Misurata, the only rebel-held city in western Libya, has asked that NATO troops be sent to fight alongside the rebels holding off Libyan forces, a local government representative said Tuesday.
“If they don’t come, we will die,” Nouri Abdul Ati, a member of the 17-member ruling body in Misurata, told reporters as heavy machine gun fire, rockets and mortar rounds exploded in the near distance. “Grad rockets don’t leave anybody alive,” he said, referring to the truck-mounted rockets used by the Libyan military.
The local council in this besieged city sent its plea via letter a week ago to the Transitional National Council, the national opposition government in Benghazi in eastern Libya. The letter urged that NATO or United Nations troops be asked to defend Misurata against Moammar Kadafi’s forces, Ati said. The national council has yet to reply.
“We need a force from NATO or the U.N. on the ground now,” Ati said at a house set amid date palms, as the night’s regular roar of heavy shelling commenced. “We did not accept any foreign soldiers on our land, but that was before we faced the crimes of Kadafi.” (Los Angeles Times)
As NATO struggles to break a deepening stalemate in Libya, the British announced on Tuesday that they were sending military advisers to help build up a rebel army that has stumbled against the superior forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The first question the British will face is “Whose army?”
For they will find themselves advising a ragtag rebel force that cannot even agree on who its top officer is, amid squabbling between two generals who both come with unsavory baggage.
The dysfunction was on full display here this week. “I control everybody, the rebels and the regular army forces,” one of the two, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, said in an interview on Monday. “I am the field commander, and Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes is chief of staff. His job is to support us in the field, and my job is to lead the fighting.”
The rebels’ civilian leadership, the Transitional National Council, has insisted, however, that General Younes remains in charge of the military. “This is not true,” an official close to the council said Tuesday when told of General Hifter’s claims. “General Younes is over him, this is for sure, and General Hifter is under him.”
General Hifter made it clear that he viewed General Younes as an officer who was serving in a support or logistical role, and he explicitly blamed him for a string of humiliating retreats by rebels along the seesawing front line between Brega and Ajdabiya, most recently on Sunday, when seven rebels were killed during a counterattack by government forces that turned into a near rout.
“All of what happened there resulted from the command of Abdul Fattah Younes,” he said. “That’s why I came back to take charge, and in the next couple days I will take charge of every unit, not one unit. I am getting ready to lead the forces from now on.”
From the beginning, the NATO military effort has been hampered by the rebels’ disorganization and lack of training, equipment and experience, which have left them unable to capitalize on the damage NATO airstrikes inflicted on Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. The British mission is aimed at addressing those shortcomings, improving the rebels’ organization, communications and logistics. (New York Times)
New tactics used by the Qaddafi forces — mixing with civilian populations, camouflaging weapons and driving pickup trucks instead of military vehicles — have made it hard for NATO pilots to find targets. At the same time, loyalist artillery and tanks have hammered the rebel-held city of Misurata, reportedly with cluster bombs, which have been banned by much of the world, making a mockery of NATO’s central mission of protecting civilians.
But as much as the new Qaddafi tactics, divisions within NATO seem to be harming the strategy, said Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Only six of the 28 member countries are participating in the airstrikes, and France and Britain are doing half of them while Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Canada are doing the rest.
Prominent nations like Italy and Spain are hanging back, and others have sent planes only to support the no-fly zone, or are helping to enforce the arms embargo. The Obama administration, which has ruled out deploying American troops in Libya, announced Wednesday that it would authorize as much as $25 million in military surplus supplies, though not weapons, to the Libyan opposition forces.
“You want to send Qaddafi a message of collective will, that there’s no way out, that he’s facing a determined and unified opposition,” Mr. Niblett said. “And he’s seeing a European-led NATO that is not sufficiently cohesive.”
“If I were him, I would look at European disagreements and take heart from them, especially when the opposition appears so weak,” Mr. Niblett said.
Colonel Qaddafi “senses there is a gap between means and ends,” he added. “He can look at divisions among members of NATO and feel he can be part of a political solution, because in the end he may feel there is not sufficient cohesion to follow the strategy through to its end,” which is his ouster. (New York Times)
The French and Italian governments said Wednesday that they would join Britain in sending a small number of military liaison officers to support the ragtag rebel army in Libya, offering a diplomatic boost for the insurgent leader, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, as he met with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
After the meeting, The Associated Press reported, Mr. Sarkozy pledged to intensify French airstrikes that started in March.
The announcements came as the international community searched for a means to break a bloody battlefield deadlock that has killed hundreds in the contested cities of Misurata and Ajdabiya and left the rebels in tenuous control of a few major coastal cities in their campaign against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
They also coincided with word out of Qatar that Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain last month, was seeking asylum in that Arab emirate. In an interview with Al Arabiya, another Qaddafi minister, Abdulrahman Shalgam, said that Mr. Koussa — who has been freed of the financial sanctions slapped on all Libyan officials but who faces possible prosecution over the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in Scotland — is most likely to remain in Qatar, where he went for a conference last week.
The decision to send military advisers seemed to push the three countries closer toward the limits of the United Nations Security Council resolution in mid-March authorizing NATO airstrikes but specifically “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” But the promised deployments also seemed a tacit admission that almost five weeks of airstrikes have not been enough to disable Colonel Qaddafi’s troops and prevent his loyalists from threatening rebel forces and civilians.
The French government spokesman, François Baroin, told reporters on Wednesday that the number of military liaison officers would be in single digits and that their mission would be to help “organize the protection of the civilian population.” The British deployment could involve up to 20 advisers. (New York Times)