The fight for Libya

The Guardian reports:

Britain, France and the United States have agreed that Nato will take over the military command of the no-fly zone over Libya in a move which represents a setback for Nicolas Sarkozy, who had hoped to diminish the role of the alliance.

Barack Obama agreed in separate phone calls with Sarkozy and David Cameron that political oversight would be handed to a separate body consisting of members of the coalition, including Arab countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that are outside Nato.

The agreement, which will have to be put be to all 28 members of Nato, indicates that the alliance has resolved one of its most serious disagreements. Countries had been splintering as they tried to comply with Obama’s demand that Washington be relieved of command of the air campaign.

Sarkozy moved to portray the agreement as a Franco-American success. In a statement the Élysée Palace said: “The two presidents have come to an agreement on the way to use the command structures of Nato to support the coalition.”

But the agreement represents a blow for Sarkozy, who had tried to persuade Britain set up an Anglo-French command for all military operations in Libya. This was strongly resisted by Britain, who said Nato was best placed to run the military operations.

The New York Times reports:

With his brutal military assault on civilians, and his rantings about spiked Nescafé, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi handed many leaders across the Arab world what had otherwise eluded them: A chance to side with the people while deflecting attention from their own citizens’ call for democracy, political analysts around the region said. And they really do not like him.

Even Arab leaders most critical of the United States’ intervention in the Middle East have reluctantly united behind the military intervention in Libya. That has given a boost to Arab leaders in places like Saudi Arabia who are at the same moment working to silence political opposition in their backyards.

“The Arab street reaction to the Western attacks on Libya has been warm,” said Hilal Khasan, chairman of the department of political studies at American University of Beirut. “This is not Iraq.”

It is another disorienting twist in this season of upheaval in the Arab world. A fierce resentment about a legacy of Western intervention, fed by historical memories of colonialism and present-day anger at the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, has given way to a belief that the Libyan rebels desperately needed help that only the West could fully provide. The apparent hypocrisy of repressive Arab leaders endorsing military action against a repressive Qaddafi government did not escape many Arabs.

“I see hypocrisy in everything the Arab leaders do, and I’m talking as a person of the Arab world,” said Randa Habib, a political commentator in Jordan. “I wanted them to take such a decision. There were too many people being killed in Libya. That man is cuckoo.”

This new and unpredictable tone seemed to partly explain the flip-flopping of Amr Moussa, the longtime secretary general of the Arab League who plans to run for the Egyptian presidency. Last week, the Arab League asked the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, largely on humanitarian grounds. On Sunday, Mr. Moussa said military action there had gone too far. But he repeated his contention that the no-fly zone could not have been imposed were it not for the Arab League.

“We respect the no-fly zone, and there is no conflict with it,” he said, in a clarification that was seen in Egypt, given his political ambitions, as an overt acknowledgment of the public support for the actions in Libya. A day earlier Mr. Moussa had appeared to back away from support for the military intervention.

“In a way, the Arab League is trying to follow the sentiment of the Arab street,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. “The street is now more in control. If we ever had an Arab street, this is the moment.”

Simon Tisdall writes:

Little is known for certain about the make-up and political outlook of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, which controls Benghazi and other parts of “liberated” Libya. Even its name is in doubt. It also goes by the title of “revolutionary council” and other variations. Eleven members of the council have been named. The identity of 20 others has been withheld, ostensibly for security reasons.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former Gaddafi justice minister who chairs the council, has been condemned as a traitor by his old boss, who put a $400,000 (£240,000) bounty on his head. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Jalil asked the international community “to recognise our council as the sole representative of the Libyan people”. Among the western powers, only France has done so. But Britain, the EU and the Arab League are supportive. And Hillary Clinton met a council representative in Paris last week to discuss how the US could help.

Jalil claimed the council has grassroot support. It derived its legitimacy, he said, from local councils that were organised by revolutionaries in every village and city. “We are striving for a new, democratic, civil Libya, led by democratic and civil government [and] a multi-party system,” he said. ” Members of the council were chosen with no regard to their political views or leaning.”

‘This is not wholly true,” said Venetia Rainey, writing in the First Post online magazine. “The key players of the council, at least those we know about, all hail from the north-eastern Harabi confederation of tribes,” she said. This included Jalil and Major General Abdul Fattah Younis, a former Gaddafi interior minister who also defected to the rebels.

“Although the tribes’ influence has waned … Libya’s tribal divides linger on. Their stance [the Harabi] is not necessarily representative of the wider Libyan attitude to Gaddafi,” Rainey said.

Western tribes loyal to Gaddafi, such as the Hasoony, had flourished at the expense of the Harabi and other easterners, the Wall Street Journal reported from Benghazi. “Early in his reign, Gaddafi targeted Libya’s powerful eastern tribes, redistributing their land to others and awarding them few influential posts … The weaker tribes’ empowerment [following the revolt] helps explain why Gaddafi’s supporters appear to be clinging to power more desperately” than counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia.

