The fight for Libya

The New York Times reports:

NATO will assume leadership from the United States of patrolling the skies over Libya but the military alliance remains divided over who will command aggressive coalition air strikes on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s ground troops, NATO and American officials said Thursday.

After a day of confusion and conflicting reports out of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced late Thursday in Washington that NATO had agreed to lead the allies in maintaining the no-fly zone. Effectively, that means that planes from NATO countries will fly missions over Libya with little fear of being shot down since Tomahawk missiles, most of them American, largely destroyed Colonel Qaddafi’s air defenses and air force last weekend.

But NATO balked at assuming responsibility, at least for now, of what military officials call the “no-drive zone, which would entail bombing Colonel Qaddafi’s ground forces, tanks and artillery that massing outside crucial Libyan cities, and doing so without inflicting casualties on civilians.

Late Thursday night a senior Obama administration official insisted that NATO had agreed to assume responsibility for the no-fly and “no-drive” zones but said the details remained to be worked out. The official’s statements appeared to contradict those of the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

A NATO official said that two member nations, Germany and Turkey, objected to NATO participating in strikes that they consider beyond the mandate of the United Nations security resolution that authorized the military action in Libya.

Associated Press reports:

The international military operation against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces may last days or weeks — but not months, France’s foreign minister said Thursday, as allied countries tried to work out who will run the campaign.

Alain Juppe also said he hopes the airstrikes in Libya and the boisterous quest for freedom and democracy in the Arab world will serve as a warning to autocratic regimes elsewhere, including in Syria and Saudi Arabia.

“The job of dictator is now a high-risk job,” Juppe said, noting that some autocrats — including Gadhafi — have been targeted by the International Criminal Court.

Laura Rozen reports:

With a new poll showing 60 percent of the American public approves of the allied air campaign to protect Libyan civilians, it seems that popular opinion is leaning toward cautious support for the limited U.S. military intervention that President Barack Obama is conducting. But the same poll shows that Americans are deeply averse to endorsing deeper U.S. involvement if the current effort fails to restrain Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi.

The new Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on March 22, just four days into the air strikes, found that 40 percent of Americans oppose U.S. and allied military action in Libya, leaving no one in the undecided camp.

But while four in five Americans agree that the United States and allies should seek Gadhafi’s removal, they don’t support increasing U.S. military involvement to achieve that goal. If the current air strikes fail to curb Gadhafi’s crackdown on dissent in the country, almost one in three Americans say they don’t know what to do. One quarter say the U.N. should then send in peacekeeping troops. However, just 7 percent of those surveyed say that the United States and its allies should send in ground troops (“peacekeeping troops” seems merely a rhetorically less worrisome way to say “ground troops.”) A lukewarm 23 percent say the best path forward in that scenario would be to increase air strikes–essentially, more of the same.

Noman Benotman, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, says:

Gaddafi has tried very hard to give the impression that the Libyan opposition is controlled by al-Qaeda. This ideas flies in the face of all the evidence. The opposition is a diverse coalition of Libyans from many tribal and political backgrounds. Just because some Islamists support the opposition against Gaddafi this does not make the opposition Islamist.

At the same time, there are some extremists who want to manipulate the Libyan conflict for their own ends. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is looking for ways to play a greater role in this conflict. Since the start of the year it has tried to move men and arms into Libya from its bases in Niger and Mali, near Libya’s southern border. At the same time, al-Qaeda’s leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to portray the international intervention in Libya as a ‘crusader’ attack on Muslim in order to further their own agenda.

Colum Lynch reports:

In the rush to curtail Muammar al-Qaddafi’s military capacity to attack civilians in Libya, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Libya. But the measure also unwittingly impeded the effort of the Western-backed rebels to fight Qaddafi’s forces.

Paragraph 9 of Resolution 1970 required all U.N. members to “immediately take the necessary measures” to bar the sale, supply or transfer of weapons, mercenaries, or other supplies to Libya. The arms embargo, which was adopted before the rebels had emerged as a potential threat to the regime, included no exemptions for Qaddafi’s foes.

Ever since the passage of that first resolution, government lawyers from the United States, Britain and France have been looking to see if they can find a way around it, according to U.N.-based diplomats. The United States may have now found one.

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