The fight for Libya

The New York Times reports:

As rebel forces backed by allied warplanes pushed toward one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most crucial bastions of support, the American military warned on Monday that the insurgents’ rapid advances could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support.

“The regime still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, the ranking American in the coalition operation, warned in an email message on Monday. “The regime possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened.”

Why make this point now? Because those outside Libya who believe that Western powers have stepped outside the terms of UN Res 1973 are eager to call for a timeout, insisting that the only legal conclusion to this war will come from a negotiated settlement.

Tony Karon writes:

The rebels’ own military capabilities, by measure of weaponry, training, organization and command remain distinctly limited. So, as NATO powers and others involved in the campaign convene in London on Tuesday to plot their next steps, they face the question of whether to use their military leverage to assault the regime on its “home” turf and effectively bomb it out of existence. There are good reasons to believe they’re unlikely to go that far.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday that the alliance’s actions would be limited to implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, “nothing more, nothing less.”

And that resolution mandates foreign powers to protect Libya’s civilians through imposing no-fly zone and an arms embargo, and destroying armor and other heavy weaponry that menaces civilian population centers. But it says nothing about regime-change; on the contrary, it requires member states to work for an immediate cease-fire and a democratic political solution to Libya’s civil conflict.

If this is really a “civil conflict,” why hasn’t Gaddafi handed out weapons to all his loyal supporters? He said he’d arm a million civilians, but the fact that he hasn’t probably indicates that there are nowhere near that many Libyans he can trust.

If the Obama administration can be derided for using Orwellian language when calling this war a “time-limited, scope-limited military action,” the Gaddafi government’s own language should be viewed just as critically.

With good reason “civil conflict” is the exact term they have adopted in the hope that observers who find the intervention objectionable will help promote a narrative that legitimizes Gaddafi’s rule. The revolution is aimed at toppling a despotic regime, but if this is a civil war, who are we to take sides?

Brian Whitaker writes:

Amid repeated claims that Libya could turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan, there are growing calls for a negotiated solution. Such talk at the moment serves no purpose, apart from throwing a lifeline to the Gaddafi family and helping them maintain their grip on the country, or at least some of it.

Calls for negotiation are predicated on the idea that the situation in Libya will reach a political/military impasse. It might do, but it hasn’t yet – so there is no need to start behaving as if it had.

A more likely scenario, though, is that the Gaddafi regime will implode suddenly and fairly soon – in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. We should at least wait to see if that is what happens. Hardly anyone in Libya seriously believes in the leader’s eccentric Green Book ideology, and most of those who currently support him can be expected to abandon him once they perceive that he is on the way out.

So the effect of negotiations at this stage would be to help the Gaddafis salvage something. That certainly seems to be the aim of the leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, who has reportedly been trying to interest the US, Britain and Italy in a “transition plan”. Not surprisingly, Saif’s plan envisages Saif taking over from his father for a period of two to three years, while Libya is transformed from a revolutionary jamahiriyya into a liberal democracy. In the meantime, all the Gaddafis – despite their crimes over the years – would be granted immunity from prosecution.

The Guardian reports:

Rebel Libyan forces were halted about 50 miles from Sirte on Monday as reinforcements loyal to Muammar Gaddafi were seen moving towards the strategically vital city.

Revolutionary forces had advanced more than 150 miles in two days, helped by coalition air strikes, breaking the stalemate at Ajdabiya and paving the way for hundreds of men to stream forward along Libya’s coastal road.

But despite a Libyan rebel claim that Sirte had been captured, there was no sign on Monday that the opposition was in control of the city, which marks the boundary between the east and west of Libya and has great symbolic importance as Gaddafi’s home city.

Instead, pro-Gaddafi troops in Sirte were being rallied by forces travelling east from Tripoli and other strongholds in 4×4 vehicles with light weaponry mounted on the rear, a break from the heavier artillery used so far by Gaddafi’s forces, which has been picked off with relative ease by coalition air strikes.

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