Libya: Why the continued NATO airstrikes won’t solve the problem – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

A group of people heading towards the Libyan border with Tunisia/Photo: UNHCR. A. Duclos/
Considering the lull in the humanitarian crisis—because there is no serious fighting going on now after the rebels had gained the upper hand in Misrata and the pro-Gaddafi forces have withdrawn—what is the justification for NATO’s continued bombardment of Libya, especially its capital, Tripoli?

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The BBC has reported that six large blasts—believed to have been NATO air strikes—were heard in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, late on Friday and early on Saturday morning. The target of this airstrike was Gaddafi’s sprawling Bab Al-Aziziya compound, an action that led the Italian Foreign Minister to suggest that Gaddafi had probably been wounded in Thursday’s air strike on his Bab al-Aziziya compound and had fled Tripoli. But the Libyan leader has denied that report and taunted NATO with the assertion that “I live in a place that you cannot reach and kill me in it because I live in the hearts of the millions.”

Then, the NATO bombardment of Bregga has produced the most chilling effect thus far. Libyan state TV reported that a NATO strike hit a boarding house in the eastern city of Brega, killing 11 imams and wounding 45 people. According to a government spokesman, the victims were part of a larger group who had travelled to the government-held town from across Libya seeking peace talks in rebel-held Benghazi.

As is to be expected a flood of denials has come from those responsible for the continuation of the turmoil in Libya. On their part, rebel officials in Benghazi insisted there were no civilians at all in Brega. This denial is inadmissible. If there are no civilians in Bregga, who are the residents there? Or is the city now a ghost town?
It is not surprising for a NATO spokesman to say that he did not know anything about an attack in Brega. After all, NATO hasn’t had the moral compunction to account for the numerous pro-Gaddafi troops that it has killed so far, not to count civilian lives. No one in this NATO has any clean conscience any more.

The air strikes have helped secure rebels in their strongholds in eastern Libya, but observers say it remains unclear to what extent they have loosened Gaddafi’s grip on western Libya. The direction in which the crisis in Libya is being pushed by the International Coalition can’t produce any solution.

At best, it will continue to worsen the situation until the country finally settles on a partition into Eastern Libya (under the rebels’ control) and Western Libya (under the control of the Gaddafi government). Signs are emerging strongly that this will be the ultimate outcome of the ongoing confrontation. We have already predicted this outcome and will not be surprised at the current happenings.

In this sense, then, we shouldn’t expect NATO to relent in its bombardment of Libya. Several excuses will now be adduced to justify anything NATO does. Earlier this week, following talks with his French counterpart, UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox rejected any idea of a military stalemate, noting that the mission to defend the population in Libya would continue.

This stance will be maintained in the light of the minimal gains that the rebels are reported to have made in Misrata. After months of fighting, the rebels said they had seized Misrata airport in the west, driving back pro-Gaddafi troops. This new development is the harbinger that NATO will be looking for to mount more attacks on the pro-Gaddafi forces in other areas to pave the way for future advancements into the territories still under Gaddafi’s control.

The goal is to extend the fighting to those areas and use superior airstrike abilities to clear the way for the rebels and help them take the fight to Gaddafi, knowing very well that that’s the only way to divest Gaddafi’s hold on power.

The situation will, then, not see any let-up until NATO achieves its objectives of eliminating Gaddafi, crippling his government, and helping the rebels assume power in Libya. It’s not an easy task to accomplish, though. That’s where NATO seems to be hamstrung because it has no alternative plan for its military campaigns.

Many wrong things have already been done by NATO and the rebels that it supports to worsen the crisis and give no glimmer of hope for a quick solution to the problem. First, the International Coalition has infringed the terms under which it is operating in Libya. We all know that although the UN resolution authorizing the use of force is wide-ranging, it is solely devoted to the protection of the civilian population.
It doesn’t provide for what NATO has been doing of late—targeting Gaddafi and killing innocent civilians in areas that its airstrikes hit.
NATO is functioning ultra vires as it intensifies its activities to fulfill the ambitions of its leaders that “Gaddafi must go.” The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 doesn’t provide for that function or objective. So, enforcing that resolution cannot be turned into a justification for regime change.

Because the International Coalition has its own premeditated agenda to prosecute in Libya, it has closed its mind to other (and better) solutions. The political road map that the African Union proposed and laid before the two parties was workable even if it didn’t provide that Gaddafi leave office immediately. Among others, the AU’s call for a ceasefire and recourse to diplomatic and political means to resolve the crisis was accepted by the Gaddafi government but rejected outright by the rebels and the International Coalition.

One would have expected a different approach to the AU’s overtures by the rebels and their backers. At least, they could have weighed the long-term benefits of that political road map, especially since Gaddafi had already accepted it. But they didn’t, trusting that the military option would settle it all for them to remove Gaddafi from power. It hasn’t been so to date nor will it be so soon. There lies the problem, which is frustrating NATO and motivating its sustained bombardment and targeting of Gaddafi.

As the situation stands now, NATO will be forced into making more desperate moves, the most immediate one of which will be for the assassination of Gaddafi, which will throw Libya into a more difficult labyrinthine situation. Anything of the sort will create more humanitarian and security problems than the one that prompted the adoption of (UN) Resolution 1973.

Solving such problems will not be easy. It will force the West into doing either what it has resisted all this while or sticking to the military option till opponents of the International Coalition step in to make this Libyan crisis a major global problem.

Ultimately, even though the US and its partners have rejected any idea of sending ground troops to Libya, they will have no other option but to do so if they succeed in worsening the situation. They will need contingents of ground troops for peacekeeping purposes in Libya for a very long and expensive duration if they succeed in achieving their objective of eliminating Gaddafi and catalyzing the eruption of the political volcano that is now simmering. Can the International Coalition contain such a situation?