Part of the debate in Washington regarding the U.S. and coalition intervention in Libya is whether or not to arm anti-government forces there. While some, including President Clinton, support the idea, some Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are urging caution. “I think at this stage we really don’t know who the leaders of this rebel group are,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. And House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said yesterday that the U.S. should proceed with caution because extremists, including Al Qaeda elements, are operating within the Libyan rebel movement.
Ali Suleiman Aujali, former Libyan ambassador the U.S. and now the Transitional National Council’s official U.S. representative, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week that the U.S. must arm the rebels. “We need better arms and the training to use them.” Today in an exclusive interview, ThinkProgress asked Aujali if he could alleviate concerns that U.S. and allied arms might end up in the hands of extremists:
AUJALI: The Libyan people don’t want to change the Qaddafi regime with an extremist regime. This is number one. Number two, of course, if Libya, they received the armament or receive training assistance, of course it has to be used and has to be in the right hands. There is no way they will make these arms available for everybody to get them and do what they want with them.
This is a very serious issue. We have to be responsible and we are responsible. But we ask of course the international community to help the rebels, airstrikes by itself is not enough. We need weapons to fight Qaddafi. We need weapons to defend ourselves. We need weapons to protect the Libyan civilians which was recognized by the international Security Council.
We also asked Aujali to respond to a recent reported proposal from Muammar Qaddafi’s sons Seif and Saadi in which their father would be removed from power to make way for a transition to a constitutional democracy under the direction of Seif. “This initiative is born dead,” Aujali said, adding, “There is not much difference between Qaddafi and his sons.” Watch the entire interview:
Aujali also spoke at the Center for American Progress today and insisted that the opposition movement in Libya is not an extremist one. “Nobody can claim that al Qaeda is behind this or extremist is behind this,” he said, adding, “We will never allow al Qaeda, the Libyan people they will not change Qaddafi’s regime by al Qaeda or by extremists.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week appeared to concur with this sentiment, saying there is “absolutely no evidence” that Libyans support Al Qaeda.
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