Last month the U.S. and its allies took little time in dominating the airspace over Libya, but the mission could have been exponentially harder had the U.S. agreed to an ambitious military "wish list" from a son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi just two years before.
The military request, which included American F-16 fighter jets, is reported in an April 2009 leaked State Department cable posted on the website WikiLeaks. Libyan officials, speaking on behalf of Moammar Gadhafi's son and National Security Advisor Mutassim Gadhafi, made the request to U.S. officials in January 2009, a little more than two years before American F-16s did take to the air in Libya, but against Gadhafi.
The officials, the cable said, had "been keen to purchase U.S. military equipment -- both lethal and non-lethal -- and to secure training for Libyan military personnel."
The wish list, "which included requests ranging from F-16 fighters to mobile field hospitals," was so wide-ranging that another Libyan official speaking on behalf of another Gadhafi son labeled Mutassim's request as "strange," according to a December 2009 cable.
That official, speaking for Mutassim's fraternal rival Saif al-Islam, did not hesitate, however, to ask why the U.S. had blocked the sale of Little Bird special operations "light attack" helicopters to Libya.
"The Libyan military was still very interested in purchasing the aircraft," the cable says. The Libyan official "suggested the helicopters have all armament removed so they could be categorized as 'non-lethal equipment.'"
CLICK HERE for more on the Little Bird helicopter from the Federation of American Scientists.
According to the U.S. State Department, current trade agreements do not allow the sale of "lethal" items to Libya. However, another State Department cable said that in late 2008, Libyan officials there believed relations would improve enough for lethal weapon purchases "in the near future."
It was not the first time State Department officials said Mutassim appeared to unwittingly "over-reach" in his role as National Security Advisor, according to the April 2009 cable penned by U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz.
Mutassim had already attempted to install security chiefs without the approval from others in the regime and had unilaterally requested $1.2 billion from a Libyan oil giant in order to create his own military special forces unit. When he heard of the latter request, Moammar Gadhafi "laughed" at his son, according to another WikiLeaks cable.
In a meeting with Cretz, Mutassim also appeared to not understand the various bureaucratic agreements between Libya and the U.S., despite repeated explanations.
"Libyan officials have described him as not intellectually curious, reporting that it is a struggle to get him to read custom-made abstracts on current events, national security and foreign affairs," one cable says. "Nevertheless, he is considered a serious contender to succeed his father and has proven he has the power to influence military and security decisions."