News roundup — April 22

Drones can be used by Nato forces in Libya, says Obama

The White House has approved the use of missile-armed Predator drones to help Nato target Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in Libya.

Coalition commanders have been privately urging the Americans to provide the specialist unmanned aircraft, which have become a favoured – if controversial – weapon in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Their ability to hone in on targets using powerful night-vision cameras is considered to be one way of helping rebels in the besieged city of Misrata, where a humanitarian crisis has unfolded in the last week.

The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said Barack Obama had approved the use of the Predators which are armed with Hellfire missiles, signalling a marked growth in the US contribution to the Nato effort.

Gates told a Pentagon news conference that the Predator was an example of the unique US military capabilities that the president is willing to contribute while other countries enforce a no-fly zone. (The Guardian)

Libyan rebels overrun strategic supply route

Libyan rebels overran forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the international border crossing near this tiny village Thursday, wresting control of a strategic supply route.

The crossing into a mountainous region has been under government siege since Libya’s uprising began two months ago.

The early morning gunfight is the first major victory on Libya’s western front for the ragtag alliance of rebel fighters seeking to topple Gaddafi and end his four decades of authoritarian rule. (GlobalPost)

Juan Cole: Free Libyan fighters exult in small victories

I think there is actually some benefit to the war not ending quickly with a swift Eastern conquest of the West with NATO backing. That may be what happens in the end. But in my view it would be preferable for the elites in Tripoli to gradually be pushed back and surrounded and put under such pressure that they turn on Qaddafi and declare for Free Libya. That way you don’t have a permanent group of losers, like the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, who would tend to make trouble in the medium term if not the long term.

The fight may last a few more weeks and even months, but there is not much doubt about the outcome. In the end, the Qaddafis are toast, as long as the UN allies remain committed to protecting the Libyan population from them. (Informed Comment)

In Misrata clinic, doctor keeps a grim record

“I had to change my practice from oncology surgery to war surgery,” said [Dr. Mohammed al-Fagieh, chief surgeon at Hilal Hospital in Misrata] the Edinburgh, Scotland-educated doctor with a neatly trimmed beard beneath his mask.

“We care for all types on injuries that we receive from homes, from the street, from the site of a fire,” he said. “We receive all types of injuries — destruction of limbs, upper limbs, lower limbs, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis — everywhere. There’s no special site for any injury.”

There’s a temporary feel to the 45-bed facility, with hallways filled with boxes of medical supplies stacked five feet high. Patients are separated by sheets, with lots of people walking in and out.

Three bodies were brought in Wednesday, along with 12 severe wounds and about 25 others with lesser injuries.

On a normal day, the clinic gets 10-20 critical cases and 25-30 lighter injuries, he said. Often, they have to set up extra beds to expand it to 60.

Of seven patients in one room, three were civilians and four were fighters against Gadhafi’s troops.

One old man was fleeing his house amid shelling when he fell and broke his hip.

In the next bed, Mohammed Braiks, 27, was back for the second time. About a month ago, he was fighting with a group near Tripoli Street, the scene of the fiercest battles, when he came under machine gun fire. A close friend next to him was shot and killed. Braiks got two bullets in his left shin, one in his back and one in his hip. He spent three days in hospital.

“I got out and went back to the front,” he said.

On Tuesday, a sniper shot him in the wrist. He was hoping to have the bullet removed soon so he could rejoin the fight.

“I’ll go back to exactly where I was,” he said. (Associated Press)

For besieged Misrata, the sea is sole lifeline

This Greek passenger ferry [The Ionian Spirit] streamed toward the besieged Libyan port city of Misrata on Wednesday, its mission to deliver 500 tons of food and medical supplies and spirit away 1,000 people fleeing weeks of heavy shelling by forces loyal to ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The ferry is part of a flotilla of ships, fishing trawlers and tug boats that have become the lifeline for the last significant rebel-held city in western Libya as it tries to hold out against a crippling siege that has dragged on for more than 50 days, devastating the city of 300,000.

They brave sailing into a port that is under frequent shelling — some of the smaller vessels have been fired on with rockets or chased by government warships.

The flotilla, motoring back and forth across Libya’s Gulf of Sirte between Misrata and the rebel capital Benghazi in the east, not only keeps residents alive. It also keeps them fighting, bringing weapons and ammunition to Misrata’s defenders. (Associated Press)

Libyan foreign minister’s free elections promise is a sham

Muammar Gaddafi has remained in power for 42 years through tactful and respectful negotiation with those who disagree with him. He is adept at finding middle ground between opposing views and is known for encouraging reconciliation wherever it is possible. All those who have dealt with Gaddafi can testify that he is a reasonable, consistent, trustworthy humanitarian statesman whose word is his bond.

Are you cringing yet? Good. Then you’ll know exactly how to receive the statement by Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, Gaddafi’s foreign minister, that if the UN cancels the no-fly zone, and that if diplomatic and material support is withdrawn from the Libyan interim national council in Benghazi, Gaddafi and his hostage government will begin negotiations with the council that would lead to free elections within six months.

Obeidi has declared that discussions would include the issue of “whether the Leader [Gaddafi] should stay and in what role, and whether he should retire”. This must have come as a shock to Gaddafi himself, who maintains that he has no position of authority from which to step down.

