Mission creep

Published : May 20, 2011 00:00 IST

A rebel fighter beside a tank captured from forces loyal to Qaddafi, in central Misurata on April 22. - YANNIS BEHRAKIS/REUTERS

A rebel fighter beside a tank captured from forces loyal to Qaddafi, in central Misurata on April 22. - YANNIS BEHRAKIS/REUTERS

Libya: The latest escalation in the military aggression by some NATO countries is in clear contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

AS the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-backed rebels in Libya were on the verge of losing total control of the oil port town of Misurata, the British and French governments announced in the last week of April that they would be despatching military trainers to Libya. Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, has also announced that it will send military officers to help the rebels in the fight against the Libyan government.

The Barack Obama administration in the United States is also bolstering the rebels from Benghazi by authorising the use of the killer Predator drones. American drones are already causing considerable havoc in two other Muslim countries Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since February, American drones have been deployed for surveillance over Libya. Now they will be armed with Hellfire missiles to take out the Libyan forces that are holed up in defensive positions. The drones will also be used for targeted assassinations.

David Ignatius, The Washington Post's world affairs columnist, wrote that the Predator drone is a tool for assassination. The Obama administration has not stated which targets the drones will strike. Ignatius wrote that the most likely goal of the U.S. was to kill Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi and his inner circle. The reputed newspaper Boston Globe said in a recent editorial that President Obama had grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military aggression. Obama had said that the American intervention in Libya was to prevent genocide.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report, said the forces loyal to Qaddafi were not deliberately targeting civilians but focussing their firepower on the rebel army. Misurata's population is 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people, including combatants, have died there, the HRW report stated. Out of them, fewer than 3 per cent were women. If the Libyan army was really targeting civilians, the number of women and children killed would have been much higher.

The latest military escalation is in clear contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The resolution, passed in March, does not authorise U.N. member-states to support the rebels or the armed militias or to oust the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. Mission creep of the kind witnessed in Vietnam is now happening in Libya despite growing evidence that the military situation there is heading towards a stalemate.

French agenda

Until the choreographed announcements by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the third week of April about sending military liaison teams to Benghazi, the NATO coalition had been insisting that there would be no military boots on the ground in Libya. Senior advisers to the French President told this correspondent in Paris in the third week of April that there was no question of French military personnel being deployed in Libya. They said that the only goal of the Western coalition was to implement the no-fly zone.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they also continued to insist that regime change was also not on the French agenda. They claimed that no arms were being supplied to the rebels but at the same time said that the French government was not against other countries arming the rebels. One official said that humanitarian help would be delivered with military aid if necessary.

France was the first country to recognise the rebel outfit in Benghazi as the legitimate Libyan government and the first to launch air attacks, without adequately coordinating with other NATO members. Britain and Italy soon joined in, to guarantee that their financial stakes in a post-Qaddafi Libya would not be jeopardised. French officials insist that their country will keep on playing the leadership role in the Libyan military campaign.

After the establishment of a no-fly zone and the consequent air assault, Paris and London expected the Libyan leader to sue for peace and leave the country. But things have not gone according to the script envisaged in Paris and London. As Qaddafi digs in for the long haul, the French and the British have progressively escalated the military aggression. NATO officials claimed in the last week of April that 30 per cent of the Libyan army had been destroyed as a result of the air strikes.

The ineptitude of the West's Libyan proteges in Benghazi has forced the three NATO countries in the forefront of the Libya military operation to intervene even more openly. It is no secret that American, British and French military advisers have been advising the rebel army leadership since late February when the revolt against the government was sparked off in Benghazi. Now their presence has been only formalised. From now on, a joint team of British/French officers will officially advise the ragtag rebel force on logistics, intelligence gathering and communication. There will be, of course, coordination between them and the U.S. military, which will let loose its killer drones in areas under the control of the government in Tripoli.

Many observers predict that French, British and Italian ground forces will move in and do the fighting on behalf of the rebels. Leading British, American and French politicians have already started calling for the speedy despatch of troops so that safe havens can be created for civilians in Libya. The U.S. had done this for the Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1990s and NATO for the Bosnians during the war in the Balkans. The European Union (E.U.) has started discussions on sending troops to protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief. The E.U. Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has confirmed that the E.U. has offered to send 1,000 troops to Misurata if there is a request from U.N. officials in charge of relief there.

An article written jointly by the British Prime Minister and the French and American Presidents in the third week of April stated that their goal is not to remove Qaddafi by force. At the same time, the article also reiterated that the three countries would continue using force so long as Qaddafi is in power. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron ended their article by reiterating that the three countries would not rest until UNSC resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their future. There is no mention whatsoever in Resolution 1973 about enabling the Libyan people to choose a new government.

Russia's strong protest

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, had lodged a strong protest, stating that the NATO action in bombing Libya's military was against the mandate given by Resolution 1973. Moscow has said that it is unlikely to give its approval for an extension of NATO's operations in Libya.

The U.N. Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime. All those who are currently using the U.N. resolution for that aim are violating the U.N. mandate, said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister. Lavrov reminded the international community that the deployment of military advisers was fraught with danger. There are cases in history when everything started with the sending of instructors and then everything went on for many years and led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people on both sides. Already thousands of people have been killed in Libya, many of them victims of NATO bombs and missiles.

The leaders of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), who met in China in the third week of April, blasted the arbitrary interpretation by some countries of the Security Council resolution on Libya. The resolutions should be implemented in accordance with their content, in accordance with their spirit and letter. The BRICS countries unanimously believe in this, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.

For that matter, most NATO members have had serious doubts about the joint London/Paris initiative to wage war against Libya. Germany has kept out of it altogether. Only six NATO members are involved in actual fighting, with France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. carrying the major burden. Public opinion in the U.S. has already started turning against yet another war their country is involved in. In the U.K. and France, the media have started asking questions about the mounting expenses incurred by their governments in the ongoing military adventure, which started in February. With the U.S. now taking a back seat in the operation, these two countries are bearing the brunt of the military expenses.

Arab League members, except Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have distanced themselves from the Libya mission. Tunisia and Egypt have refused to provide air bases for the French and British air forces, which are now the de facto air wing of the rebel forces.

The rapacious colonial baggage France and Britain carry in the region has not helped matters either. President Hugo Chavez, who was the first world leader to call for a negotiated settlement of the crisis, was scathing in his remarks on the leaders of the three major foreign countries involved in the military campaign against Libya. Do these Presidents think that they own the world? Do they think that they have the right to bomb villages and peoples?....Imperialism and the governments of Europe want to take over Libya's petroleum. They don't want to defend the people of Libya. That's a lie, he said in a recent speech.

The Libyan government has said that it will consider all foreign army personnel on its territory as enemy combatants. Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told the media that if there was deployment of any armed personnel on Libyan territory, there would be fighting. The Libyan government will not take it as a humanitarian mission. It will be taken as a military mission, he said.

Libya for ceasefire

The Libyan government has said, on several occasions in the last two months since fighting broke out, that it was willing to accept an unconditional ceasefire. It even went to the extent of saying that it was prepared for an internationally supervised election. The African Union (A.U.), which sent a high-level delegation to Libya in the middle of April, has proposed a ceasefire plan and a transition period for the devastated country. The economy of Libya, which had the highest standard of living in Africa until February, now stands shattered.

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