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."
Cables Criticize 'Not Intellectually Curious' Mutassim Gadhafi
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."
The cables note that three months after the request, the U.S. had not officially responded to Mutassim concerning the F-16s but said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency was already drafting "Letters of Offer and Acceptance for some of the non-lethal items." As for the Little Birds, U.S. officials involved in the discussions attempted to steer frustrated Libyan officials towards other non-lethal helicopter purchasing agreements that had already been approved by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Fighter Planes? No. Tours, Equipment, Aid, Training and Explosives? Sure
Before the U.S. started calling for Gadhafi to step down in the face of the popular uprising, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya had been for the most part improving steadily following his promise to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program and renounce terrorism in 2003, leading to an unprecedented era of military cooperation.
In the same cable that discussed the doomed Little Bird helicopter sales, the unidentified Libyan official is described as "surprised" by the number of military exchange and training opportunities offered by the U.S. to Libyan officers. The official promised to follow up immediately with another Gadhafi son, Khamis Gadhafi, head of Libya's elite Khamis Brigade.
A little more than a year later -- just before the uprising began in Libya -- Khamis was whisked around America on a whirlwind "internship," which including meetings with U.S. defense contractors, thanks to an American engineering company.
CLICK HERE to read ABC News' full report on Khamis Gadhafi's tour of the U.S.
In February this year, a team of U.S. Air Force maintenance experts conducted a seminar for nearly 50 members of the Libyan air force at a Libyan air base in Tripoli that was "hoped to lead to a continuing training program for Libyan air force maintenance experts," according to a report by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
The reported noted, "In the last 18 months, the United States and Libya have made great strides regarding military cooperation," including the signing of a defense Memorandum of Understanding.
In September 2009, three senior Libyan military officers were hosted at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany in hopes of helping the U.S. and Libya "build their military relationship," according to a report by U.S. Africa Command, which is now playing a key role in operations against Gadhafi forces in Libya.
In 2008 and 2009 alone U.S. companies exported over $60 million in non-lethal military wares to Libya, mostly aircraft equipment, according to two State Department reports. Part of the 2008 deal included more than $1 million in explosives.
ForeignAssistance.gov notes that over the past three years, the U.S. government has also given more than $5 million in direct foreign aid to Libya -- a practice that has been put on hold due to the "current violence and instability."