The fight for Libya

The New York Times reports:

As the military operation continued over Libya on Monday, there was some confusion about which country or organization is actually leading it, and for how long. France, Britain and the United States are in charge of their own operations, which each have different code names.

The participants are being “coordinated” by the United States, but not commanded by it, according to the French Defense Ministry. The Americans, with the most assets, seem to be the lead coordinator, but Washington has said it wants to step back after the initial phase and have NATO take charge of maintaining a no-fly zone and arms embargo.

Britain wants NATO to take over but France does not, and Italy is threatening to rethink its participation unless NATO takes command.

The Guardian editorial:

George Bush assembled coalitions of the willing, a euphemism for his failure to get the UN to back his invasion of Iraq in 2003. Barack Obama has UN cover for a no-fly zone in Libya, but he has paradoxically produced a coalition of the unwilling to enforce it. US commanders expected that Nato would announce yesterday that it was taking over. That was blocked by Turkey, whose prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for immediate talks. Neither Germany nor eastern European members are keen on Nato heading an operation that has nothing to do with the defence of Europe. That might leave Britain or France carrying the can, “using Nato machinery”.

An operation no one wants to lead reflects deeper unease about the scale of the air strikes and confusion about their strategic purpose. The Arab League is meeting in an emergency session today after its outgoing secretary general, Amr Moussa, called for an immediate halt to the military action and for talks. He clearly believes that the attacks have gone far beyond their stated purpose in protecting civilian lives. Mr Moussa’s position is important for two reasons. Not only have Qatari planes yet to become involved, but Mr Moussa himself is a participant in the democratic revolution in his native Egypt. As a possible presidential candidate of a country that will one day resume leadership of the Arab world, he has a personal interest in what he puts his name to.

In Britain, the government appeared increasingly at odds with its defence chiefs over whether Muammar Gaddafi was a legitimate military target. General Sir David Richards said the Libyan leader was “absolutely not” a target, while Downing Street appeared to side with the view of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, that the Libyan leader was a legitimate target if his forces continued to threaten civilian lives. Three days into this mission, these are not insignificant questions. While much was made of the fact that China and Russia abstained in the security council vote, the fact remains that a large part of the world – including India, Brazil and much of Africa – is against this operation. The Arab League, whose support was so essential to the argument that military action had regional backing, is plainly wavering. Mr Cameron may say until he is blue in the face that it will be up to the Libyans to choose their leader once this is all over, but history in this part of the world is against him.

The longer the bombing campaign goes on, the sooner the real issue will have to be confronted: where is it leading? The answer matters on a day-to-day basis. Yesterday, as our correspondent’s account made clear, an ad hoc motorised cavalry of scores of youth fighters on pick-up trucks charged at Ajdabiya, only to retreat in disarray when Gaddafi’s tanks, which were dug in around the town, fired back. The fighters thought that air strikes had knocked out the enemy’s tanks and rockets. And they were surely entitled to think that what was good for Benghazi was also good for Ajdabiya, or Tripoli for that matter. Some had families trapped behind Gaddafi’s tanks, and in other loyalist-held towns there were reports of civilians being used as human shields. If the rebels lack the military means to take these towns back, are coalition warplanes going to fight their battles for them? And if not, would the revolutionary council in Benghazi accept partition? As things stand, the answer to both questions is no. So even if Gaddafi’s forces accepted the ceasefire, the rebels would keep on fighting.

Members of the council have already said they fear the result of a limited air campaign will be a military stalemate and have called for an escalation of air strikes to wipe out Gaddafi’s army. This is the logic of intervention, but it is not in the remit of the UN resolution. Three days ago, air strikes launched to save innocent lives looked simple enough. Very quickly, they have become part of the war.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama Monday formally notified Congress the U.S. had begun military attacks on Libya, prompting complaints from lawmakers that the president waged war without congressional consent, appearing to contradict his own previous position.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the president said the U.S. had “commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council” and “to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.”

Presidents over the decades have conducted military operations without prior congressional approval, including Harry Truman in Korea, George H.W. Bush in Iraq and and President Bill Clinton in Serbia. Congress in 1991 approved the Iraq military action, five months after Mr. Bush deployed forces to the region in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The military action in Libya, which Congress wasn’t asked to approve, irked lawmakers.

Sky News reports:

More than 8,000 Libyan rebels have been killed in the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, it has been claimed.

“Our dead and martyrs number more than 8,000 killed,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council rebel group.

He criticised Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa over comments that appeared to be critical of military action by the United States and its allies against Libya.

The Arab League had called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces but Moussa on Sunday condemned “the bombardment of civilians”.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.
Ghoga said: “Today, when the secretary general spoke, I was surprised.

“What is the mechanism that stops the extermination of the people in Libya, what is the mechanism, Mr Secretary General?

“If the protection of civilians is not a humanitarian obligation, what is the mechanism that you propose to us?”

After Turkish diplomats were able to secure the release of Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid, four New York Times journalists who had been captured by Gaddafi forces six days ago, they have now provided an account of their capture and captivity.

The four had been covering fighting near Ajdabiya when they decided that the battle had grown too dangerous for them to continue covering it safely. Their driver, however, inadvertently drove into a checkpoint manned by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. By the time they knew they were in trouble, it was too late.

“I was yelling to the driver, ‘Keep driving! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ ” Mr. Hicks recalled in a telephone interview from the hotel where he and the three others were recuperating. “I knew that the consequences of being stopped would be very bad.”

The driver, Mohamed Shaglouf, is still missing. If he had tried to drive straight through, Mr. Hicks said, the vehicle certainly would have been fired on. In any event, the soldiers flung the doors to their gold four-door sedan wide open so quickly that they had little chance to get away.

As they were being pulled from the car, rebels fired on the checkpoint, sending the four running for their lives.

“You could see the bullets hitting the dirt,” Mr. Shadid said.

All four made it safely behind a small, one-room building, where they tried to take cover. But the soldiers had other plans. They told all four to empty their pockets and ordered them on the ground. And that is when they thought they were seconds from death.

“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’ ” Mr. Shadid said. “And we all thought it was over.”

Then another soldier spoke up. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’ ” Mr. Hicks said.

Marc Lynch writes:

The intervention is a high-stakes gamble. If it succeeds quickly, and Qaddafi’s regime crumbles as key figures jump ship in the face of its certain demise, then it could reverse the flagging fortunes of the Arab uprisings. Like the first Security Council resolution on Libya, it could send a powerful message that the use of brutal repression makes regime survival less rather than more likely. It would put real meat on the bones of the “Responsibility to Protect” and help create a new international norm. And it could align the U.S. and the international community with al-Jazeera and the aspirations of the Arab protest movement. I have heard from many protest leaders from other Arab countries that success in Libya would galvanize their efforts, and failure might crush their hopes.

But if it does not succeed quickly, and the intervention degenerates into a long quagmire of air strikes, grinding street battles, and growing pressure for the introduction of outside ground forces, then the impact could be quite different. Despite the bracing scenes of Benghazi erupting into cheers at the news of the Resolution, Arab support for the intervention is not nearly as deep as it seems and will not likely survive an extended war. If Libyan civilians are killed in airstrikes, and especially if foreign troops enter Libyan territory, and images of Arabs killed by U.S. forces replace images of brave protestors battered by Qaddafi’s forces on al-Jazeera, the narrative could change quickly into an Iraq-like rage against Western imperialism. What began as an indigenous peaceful Arab uprising against authoritarian rule could collapse into a spectacle of war and intervention.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email