What Is the UK Sending to Rebels in Syria? You Might Be Surprised.

The Independent has a story out today detailing what the UK is sending to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels in Syria.

When they read The Independent article, supporters of the revolution won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Here is my assessment, based on what has been reported in the article:

Five 4×4 vehicles with ballistic protection – one convoy for a FSA general they like Six 4×4 SUVs – one convoy for a FSA general they don’t like
20 sets of body armour – 20 rebels are going to feel like they won the lottery
Four trucks (three 25 tonne, one 20 tonne) – to carry the bodies of those who didn’t win the body armor
Five non-armoured pick-ups – for retreating when you realize the UK didn’t send you any weapons or ammunition
One recovery vehicle – a tow truck to haul back the destroyed wrecks of the 4x4s and trucks that were sent
Four fork-lifts – to unload the weapons and ammunition that wasn’t sent
Three advanced “resilience kits” for region hubs, designed to rescue people in emergencies – is three enough to rescue 20 million Syrians?
130 solar powered batteries – because the environment is the top priority
Around 400 radios – rebels can use these to desperately call for the weapons and ammunition that wasn’t sent
Water purification – there’s chemical weapons in the air, but at least the water will be clean
Rubbish collection kits – it won’t be a good war for television if there’s rubbish everywhere
Laptops and VSATs (small satellite systems for data communications) – so the rebels can read on the internet how the international press has labeled them all extremists
Printers – to print a sign saying “great, now please send us the weapons and ammunition we need to win this war.”

“In addition, funds have been allocated for civic society projects such as inter-community dialogue” – dialogue has worked so well in this conflict so far
“and gathering evidence of human rights abuses” – documenting and complaining about human rights abuses is far easier than international intervention to stop them from happening in the first place

“The last “gift” to the opposition, announced by William Hague last week, is that £555,000 worth of counter-chemical warfare equipment is on standby… Even the chemical equipment may not be of much use without adequate training. Potential users need the ability to assess threats and calculate the correct dosage for medication, along with an appreciation of differing field conditions…” – Perhaps it is better this way, since the pain of burning eyes and skin will at least be a distraction from the pain of feeling abandoned by the world.

Jolly good show, mates.

(This article is also available in Arabic and French)

In Egypt, Have the People Overthrown Themselves?

This week’s blog post is at The Huffington Post

In Egypt, Have the People Overthrown Themselves?

“Many of the same protestors who two and a half years ago risked their lives to chant ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam (the people want to overthrow the regime) were now calling for immediate political change in a democratic system outside of the electoral process they had fought so hard to achieve.”

Read the article here

Please leave your comments on The Huffington Post website below the article.

The Long, Hard Slog That Is Syria

This week’s blog post is at The Huffington Post

The Long, Hard Slog That Is Syria

“Standing on the front lines in Aleppo you can’t just smell the gunpowder, you can smell the depression.  It hangs in the air far thicker than smoke, and with far worse effects.  The fighters have a hard time seeing through it but they push forward anyway, having no choice.”



Read it by clicking here


(Also available in French here)

Please leave comments at The Huffington Post website below the article!

Escape from Abu Salim Prison

Escape from Abu Salim Prison

One year ago today I escaped from Abu Salim prison in Libya.  I had spent half a year being psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, pacing in my cell, staring at the walls and fearing that this would be all I would know for the rest of my life.

matthew vandyke in maktab al-nasser prison, tripoli, libya

On the 165th day of this unimaginable hell, prisoners came to my cell and broke off the lock.  I escaped Abu Salim with other prisoners of war and we ran for our lives.

That night I was watching the story of my escape on CNN.

The world thought I was dead for most of the time I was in Abu Salim prison – I was missing in action.  Despite the widespread belief that I was buried in the desert, Human Rights Watch (HRW) advocated for my release and the international press covered the story.  Only in the last two weeks before my escape did the Gaddafi regime even admit that I was alive and in custody, but they still would not let anyone see me or check on my condition.

HRW went to Abu Salim a few weeks before the prison break and was told I wasn’t there.  I was there, and I was being held in solitary confinement under deplorable conditions.  The Gaddafi regime did not care what the US government, NGOs, or the international press had to say.  I would still be in that cell, if not executed, if we hadn’t won the war.

I had come to help the Libyan rebels, and then the Libyan rebels came to help me.  My fellow rebel prisoners broke me out of the cell and we escaped together.  There was no outside intervention to save me from the horrors of Abu Salim.

A few days after my escape, I was at the Corinthia Hotel as a guest of the rebel government and I came under intense pressure, especially from HRW, to leave Libya.  The international press started calling my mother telling her to convince me to leave as well.  The press was confused about why I was still in Tripoli days after escaping from Abu Salim prison, as if I was waiting for something.

I was waiting for something – for Nouri.  Nouri Fonas was my friend of four years with whom I had been serving in the rebel forces before I was captured.  Transportation was difficult and it took Nouri a few days to arrive from Benghazi.  Soon after he arrived, we left Tripoli together.

The press and HRW had no idea where I went.  They assumed I had conceded to their demands and gone home.

Instead, Nouri and I spent one night in Benghazi, paid a visit to the Ministry of Defence, and then headed back to the front line.  We joined the Ali Hassan al-Jaber brigade, were assigned a military jeep that we fitted with a DShK heavy machine gun, and returned to the war.

freedom fighter Matthew VanDyke in the libya war

Just as when I first joined the revolution in March 2011, nobody was supposed to know about my return to the front lines.  My participation in Libya’s revolution was supposed to be a secret, a personal matter, but being captured and imprisoned in Abu Salim erased my anonymity.  I tried once again to stay below the radar when returning to the front lines after prison until a photographer spotted me as I passed through a checkpoint in the jeep.  The secret was out.

It was for the best, it turned out.  Occasionally, I was able to take the press with me in the jeep to the front lines so they could report on the war while I fought in it, giving them a safe escort in an otherwise uncertain conflict zone.  And thanks to our commander giving Nouri and I a lot of freedom to move as we wanted and fight where we wanted, we had a rare grasp of what was happening on the various front lines in Sirte.  We fought at many different areas on the front lines alongside various other brigades, making us a reliable source of information for the media.

Nevertheless, I was criticized after the war by men incapable of understanding why someone who endured nearly six months of hell in the notorious Abu Salim prison would return to combat after escaping.  To this day some of these individuals, from the comfort of their homes in Europe and the United States, have tried to disparage me for keeping the commitment I made to Libya the day I first put on a uniform in March 2011.

Their criticism speaks volumes about their character, not mine.  I told the rebels when I joined them in March 2011 that I would not leave Libya until the country was free.  I honor my word; that is how I was raised.  I would also not leave Libya before the men I was captured with were accounted for – they could have been in prison in Sirte or another Gaddafi-held city.  Why would I ever abandon them?  Furthermore, how could I leave Libya when there were any prisoners of war still being held by the regime?

These wars of liberation aren’t a game and there aren’t any timeouts.  The war in Libya, and the war now raging in Syria, are all-or-nothing pursuits.  As Omar Mukhtar said, “We will not surrender. We win or we die.”  As I write this, there are thousands of prisoners waiting in their cells in Syria, just as I was waiting in a Libyan prison last year. 

No amount of reporting, NGO press releases, or rhetoric will get them out – Bashar al-Assad doesn’t care what anyone says, just like Gaddafi didn’t care what any of them said about me.

This isn’t the time for observation.  This isn’t the time for politely discussing the situation at the UN, or standing at podiums issuing idle threats about what might happen if lines that we keep moving are somehow crossed.  We are way past going through the motions of diplomacy. 

Those thousands of Syrian prisoners – men, women, and children- are waiting for us.  Each day they stare at the walls and wonder if it will be their last.  I know the feeling, and I’ll do whatever I can to help them escape from their Abu Salim.

And I’m starting with this film.

After Aleppo

This week’s blog post is at The Huffington Post

“After Aleppo”

“Taking the fight to the streets of Damascus and Aleppo over the past few weeks wasn’t about holding territory. It was a demonstration of FSA capabilities, a display intended for both a Syrian and international audience and designed to achieve several broader goals.”

Read it by clicking here

(also available in French here)

Please leave comments at The Huffington Post website below the article!

Why Islamists Lost in Libya and Why Nobody Should Be Surprised

This week’s blog post is at The Huffington Post

“Why Islamists Lost in Libya and Why Nobody Should Be Surprised”

“Those who have criticized me for my participation as an armed combatant in the Libyan revolution, saying that I had helped deliver a country into the arms of Islamists and al Qaeda, have now been proven wrong.”

Read it by clicking here

Please leave comments at The Huffington Post website below the article!