“These guys know they aren’t going to fare very well if the regime goes down,” Jason Pack, a Libya scholar at Oxford university, told the journal.

Eastern Libya also has a different religious tradition from the rest of the country and this was reflected in the rebels’ transitional council, argued Andy Stone, a columnist on the Nolan Chart website. “This is no Solidarnosc movement,” he said (referring to the Polish trade union-led anti-communist movement).

“The [Libyan] revolt was started on February 15-17 by the group called the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition [an umbrella organisation founded in London in 2005]. The protests had a clear fundamentalist religious motivation and were convened to commemorate the 2006 Danish cartoons protests which had been particularly violent in Benghazi.” (The 2006 protests had turned into an anti-Gaddafi demonstration).

Stone went on to claim that much of the eastern Libyan opposition to Gaddafi was rooted in the region’s strong Islamist tradition which resulted, for example, in a large numbers of eastern Libyan jihadis taking part in the Iraq war (second in number only to Saudis) and support for the al-Qaida-affiliated, anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, many of whose members had fought in Afghanistan.

“It is these same religiously and ideologically trained east Libyans who are now armed and arrayed against Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s claim that all his opponents are members of al-Qaida is overblown, but also not very far off in regard to their sympathies. Anyone claiming the eastern Libyans are standing for secular, liberal values needs to overcome a huge burden of proof,” Stone wrote.

A former British diplomat familiar with Libya said these and other claims that Islamists dominated the rebel movement in the east were exaggerated. Most of the population of Benghazi and other cities were political and religious moderates primarily motivated by opposition to Gaddafi, the diplomat said.

Chris McGreal witnesses the advance, retreat and panicked dispersal of young fighters on the outskirts of Ajdabiya:

The day’s events around Ajdabiya provided further evidence that the rebels stand little hope of defeating Gaddafi’s forces militarily on their own and are relying on coalition air strikes to destroy, or at least greatly weaken, the ability of the government’s army to fight.

Some of the rebels mistake the air strikes for their own victories. They dance on the burned out tanks, wave V for victory signs and declare that they are beating Gaddafi.

But the revolutionaries outside Ajdabiya only advanced because they expected to move into the town with little resistance.

The rebel leadership frankly admits that it cannot defeat the government militarily on its own and acknowledges that if it cannot take a relatively small town unaided, its forces are unlikely to be able to seize the better defended cities further west – leaving France, Britain and the US to decide if they are going to fight the insurgents’ war for them by clearing the way for the revolutionaries to advance.

Alongside the military campaign, the rebels’ political leadership says it intends to encourage fresh popular uprisings in cities still under Gaddafi’s control. But it may find it hard to persuade Libyans to take the risk unless they have the assurance that rebel forces are close enough to come to their rescue.

Members of the revolutionary council have already said they fear that the result of a limited air campaign will be military stalemate and a divided Libya. For that reason, they have called for an escalation of the air strikes to wipe out Gaddafi’s army as a fighting force.

The chaos outside Ajdabiya holds another concern for ordinary Libyans in areas now claimed as liberated territory by the revolutionary council.

There is growing alarm in Benghazi in particular at growing disorder by young men with guns who have claimed the authority for themselves to set up arbitrary road blocks, order people around and fire their weapons for the fun of it.

Even in combat situations, they do not obey orders, shooting at will and wasting ammunition. Rebels manning an anti-aircraft gun were probably responsible for shooting down the revolutionaries’ only fighter plane on Saturday.

Gen Abdul Fatteh Younis, who recently defected from Gaddafi’s military and now commands the rebel forces, was interviewed by the Irish Times:

“This man is stubborn. He will not leave the country or surrender easily . . . The situation is very complicated at the moment and I hope it will not continue for long but all the evidence suggests that Gadafy is trying to make it last even longer.” Younis talks of rumours that Gadafy has left the capital Tripoli and is now in southern Libya, and adds that there is “some evidence” that he has withdrawn money, gold and foreign currency from the central bank. He speculates that Gadafy might use this to establish himself in Chad or Niger, from where he would launch military operations in an attempt to return.

“I’m calling on the international community to realise that the sooner he is gone, the better it is for everybody, for the peace of the world,” he says.

Some opposition figures hope that the US and European coalition strikes against Gadafy’s air defences will trigger more senior defections and weaken Gadafy’s grip on power. Younis seems less certain.

“You cannot bet on something you do not have in your own hands,” he says.

“Gadafy’s strategy now is that he is effectively holding families of some of his cadre hostage in his compound so he can control their movements and make sure they will not defect or leave him. He is keeping them as human shields. He is a shrewd man in this way.”

