The 2011 intervention in Libya, authorized by the United Nations and led by the United States and some NATO allies, has been criticized for two main reasons. First, it was justified on phony grounds--that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi was slaughtering civilians, when in fact he was carefully targeting rebels who had attacked first. Second, the interveners aimed at regime change and thus failed in their ostensible humanitarian mission, instead magnifying the death toll at least ten-fold while fostering anarchy that persists until the present day. Yet perhaps the most profound drawback has remained hidden: the intervention rescued a rebellion that was actually led by Al Qaeda militants, not by pro-Western liberals as reported at the time.
This starkly contradicts the press narrative of 2011, which claimed that Libya's unrest had started with peaceful protests over the arrest of a human rights lawyer. Allegedly, the regime used lethal force against these nonviolent demonstrators, compelling them to reluctantly take up arms in self-defense. These amateur rebels then supposedly seized control of eastern Libya within days, prompting Qaddafi to deploy forces to commit genocide, which was stopped only by intervention. In reality, however, scholars and human rights groups have long disproved key parts of this story: the uprising was violent from the first day, the regime targeted militants rather than peaceful protesters and Qaddafi never even rhetorically threatened unarmed civilians.
The remaining mystery has been who actually launched the rebellion in eastern Libya--that is, which militants did the interveners rescue from defeat and help overthrow Qaddafi? The conventional narrative improbably suggests that Libyan human rights lawyers, reacting spontaneously to regime violence, somehow acquired arms and conquered half the country in a week. The truth makes much more sense: the rebellion was led by Islamist veterans of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Thus, the United States and its allies, not realizing it at the time, intervened to support Al Qaeda.
This remarkable story has remained obscured for eight years due to deceit and gullibility. The deception was spearheaded by Libya's non-Islamist opposition groups who sought intervention to overthrow Qaddafi by falsely claiming he was massacring civilians. The gullible audience was initially the international news media, which parroted the propaganda, and then Western politicians who responded with intervention. Meanwhile, the Islamist rebels refrained from touting their Al Qaeda connection, in order to benefit from the interveners' supply of airpower, weapons and training.
After years of research, I unraveled this mystery starting with an unlikely source: YouTube. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the age of smartphones, some rebels videoed their exploits and uploaded them in near real time. Western analysts largely overlooked this evidence because it was unconventional, posed language barriers and contradicted the conventional wisdom. However, the videos suggest an alternative history, which I was able to confirm using retrospective interviews and fragments of contemporaneous reporting that had been overwhelmed at the time by the flood of propaganda.
This evidence reveals that the Islamists planned the launch of the rebellion prior to any peaceful protests and then used snowball tactics, targeting a series of increasingly important security installations by obtaining weapons from each facility to use against the next larger one. At many such targets, some of the defending forces defected out of fear or sympathy, further bolstering the rebels for their next assault. The militants initially attacked police stations with rocks and petrol bombs to get firearms, which they used against internal-security forces to acquire higher-caliber weapons. In turn, they utilized this materiel to attack an army barracks to acquire even heavier weapons and armored vehicles, which they then deployed to capture eastern Libya's main garrison and four air bases--all during the week of February 15-21, 2011.
The Islamists timed their rebellion to coincide with a planned, nonviolent "Day of Rage" on February 17, 2011, which had been organized online for several weeks mainly by Libyan expatriates in Europe inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt...