On a day when Libyan forces unleashed what is being called "their fiercest counterattack yet" on anti-government rebels, concern is mounting over radical forces that can capitalize on the unrest.
That makes decisions for the United States and others hoping to push Col. Muammar Gaddafi from power all the more challenging. "If the U.S. and its allies are going to pour economic aid and military support into their hands, in the best of all worlds it would be wise to know just who is on the receiving end," writes former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg.
Libya has at least 140 tribes, and already exists as two nations: one centered around the western capital city of Tripoli, the other on the eastern city of Benghazi, 480 miles away.
Benghazi is the capital controlled by the National Council, currently led by former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who defected from Gaddafi's regime to the rebel side. "Being a 'justice minister' in what passed as the Gaddafi government may be an oxymoron," Ginsberg adds. "But Abdel-Jalil has a well-deserved reputation for honesty as an international jurist. Whether he is able to become the de facto leader of the revolution is still very much an open question."
Another prominent Gaddafi foe is Abdul Fatah Younis, a former Libyan general and interior minister who resigned right after the revolution broke out and urged the army to join the revolution. Little is known about the political leanings of Younis, an aide to Gadaffi since the 1969 coup that brought him into power.
"Circulating in Benghazi are also remnants of the Libyan [Islamic] Fighting Group, a franchise cell of al Qaeda and theoretically linked to the larger Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as well as Islamic militants who escaped prison during the initial days of the revolution. They should not be underestimated. AQIM is a growing, potent al Qaeda franchise throughout the Sahara," Ginsberg writes.
U.S. officials say they are weighing a variety of options regarding Libya, including a no-fly zone to stop the bombing of government opponents. Even if that doesn't happen, Ginsberg suggests other ways to help the non-jihadist forces opposing Gaddafi, including "financial aid, military equipment, special forces support, intelligence and satellite imagery and humanitarian support."
As Washington seeks ways to militarily assist anti-Qaddafi forces, keeping Libyan weapons out of terrorist hands should also be a top priority. There are numerous reports of civilians carrying weapons like such as SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles taken from Gaddafi's weapons facilities. Security experts warn that these could circulate on the black market and eventually fall into the hands of terrorists outside Libya.