Younis claims the rebel fighters are succeeding in pushing regime forces west, though eyewitness accounts from the front yesterday challenge this assertion.

“The no-fly zone is very helpful to allow the opposition forces come together and advance to the west . . to free those areas,” he says. He acknowledges that militarily his forces – a mix of fellow defectors and masses of untrained volunteers – are little match for the regime but argues that continuing air strikes on army installations will tip the balance in the rebels’ favour because, he insists, they are supported by the majority of Libyans.

“We are asking the international community to finish his security services because once they are gone then the rest will be done by the Libyan people.”

Younis talks of having between 15-20,000 fighters. “With that large number of revolutionaries, even with the light weapons they have, we can manage to achieve our goals, especially after air strikes help prepare the ground.”

Asked whether the rebels have been receiving foreign military assistance in the form of weapons, Younis replies: “So far we did not receive anything. A lot of countries promised to help us but they haven’t.”

Channel 4 News (UK) reports:

Six villagers in a field on the outskirts of Benghazi were shot and injured when a US helicopter landed to rescue a crew member from the crashed jet, reports Lindsey Hilsum.

Channel 4 News International Editor, Lindsey Hilsum, says that the villagers were shot when a US helicopter picked up the pilot who had ejected from the F-15E Eagle plane after it experienced a mechanical failure.

The US aircraft crashed on Monday night and was found in a field outside Benghazi and landed in rebel-held territory.

The local Libyans who were injured in the rescue mission are currently in hospital. They are the first confirmed casualities of allied operations, almost four days after operations began. At the time of writing, no one had died as a result of the gunfire.

Babak Dehghanpisheh reports on a second American pilot who ejected from the same F-15E jet:

One of the pilots was picked up by rebel forces near the site of the crash and brought by car to the Fadeel Hotel in Benghazi around 2 a.m., according to a handful of people who said they met with the pilot. It’s unclear why the opposition forces brought the pilot to that particular hotel. Dina Omar, 30, an Egyptian cardiologist who has been volunteering at the rebel frontlines was in the Internet café at the hotel at the time. She heard from the hotel staff that a pilot had been brought in and went to see him in a large suite in the hotel. She saw a man wearing a light brown pilot suit in his early 30s lying down on a couch. “He was feeling insecure and unsafe,” she said. “He did not talk much.”

Omar and two fellow Egyptian medical volunteers offered him coffee, which he refused, they said. He did allow the doctors to check out his right leg, which had a slight contusion. Omar, who speaks fluent English, also offered him some Panadol, which he initially refused, until he saw her take a couple of pills from the same pack. He was concerned that the medical staff were Gaddafi sympathizers and Omar tried to convince him of their real work by showing a phone video she had taken of civilian victims from Saturday’s military assault on Benghazi. The doctors stayed with him until he relaxed and opened up a bit, they said. “After two hours, he started to speak and started to smile,” said Omar. The pilot reportedly confirmed he was American and said he thought the plane had gone down for technical reasons. But he refused to give much personal information or confirm whether there was another pilot with him, the sources said.

Not long after the pilot’s arrival, rebel officials brought him a bouquet of flowers, they said. “He was a very nice guy,” said Ibrahim Ismail, 42, a Libyan businessman who said he met the pilot at the hotel. “He came to free the Libyan people.” As Ismail spoke, a fellow businessman said, “I thought we agreed not talk about this,” indicating that rebel officials were trying to keep the pilot’s stay in Benghazi under wraps. Even though the pilot had a radio with a large aerial, he wanted help communicating with his family. Omar, the doctor, took him up to the hotel’s Internet café and tried to help him arrange a Skype chat which didn’t go through. Someone eventually brought the pilot a Thuraya satellite phone which he used to call his family. The witnesses at the hotel say the pilot left in a civilian car in the early morning hours.

This video allegedly shows Gaddafi forces “bombarding eastern regions of Libya” (

“A city held by any organized rioters will be attacked generally in the same manner as one held by enemy troops.”

This is not a direction on how to suppress the Libyan uprising handed down from Colonel Gaddafi to his field commanders. It comes from the newly declassified 1945 US military field manual.

The manual provides instructions on how the military should handle civil disturbances in the event that local law enforcement are unable to contain the unrest. Riots and protests are anticipated to be caused by “agitators, racial strife, controversies between employees and employers concerning wages or working conditions, unemployment, lack of housing or food, or other economic or social conditions.”

According to the manual, when necessary, live rounds should be fired directly into a mob (“a crowd whose members, under the stimulus of intense excitement, have lost their sense of reason and respect for law”), aiming low to avoid injuring innocent bystanders. The manual also says: “Bayonets are effective when used against rioters who are able to retreat, but they should not be used against men who are prevented by those behind them from retreating even if they wish to do so.”

(H/t Steven Aftergood)

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