Report on My June 2012 Trip to Libya

Report on My June 2012 Return to Libya

Spoiler alert – Libya is nothing like this: 

The Warriors movie poster

Contrary to media reports, Libya doesn’t look anything like this.

In June, 2012 I returned to Libya for the first time since the war ended. The primary purpose of my trip was meeting with Libyan government officials and mental health professionals in Libya on behalf of After The Revolution, the non-governmental organization (NGO) I created in 2012 to provide PTSD and other combat-related mental health training for Libyan mental health professionals and counselors who treat Libya war veterans.  In addition, I was taking photos and video for Rawporter.com, an innovative startup company who I have signed an endorsement deal with because their services show considerable potential for helping the Arab Spring.

And of course, I also wanted to see my fellow veterans from the war with whom I had fought for months to overthrow the Gaddafi regime and bring freedom to Libya.

Almost as much as I wanted to see my friends and comrades, I also wanted to see for myself how Libya, which so many of us had sacrificed so much for, was faring as a post-revolutionary country.  The media had been portraying Libya as unstable, dangerous, and even precariously close to another civil war.  Opponents of intervention in Syria were using these reports to strengthen their arguments against applying the Libya model to Syria.  A few days after my arrival in Libya I was approached by a friend of mine who works for one of the most prominent and recognizable international NGOs in the world, who, in the safety of the opulent Blue Radisson Hotel cafe, told me how bad the security situation was in Tripoli, and how she would soon file a report back to her NGO to that effect.

Yet my Libyan friends were not complaining, and they live there.  They were happy to be free, optimistic about their future, and going about their lives as usual.

I did not come to Libya on assignment to cover a specific story.  I wasn’t under pressure by an editor to produce an eye-catching headline or confirm the well-established media narrative on the security situation in Libya.  I didn’t stay in hotels, I stayed with Libyan friends, as always.  Other than getting one coffee with some Libyan friends, I didn’t spend time trolling around the café at the swanky Radisson Blue hotel with other NGO executives and journalists, transitional government officials, or foreign businessmen.  I didn’t mingle with men in suits and I didn’t travel with private security or any entourage other than my friends.

My time was spent on the streets and in the houkha cafes, talking about life and Libya with a wide variety of characters – former rebel fighters, revolutionary musicians, Tawerghans and Misratis, Islamists, the wealthy and poor, dual-nationals, both a Human Rights Watch employee monitoring torture and an interrogator who admits to torturing prisoners and defends it as necessary, and occasionally a few of my journalist friends who happened to be in Libya covering stories or holding photo exhibitions.

So, what is really going on in Libya?


The security situation in Libya is, contrary to the false impression left by sensationalized headlines of incidents here and there, mostly good.  I left my guns in storage the entire time and routinely stayed out in Tripoli and Benghazi as late as 1 or 2am.  Without my combat gear, thick beard, and suntan I didn’t look half as Libyan as I did during the war and now clearly stood out as a foreigner.  Furthermore, I was occasionally recognized by Libyans as the American who had fought with the rebels during the war.

Yet, I had no concerns for my security.  I did not witness any violence, wasn’t so much as inconvenienced by a militia checkpoint, and felt safer walking the streets at night than I do in my own hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

There are not roaming gangs of trigger-happy militia everywhere.  There are not routine gunfights in the streets of Tripoli.  There are not widespread kidnappings, terrorist bombings, criminal activity, or any of the other post-conflict mess that characterized places like Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years (as I can attest to, having travelled extensively throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It was, in fact, a little boring at times.


Libyans remain optimistic about their future, and although they complain about politics, the fact that they can complain at all means that democracy is alive and well in Libya.  People no longer walk around looking over their shoulder, but rather they feel comfortable enough to voice their complaints openly and engage in political protests without fear of reprisal.

Some are dissatisfied with the elections, complaining that they know little about the candidates and that most people are just going to vote for family names or tribes.  One Libyan told me “thousands of people didn’t die in this war so I could vote for my cousin.” And he’s right – that isn’t what I fought for either.  But as I argued in my Huffington Post article Why Islamists Winning Elections Is Good for Democracy and the War on Terrorism, whoever wins these first elections (and they will mostly likely be moderates, not Islamists in the case of Libya) will fail to meet voters’ expectations and be voted out of office in a subsequent election.  Some of my good friends in Libya who have political ambitions and actually served in the war and deserve to win, are playing it smart and watching the power-hungry first election candidates walk into the fire of post-revolutionary disillusionment.

