position to reap reconstruction contracts from a grateful post-Gadhafi government. Not bad for a country that’s better known for its hugely influential satellite news channel than for its martial prowess.
By Spencer Ackerman