Egypt 'aids Libyan rebels against Gadhafi'

March 9, 2011 at 1:48 PM
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BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 9 (UPI) -- Egypt, still grappling with a revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February, is reported to be quietly aiding rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

This is seen as part of a drive by the transitional regime in Cairo to restore Egypt's leadership of the Arab world.

While the United States and the international community debate whether to intervene in the civil war raging in Libya to support the ragtag rebel forces holding the east of the country, Egypt apparently has sent around 100 Special Forces troops to help the insurgents.

The U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor says these troops "have played a key role in quietly providing weaponry and training to Libyan opposition forces while trying to organize a political command in the east."

Cairo has made no official comment on the report. But the transitional regime is dominated by the Egyptian military.

It is deeply concerned about a flood of refugees pouring across the desert border from Libya as well as a resurgence of Islamist militancy in eastern Libya that could reignite its own Muslim extremists.

No Arab state wants to see Libya degenerate into perpetual war and chaos, as has happened in Somalia.

Stratfor claimed that, Tunisia, Libya's western neighbor where the people power uprisings erupted in January, is "allowing armed volunteer fighters, along with Egyptian special operations forces, to enter Libya."

It gave no numbers but noted, "This reported influx of fighters would presumably be used to flank Gadhafi's forces from the west while other opposition forces move in from the east for a potential battle over Tripoli," the Libyan capital held by Gadhafi's loyalists and mercenaries.

Arab sources say that the Egyptian commandoes are most likely from Unit 777 of the Egyptian army's Special Operations Command set up in the late 1970s. Unit 777's 250-300 personnel trains with Germany's elite GSG-9 counter-terrorism force, the U.S. Army's Delta Force and France's GIGN, special operations arm of the National Gendarmerie.

The GIGN was instrumental in regaining control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from Islamic fundamentalists in December 1979.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Unit 777, whose main mission has been battling Islamist militants, has conducted operations outside Egypt.

There has been speculation that with Mubarak gone, Egypt will have a freer hand in terms of foreign policy and that the powerful military will have a bigger say in that regard.

"Unlike Persian Gulf Arab states, whose power is derived from petrodollars, Egypt has real military might and regional intelligence networks with which to assert itself," Stratfor observed.

"This means that in the near future, the United States may conceivably get a new source of manpower in the Middle East," analyst Victor Kotsev wrote in Asia Times Online.

"For Egypt's military rulers, this would also be a way to divert public attention away from domestic problems and to demonstrate competent rule in one area where they are indeed expert: military intervention.

"In a sense, the uprising created the ideal conditions for expanding Egypt's military role in the region. It weakened the political structure of the country while empowering the army," Kotsev wrote.

Egypt is well-placed to act as a regional gendarme, particularly as U.S. power and authority in the Middle East is waning.

It has the largest military in the Arab world: active armed forces totaling 468,500 personnel, including a 340,000-man army and reserves of some 500,000.

These forces haven't seen conventional combat since the 1973 war against Israel, except a four-day border shootout with Libya in 1977 in which Egyptian forces drove a few miles into Libyan territory before Algeria mediated a cease-fire.

Indeed, Egypt and Libya have had a rocky relationship since the unpredictable Gadhafi seized power from King Idris in September 1969.

"Libya's energy assets give it internal wealth that Egypt lacks, though these resources also make the country an attractive target," Stratfor noted.

"Coming out of its own political crisis, Egypt is experiencing a reawakening in the Arab world and appears eager to reassert its influence following years of insularity …

"In the case of Libya, Egypt is trying to position itself as a regional power that the outside world must rely on to operate in the country."

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