Generally speaking, however, Libyans are excited about voting in the election and being the masters of their own destiny for the first time.


Federalism is gaining popularity, not only in the East, but in the West as well.  I believe that some variation of federalism will be a part of Libya’s future, though to what extent remains to be seen.  The allocation of seats in the General National Congress, purportedly by population, greatly favors the West and has left many in the East feeling that they will effectively have little influence in the new government and remain under the domination of Tripoli.  There is talk in Benghazi of another war if Eastern federalist ambitions are not respected by the West. 

The federalists have made a major tactical error in choosing to boycott the elections rather than run and campaign for federalist candidates.  Turnout in the East will be high enough to make a boycott meaningless.


The Islamists are running in the elections, and they will win some seats in the General National Congress.  This result should not be feared by the West – even some of the Islamists recognize and appreciate the US and Europe’s help in overthrowing the Gaddafi regime (I know because I’ve spoken with some of them), and most are pragmatic and calculating enough to appreciate the need to have good relations with the West in the future.

Human Rights

As a former prisoner of war I am especially disturbed when I hear of prisoners being tortured in Libya.  I am also in the somewhat unique position of being both friends with an official tasked with reporting on torture in Libya for Human Rights Watch and a Libyan who has overseen or engaged in the torture of prisoners himself during interrogations and believes that it is necessary for the security of the country.

There is no excuse for torture.  That moral and academic argument aside, torture does and will occur in Libya for the foreseeable future, and much to the chagrin of those of us opposed to it, torture has undoubtedly contributed to the security and stability of the country.  There is no counter-revolution and no significant terrorism or other activity by Gaddafi loyalists.  Why?  Because anyone who was presumed to be a threat is in prison and when tortured they gave up other people, plots, and the location of weapons caches.  I know this for a fact from my friend who has participated in extracting this information from prisoners, and even though he and I had heated arguments about torture, I cannot deny that it has produced valuable intelligence that has helped to snuff out any potential of a counter-revolution.

Despite my belief that torture should be forbidden under virtually all circumstances, the fact that it is producing results in Libya, that it is ingrained into the psyche and life experience of Libyans after 42 years of Gaddafi, and that militias who engage in torture generally could care less what Human Rights Watch or any other outsider says, torture and other human rights violations will persist in Libya for some time.

Tribal Conflict

During my time in Tripoli there was fierce fighting between Zintan and the Mashashia tribe in Western Libya.  There was even a rumor going around Tripoli that chemical weapons had been used, perhaps white phosphorous, perhaps mustard gas – neither has ever been confirmed.  Additionally, the Toubou and Zwai tribes have been shooting each other in Kufra for months. 

The root causes of these conflicts pre-date the revolution and many of them cannot be resolved.  Eventually the tribes will reach an agreement among themselves and a fragile peace will be restored in these areas.  These isolated conflicts are not a substantial threat to the stability and security of Libya as a nation.

That is the truth about Libya.  Tripoli doesn’t look like a scene from the film The Warriors and Al Qaeda hasn’t taken over the East of the country.  The Muslim Brotherhood won’t do nearly as well in the elections as uninformed commentators and analysts in the West fear.  And Libya isn’t going to fracture into fiefdoms and city-states.

Most importantly, Libya is a success story of historical proportions and should be viewed as the most compelling argument for international intervention in Syria to ensure that next year Syrians cast their votes in a free, democratic country also.

Libya election poster with a post with bulletholes in it in the foreground

Photo I took at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, Libya in June, 2012 of a High National Election Commission poster, with a signpost riddled with bulletholes in the foreground. These elections came at a great cost in lives and I wish Libya the best as Libyans take the next step in achieving democracy.

Have the U.S. and Europe Helped Arm and Empower Islamist Militants in Syria?

Have The U.S. and Europe Helped Arm and Empower Islamist Militants in Syria?

Matthew VanDyke and Nouri Fonas with ammunition they acquired from Rajma Libya

Nouri Fonas and I, March 9, 2011. We found these boxes of ammuntion in the destroyed Rajma base, along with 60mm mortar tubes from WWII. Most of the weapons used by rebel forces were captured from Gaddafi's army, including my AK-47, FN FAL, and DShK machine gun.

One of the primary arguments against arming the Syrian rebels is that their lack of organization and centralized command means that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist militants and terrorists in their ranks. This argument is based on a combination of various influences – legitimate concern, an inability of CIA and State Department analysts to think outside the cubicle, groupthink in policy circles, and a natural aversion to such a politically risky policy.