These false promises are purely for foreign consumption and cannot be given any credence. They are intended to buy time and place domestic political pressure on the Americans, British, French, Italians and other governments to soften their stance on the Gaddafi family, who they’ve all said must leave power in accordance with the demands of the Libyan people. (Alaa al-Ameri)

Test of wills in Syria as forces open fire in several cities

Security forces in Syria fired tear gas and live ammunition Friday to disperse crowds of demonstrators who took to the streets of Damascus and other cities after the noon prayers that have been a focus of uprisings across the Arab world, according to protesters, witnesses and accounts posted on social networking sites.

The authorities had deployed police officers, soldiers and military vehicles in two of the country’s three largest cities ahead of a call for nationwide protests testing the popular reception of reforms decreed by President Bashar al-Assad as well as the momentum that organizers have sought to bring to the five-week uprising.

In the restive city of Homs, Syria’s third largest, where major protests erupted earlier in the week, activists said large numbers of security forces and plainclothes officers from the secret police flooded the city, putting up checkpoints and preventing all but a few dozen protesters from gathering.

Abu Kamel al-Dimashki, an activist in Homs reached by Skype, said that 16 of those who were protesting went missing. His account could not be confirmed independently.

“I tried to go there, but I couldn’t,” Mr. Dhimashki said. “The secret police is all over Homs. The sheik at the mosque told us after the prayers not to protest today because we would have been killed for sure.”

Several thousand protesters demonstrated in Damascus, Baniyas, Qamishli, Hama Amouda and other places, chanting “freedom, freedom and “the people want to topple the regime.” At least three people were wounded when the police opened fire on protesters in Douma, a town on the outskirts of Damascus, activists said.

Mohamad Abdel Rahman, a witness from Homs speaking on Al Jazeera, said at least one person was shot dead after he left a mosque in the Khalidiyeh neighborhood.

Earlier, residents described a mobilization in the capital, Damascus, and, in more pronounced fashion, in Homs, where a government crackdown this week dispersed one of the largest gatherings since demonstrations began last month. For days, organizers had looked to Friday as a potential show of strength for a movement that has yet to build the critical mass reached in Egypt and Tunisia. (New York Times)

American physicians protest Bahrain crackdown on medical staff

An American human rights group said on Friday that the number of physicians who have gone missing in Bahrain has risen to more than 30, the latest indication that the country’s health care system being drawn into Bahrain’s confrontation with pro-democracy campaigners.

Physicians for Human Rights, with offices in Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, cited reports from Bahrain as saying that “doctors are disappearing as part of a systematic attack on medical staff. Many physicians are missing following interrogations by unknown security forces at Salmaniya Medical Complex” in Bahrain’s capital, Manama.

In a Web posting, the group published a list of more than 30 medical personnel, from ambulance drivers to consultants and surgeons, who it said had been held at secret locations.

“Although families have tried to contact administration officials, the administration denies any knowledge of their whereabouts,” the Web posting said. “According to family members, the physicians are being held incommunicado in unknown locations.”

There was no immediate response to the allegation from authorities in Bahrain, which enlisted military help from more than 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to put down a pro-democracy uprising last month and sent army and security forces to crush dissent. (New York Times)

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3 thoughts on “News roundup — April 22

  1. Christopher Hoare

    I find Juan Cole’s sober assessment an island of sanity amid a tsunami of lies and misinformation from the chattering classes of the media and the burrow lurkers of the pretended peace camp (who cry “The sky is falling” at every rumour that hits the page).

    I admit to the irony of having to accept the deployment of the drones, that are the tools of murder in Pakistan and elsewhere, as the only chance for improved security for the civilians of Misrata. The duality is itself an indicator that basing opinion and action on a mistaken belief in either-or linear logic is a path only to non sense. I look forward to the resolution in Libya becoming ‘order out of chaos’ even though the first bifurcation point (scattering Qaddhafi’s supporters in the early weeks of the uprising by a prompt deployment of a n0-fly zone — instead of the eleventh hour one) was thrown away arguing with Qaddhafi’s secret defenders.

    The civil war may last months more, as long as it’s not sabotaged in the West by the far more destructive intervention of the so-called legalists and unctuous voices of doom. The guerilla campaign started in the western region, where Qaddhafi’s forces are still rounding up opponents to murder, is the critical second front and needs time to mature. The whole course and continuation of the Arab Spring until real democracy and freedom takes root depends upon success in Libya.

  2. BillVZ

    Libya in reply to the US statement about sending armed predator drones …those speaking for those under siege said …”There’s no doubt that will help protect civilians, and we welcome that step from the American administration.”

    Marine Gen. James Cartwright said these drones were especially good in urban areas where it is difficult to pick out friend from foe.


    22-04-11 according to the BBC and WSJ a U.S.-operated drone reportedly fired missiles along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on Friday, killing at least 25 people.The pilot less Predator operated by the CIA fired at least 10 missiles at a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region that killed suspected militants but also included women and children…

  3. Norman

    So now it’s official. The U.S. has stepped into another quagmire. Collateral damage, more outlay of treasure, who knows what else. Way to go, “O”. Peace Pres indeed.

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