JNN 27 June 2011 : In March, Benghazi, Libya’s second city, seemed close to annihilation at the hands of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He had promised to exact retribution from his citizens for their temerity in seeking freedom from his 40-year dictatorship. Influenced by the memory of Kosovo and backed by the Arab League, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1973. It authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya. It also instructed that “all necessary measures” should be taken to protect civilians under threat of attack.
The wide support the measures received was bolstered by compelling images of terrified civilians in Benghazi awaiting what would undoubtedly have been a brutal and deadly onslaught by Gaddafi’s forces, bolstered by mercenary forces and determined to crush a nascent democratic revolution. Three months ago it seemed possible that it would be only a matter of weeks before what U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called “the mightiest military alliance in history” would achieve its aim. And the warmth of the “Arab spring” would spread a little further into Africa.
Today, however, is the 100th day of the NATO air strikes and Gaddafi is still in power. Joint NATO operational support has come from 18 countries, including the UK and France, with 15 enforcing the no-fly zone and launching air-to-ground missiles. Yet not only is Gaddafi still in power; rebel progress around Misrata in the west of Libya has stalled, and the transitional national council in Benghazi says it is desperately short of funds because the $1 billion promised by NATO has yet to materialize. In addition, fissures have appeared in the Nato alliance, criticized for being “a confused coalition of the unwilling and unable”.
At the same time, a million refugees have fled Libya, mainly into Tunisia and Egypt. Italy has called for a suspension of the air campaign to permit the delivery of humanitarian aid. Ironically, there is now a danger that the NATO mission is contributing to the very humanitarian crisis resolution 1973 was intended to avert.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the cost of the Libyan intervention has escalated from the original estimates of “tens of millions of pounds” to over £260m, now that the mission has been extended by another three months to September. The heads of the Royal Air Force and the Navy have warned that continuing operations in Libya beyond the autumn could mean redeployment from other tasks and asking more of forces already “fragile “ and overworked stretched by the additional demands, for instance, of Afghanistan.
So, what can be done? How can the original UN mandate to protect the lives of Libyan citizens be honored quickly and the current stalemate broken without NATO drifting into the illegal waters of pursuing regime change for which it has no mandate? Is it possible to act within resolution 1973 to encourage a chain reaction that may lead to Libyans effecting their own regime change?
The success of the NATO mission is that a no-fly zone and the creation of a protective cordon around Benghazi were accomplished in the first few weeks following the UN vote – undoubtedly saving lives. NATO spokesmen also say that Gaddafi’s fighting ability has been degraded by 50%, and many of his entourage have defected.
However, the rebels in the west in the Nafusa mountains and in the port of Misrata insist that without more intensive support from NATO it is difficult to make further advances. They lack the firepower and military discipline to take command on the ground. On the contrary, the rebels appear stranded in a no man’s land, served by social networking and mobile phones, but not the aerial support and arms they require.
It is vital that NATO is more proactive both in the air and on the ground to break this current impasse. Critics of the NATO mission point out that during the 78 days of the short, sharp Kosovo campaign, four times as many aircraft were used to conduct three times as many sorties in a country very much smaller.
In Libya, in contrast, NATO appears to be stuck in second gear while Obama’s decision not to have the U.S. participate in ground attacks has also had a negative impact. Last week, the House of Representatives prohibited the use of money for military operations in Libya, requiring an end to direct U.S. combat, but it did allow finance for support operations such as surveillance and intelligence.
NATO is hampered and split. It is hampered because the terms of resolution 1973 do not permit it to arm Gaddafi’s rebels. However, given the political will, it could provide more support on the ground and much more than the current few air sorties a day. It is split because while some NATO members have repeatedly said that enforcement action will end if “violence is stopped”, others have also insisted that Gaddafi must go, not in the context of regime change, but as part of the remit to protect vulnerable Libyan citizens.
Russia now shares that view, in spite of its initial skepticism about the NATO action. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have the most to lose among NATO leaders if intervention in Libya is protracted – or collapses. Both say they refuse to consider a ceasefire that allows Gaddafi to remain.