This timidity and lack of leadership will ensure one thing: that Islamist militants get weapons.

And he who controls the weapons controls the revolution.

There are six reasons why the Syrian rebels must be supplied with arms and ammunition from the U.S., Europe, or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) through the Syrian National Council (SNC) before it is too late:

  1. The rebels will get weapons from other sources. It is in our interest to buy influence and favor with them by supplying the weapons ourselves.
  2. Syrians will become more religiously radicalized the longer the war continues, as the suffering and death tend to make people more religious during war and potentially susceptible to extremist ideologies. The sooner the rebels receive the weapons, the sooner the war will end, reducing the impact of this phenomenon.
  3. Without conventional weapons the rebels may have no choice but to resort to bombings, including suicide bombings. This will spur radicalization, spread knowledge of explosive methods and technology, and turn Syria into a training ground for a new generation of terrorists.
  4. Islamist militants will be among the first to die in the war anyway because they actively seek martyrdom. Even those with second thoughts at least believe that God will protect them, which significantly diminishes their capacity for self-preservation on the battlefield. I witnessed this on occasion when I was fighting in the Libyan civil war.
  5. Supplying weapons through the SNC will allow the SNC to control the flow of weapons and ammunition to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel groups. Conditions can be placed on the SNC for the receipt of arms and its members can be held accountable for which rebel units receive weapons. Foreign advisers can also be on the ground and blacklist certain units from receiving weapons as a condition of supplying the SNC.
  6. Most importantly: Islamist militants are very good at acquiring weapons on their own through networking with terrorists and insurgents from Iraq and elsewhere in the region. By not supplying the rebels ourselves we are increasing the importance and influence of Islamist militants by making the Islamists the main players in arming the revolution.

I initially wrote these six points in response to an inquiry on a LinkedIn forum by a colleague asking for my opinion on arming the rebels because of concerns that they are becoming radicalized. A week after I wrote my response on the forum, Reuters published an article that confirms this is exactly what is happening in Syria.

From the Reuters article “Rebel rivalries and suspicions threaten Syria revolt”:

“Many say Islamist groups, from hard-line Salafists to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, bankroll many battalions that share their religious outlook”

“Fighters say private donors, possibly frontmen for Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have funneled millions of dollars to favored rebel groups. Many suspect the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are getting the lion’s share”

“Leftist politicians and other opponents of Islamists are trying to counter that influence by funding rival armed bands”

“We felt forced into aligning with the Free Syrian Army because it is the most widely known. If it gets recognized, we’ll get foreign aid,’ says the Idlib rebel Mahmoud.”

A few days later, another Reuters article revealed that the rebels are being forced to resort to bombings since they don’t have enough guns and ammunition:

“We are starting to get smarter about tactics and use bombs because people are just too poor and we don’t have enough rifles”

“You are going to start seeing an escalation as we improve our techniques of bomb-making and delivery.”

Recently there have been a series of terrorist attacks by Islamist militant groups within the Syrian revolution. These groups are gaining influence and becoming key players in the revolution because they can claim tactical victories against the regime. Rebels using conventional and guerilla tactics have been far less effective lately against Assad’s overwhelmingly better equipped military, supplied by Russia.

Unless the rebels are supplied with the weapons and ammunition they need to wage an effective insurgency, the revolution will be increasingly in the hands of the Islamist militants.

By not supplying the SNC with arms, the U.S. and Europe are essentially arming and empowering these Islamist militants.

We are on a collision course with the realities of the Arab Spring. It is time to take the wheel and do what we do best in the Middle East: buy influence with weapons and money.

The Wonderful Disaster That Is Egypt’s Presidential Election

The Wonderful Disaster That Is Egypt’s Presidential Election

My article this week is at The Huffington Post. Click below to read it:

“The lapdog of a brutal dictator versus an Islamist in Egypt’s presidential elections sure makes our Presidential elections look boring.”

Read more at The Huffington Post HERE

The Houla Massacre in Syria Is Just the Beginning

The Houla Massacre in Syria Is Just the Beginning

March 7, 2011. Nouri, Ali, and I were in Benghazi, watching television for news of the Libyan civil war we would soon be fighting in. It had been a long day – we recovered Ali’s Toyota Hilux pickup truck that was damaged in the Rajma military base bombing, made some quick repairs, and got it back on the road as our combat vehicle.
It was my first day in the revolution; I had been in Libya for less than 24 hours.

