Forces fighting against Colonel Gaddafi are warning that if he is allowed to continue, he could be responsible for the deaths of half a million people.
Revolutionary Administration Appeals For Foreign Military Aid
As Muammar Gaddafi’s army won control of a strategic rebel-held Libyan town and laid siege to another, the revolutionary administration in Benghazi again appealed for foreign military help to prevent what it said would be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people if the insurgents were to lose.
The rebels have retreated from the oil town of Ras Lanuf, captured a week ago, after two days of intense fighting and they believe that the nearby town of Brega is now threatened.
From The Guardian:
The revolutionary army, in large part made up of inexperienced young volunteers, has been forced back by a sustained artillery, tank and air bombardment about 20 miles along the road to the rebel capital of Benghazi.
The head of Libya’s revolutionary council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed that if Gaddafi’s forces were to reach the country’s second-largest city it would result in “the death of half a million” people.
The Arab League, meeting in Cairo, called on the UN security council to impose a no fly-zone on Libya as Gaddafi’s forces also began to move against Misrata, a city of 300,000 people about 125 miles from Tripoli. Misrata is the only town in the west of the country still under the control of the insurgents after their defeat in a vicious battle for Zawiya. The rebels said that Misrata was now surrounded by Gaddafi’s forces, which included tanks.
“We are bracing for a massacre,” Mohamad Ahmed, a rebel fighter in the city, said. “We know it will happen and Misrata will be like Zawiya, but we believe in God. We do not have the capabilities to fight Gaddafi and his forces. They have tanks and heavy weapons and we have our belief and trust in God. The fighters here and the people of Misrata hold the inxternational community responsible for the fall of Zawiya and for all the deaths that happened. Gaddafi is responsible, but they are partners in crime.”
Arab League Backs No-Fly Zone
The Arab League has backed the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya, as rebels continue to be pushed back by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.
A special meeting in Cairo voted to ask the UN Security Council to impose the policy until the current crisis ended. The Arab League vote for a no-fly zone was opposed only by Syria and Algeria, reports from the Cairo meeting said. The UK and France have pushed for the idea, but have failed so far to win firm backing from the EU or Nato.
But Will Nato Approve No-Fly Zone?
Nato has previously cited regional support for the idea as a key condition before it could possibly go ahead.
From the BBC:
The US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, had earlier been quoted by French news agency AFP as saying it was still not clear whether it was the right policy.
“We can do it – the question is whether it’s a wise thing to do and that’s the discussion that’s going on at a political level,” Mr Gates reportedly told reporters on a US military plane after a visit to Bahrain.
Russia, which wields a veto on the UN Security Council, has expressed serious reservations on the issue.
On Friday, EU leaders in Brussels also stopped short of supporting the British and French initiative, saying instead that they would “examine all necessary options” to protect civilians.
The policy would be aimed at preventing Col Gaddafi’s forces using warplanes to attack rebel positions, although no clear position has emerged on exactly how this would be achieved
The Arab League’s vote in support of a no-fly zone undoubtedly brings military intervention closer to reality. It fulfills one of the conditions necessary for Nato involvement, regional support, but it is far from decisive.
Ultimately that decision will be taken in the UN Security Council, where uncertainty still reigns, not least because the Obama administration has yet to make up its mind. And only America can make a no-fly zone happen.
What Does A No-Fly Zone Mean?
Any no-fly zone (NFZ) would rely on America’s overwhelming air power. Doing a no-fly zone without air strikes is not a realistic option, as is made clear by a detailed discussion among veterans of past NFZs on Wired’s Danger Room.
According to one former USAF general: An open-ended mission would require about 50 fighters — F-15s and -16s, plus British Tornadoes and French Mirages — with eight planes in the air at all times during the CAPs [Combat Air Patrols]. He also advises keeping at least 10 and up to 20 KC-135 airborne tankers in the skies to allow for refueling — meaning those tankers won’t be helping planes over Afghanistan refuel.
A Wise Decision For The Obama Administration?
No wonder the US defence secretary, Bob Gates, has emerged as a formidable sceptic on NFZ’s. As first reported in The Guardian, Gates told reporters over the weekend: “We can do it – the question is whether it’s a wise thing to do and that’s the discussion that’s going on at a political level.”
By which he presumably means that the Obama White House will be castigated by some of the strongest supporters of the no-fly idea as soon as the first report emerges of civilian casualties caused by US or allied air strikes.
This seems like a no-win situation for Obama, but meanwhile Gaddafi’s forces, with their superior fighting power, continue to wreak havoc in Libya. As I wrote here earlier this week, Gaddafi has stolen enough money from his people to keep on fighting against them for a long time.
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