He, as yet, appears disinclined to consider his own removal as “brother leader of the revolution”. He still considers himself to be the only revolutionary force in town. He may calculate that if NATO fails to increase the pressure via aerial attacks and more “boot power” on the ground, and if the numbers of civilian deaths as a result of NATO bombing begin to rise, the alliance will fragment. The evidence that he has a point is already visible.
Last week a NATO strike on a compound west of Tripoli killed 19 civilians, including women and children. Amr Moussa, the outgoing head of the Arab League, has added his voice to those calling for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement with Gaddafi. “When I see children being killed,” Moussa said, “I must have misgivings.”’
Misgivings must also arise, however, if realpolitik results in a settlement that sees Libya divided, Gaddafi still in power with the power to destabilize the region and the lives of citizens who defied him once more at risk. David Cameron’s response is that time is on the alliance’s side: perhaps. That still requires NATO to abandon its limited, cautious, low-risk approach and flex far more of its muscle.
If the Libyans are not to lose the opportunity to develop and establish a democratic government, one that has legitimacy and widespread support, then NATO must finish what it set out to do 100 days ago — and soon.
Gaddafi revives offer of election to end Libya crisis
TRIPOLI – The Libyan government on Sunday renewed its offer to hold an election on whether Muammar Gaddafi should stay in power, a proposal likely to widen differences inside NATO.
Pressure is growing from some quarters within the (North) Atlantic Alliance to find a political solution, three months into a military campaign which is costing NATO members billions of dollars, has killed civilians, and has so far failed to topple Gaddafi.
According to Reuters, Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gaddafi’s administration, told reporters in Tripoli the government was proposing a period of national dialogue and an election overseen by the United Nations and the African Union.
“If the Libyan people decide Gaddafi should leave he will leave. If the people decide he should stay he will stay,” Ibrahim said.
But he said Gaddafi — who has run the oil-producing country since taking over in a military coup in 1969 — would not go into exile whatever happened. “Gaddafi is not leaving anywhere, he is staying in this country,” Ibrahim said.
The idea of holding an election was first raised earlier this month by one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam.
South Africa hosts AU talks on Libya
A meeting of African Union (AU) leaders opened on Sunday in the South African capital, Pretoria, aimed at ending hostilities in battle-ravaged Libya.
Heads of states from the Congo Republic, Mali, Mauritania and Uganda are attending the talks hosted by South African President Jacob Zuma.
The meeting follows claims a day earlier by the Libyan government that NATO warplanes bombed a bakery and a restaurant in a key oil refinery town east of Tripoli, a charge the alliance has countered.
South African President Jacob Zuma said continued bombing by NATO and its allies was a “concern,” since protecting the Libyan people was the intention behind a UN resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya.
“The intention was not to authorize a campaign for regime change or political assassination,” he said in his opening remarks at a meeting of the African Union’s special committee on Libya.
The committee, established in March, convened in Pretoria, South Africa, to discuss avenues to end the months-long fighting that has gripped the nation and left tens of thousands dead.
The AU leaders discussed Zuma’s mediation efforts between Gaddafi and rebels. Other topics on the agenda at the talks are mechanisms for delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians trapped in the conflict and the protection of foreign nationals, including African migrant workers living in Libya.
Zuma met with Gaddafi last month, securing a deal with the Libyan leader that was later rejected by the rebels.
Many AU leaders, including Zuma, have voiced reservations over NATO’s ongoing air campaign against Gaddafi forces.
Zuma’s government, which currently holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, did vote in favor of the UN resolution.
But he has since been critical of NATO for pursuing regime change, straying far outside the resolution’s civilian protection focus.
Earlier this month, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who chairs the AU panel on Libya, told AFP news agency that Gaddafi “can no longer lead Libya,” and that “his departure has become necessary”.
But he and other African leaders have repeatedly called for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the conflict, although they have so far failed to come up with a truce proposal that meets the rebels’ and NATO’s pre-condition that Gaddafi and his inner circle must leave power.