The town of Bin Jawad had just fallen to Gaddafi’s forces that day and Ali shared with us the disturbing news he had heard.

Fifty rebels had been captured in Bin Jawad.  They weren’t taken to prison. They weren’t even given the mercy of a bullet in the head.

They were burned alive.

Matthew VanDyke talking with Nouri Fonas and Ali about the capture of Bin Jawad by Gaddafi's forces

Photo from my conversation with Ali and Nouri Fonas about the capture of Bin Jawad on March 7, 2011. I was captured with Ali and two other rebels in Brega on March 13, 2011. Ali was missing for nearly a year until his body was found in a mass grave months after the war ended.

News of a massacre in Bin Jawad did not deter us. Rather, it increased our resolve to fight, and to get to the front line as soon as possible and do whatever we could to stop Gaddafi’s advance towards Benghazi.

And it will be the same with the rebels in Syria. For every person in Houla who had their homes destroyed by artillery, for every rebel fighter who stood his ground and was killed by Assad’s army, for every woman and child who had their throats cut by the Alawite shabiha militias that swarmed the town after the shelling had stopped – a dozen, maybe a hundred, maybe a thousand Syrians will join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and fight to the death to avenge them.

This is just the beginning

The Houla massacre is emblematic of the savagery that is rapidly defining the Syrian civil war and it provides a disturbing insight into where this war is headed.

The following is certain:

1. Revenge will be taken by the people of Houla against nearby Alawite villages where the shabiha militias came from.

2. These Alawite villages will be razed, just as the Libyan town of Tawergha was razed by militias from Misrata for supporting Gaddafi during the war and because some Tawerghan men participated in the assault on Misrata and allegedly in the rape of Misratan women.

3.  When Assad falls there will hardly be an Alawite left in Syria. Many will flee and most of those who remain will be killed.  The majority of Syrian Christians, a group that supports the regime out of fear of what might replace it, will follow them into Turkey and Lebanon.

4. Revenge killings by the various sects will continue long after the regime falls.

5. The sectarian conflict in Syria will exacerbate sectarian divisions in neighboring Lebanon, igniting violence that could escalate into small-scale civil war in various parts of that country as well.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has made an effort to control its forces and minimize sectarian strife and atrocities committed by the rebel forces, but without a centralized command structure, organization, and a way to hold individuals accountable for their actions there isn’t much they can really do to keep a cycle of revenge from spiraling out of control in the coming months.

Syria has already surpassed Libya in terms of brutality, violations of human rights, and unapologetic savagery. It is devolving into an African-style genocidal civil war reminiscent of Rwanda and the best we can realistically hope for at this point is a Lebanese-style civil war (which lasted 15 years and resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties).

Neither of these are good scenarios, but one of them is going to happen.  Whether it is the worst case or the least-worst case scenario will depend on how soon the West intervenes. Inaction will lead to more massacres and Houla will just be one of many, alphabetized under “H” along with Hama and Homs on a “Syria massacres” Wikipedia page.

The Assad regime must be thoroughly destroyed, dismantled, and overthrown with no remnant of it remaining. NATO did a tremendous job assisting us in Libya, ending the war more quickly with far fewer lives lost than would otherwise have been possible.  It is likely I would still be a prisoner of war today (or still fighting Gaddafi if I had been traded or released) if it weren’t for NATO intervention in Libya.  The unequivocal defeat of Gaddafi’s forces through NATO airpower combined with our rebel forces on the ground has allowed Libya to progress with relative stability and no signs of a counter-insurgency against the new government.

It is time for NATO to act, with or without UN approval. Houla should be a catalyst for action, not because of the massacre itself, but because of what the aftermath will be if such massacres are allowed to continue.  The massacre in Houla, the shelling of Homs, and the current assault on Hama have already begun a chain reaction of revenge killings that will continue even after Assad is overthrown.  By the time the violence stops, Syria will be an almost entirely Sunni country with very few Alawites or Christians left standing.

And once that happens, they’ll turn on each other.


Note: I have not found any published reports of rebels being burned alive in Bin Jawad and have thus been unable to confirm whether what Ali heard really did happen. However, Associated Press reported on March 7, 2011 that 50 rebels were captured in Bin Jawad – that part of the story is confirmed – it is only whether they were burned alive or not that is in question. During the war there were many stories coming from the front lines, not all of which were accurate. Please contact me if you have any evidence or details about this incident.