Libya military campaign hit by division, wrangling and uncertainty

By staff writers
March 23, 2011

Disagreements about the command, objectives, cost, legal basis and control of the Western military action in Libya have grown in the last 48 hours.

As international concerns grow about the lack of an exit strategy, the United States is continuing to distance itself from the action.

Questions are also being raised about "operational effectiveness", in terms of the stated aim of protecting civilians.

President Obama and the Defence Secretary Robert Gates wish to see NATO and the European powers take responsibility. But the practical military infrastructure depends considerably on the US, experts say.

There is also bitter disagreement about what UN Security Resolution 1973 rules in and rules out, especially regarding targetting Colonel Gaddafi - since "regime change" has been named as illegitimate.

The UK, France and USA all want to see Arab countries at the core of the military action. But only one of the 22 Arab League countries, Qatar, is directly involved. Its jets were experiencing operational difficulties on 23 March.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa has said he backs a No-fly Zone to protect civilians, but envisages this as a limited operation "which has been exceeded by the action taken... We are very concerned."

The African Union - in which Libya also has a profile as a north African state - is equally uneasy. Its ad-hoc senior committee, which had requested to go to Tripoli to talk directly to Gaddafi and the rebels, has been refused landing permission by the UN panel overseeing resolution 1973.

It is angry that only military options were considered, that negotiation has been sidelined, and that the basis of armed intervention is becoming less and less clear.

Reports on the ground also suggest that the No-fly Zone is mixed in its results. Despite claims of effectiveness around Bengazi, civilians are continuing to die, though the numbers and reports are unclear - and the regime has ratcheted up both its propaganda against the "Crusader war" and its own military action, which the bombing was supposed to halt.

Despite the coalition striking targets with 24 more Tomahawk missiles on 22 March 2011, there was no let up by Gaddafi's military, which has pounded rebel-held towns of Misurata and Ajdabiya.

Opposition groups, themselves variegated and divided, have called for back-up from Western planes. But the military commanders are reluctant to take up the role of "an airforce for the rebels", as one put it last night.

The distinction between civilians and armed opposition groups was also "difficult to fathom", another said.

Some 31 groups opposing Gaddafi militarily and politically are currently attempting to form a National Council of Resistance. But coordination is poor, and the fear is that if the regime topples fighting will break out among the chief protagonists.

However, if the Western military action leaves Gaddafi in power, the result could be stalemate and an on-going conflict.

One US congressman has talked about a "30-year scenario". Another, Ed Markey, declared: "Well, we're in Libya because of oil. And I think both Japan and the nuclear technology and Libya and this dependence that we have upon imported oil have both once again highlighted the need for the United States to have a renewable energy agenda going forward."

Meanwhile, after UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox said openly that killing the Libyan leader was a "possibility" and Foreign Secretary William Hague refused to rule out the option, a chorus of senior US voices dismissed the prospect out-of-hand.

Admiral Samuel J Locklear III, Commander, US Naval Forces Europe and Africa, said that while Libyan air force's capabilities have been degraded as a result of the air strikes, Gaddafi's forces were still using military force against the civilian population. In some cases that has been intensifying.

Reports from the town of Yafran, southwest of Tripoli, say that fighting has now broken out between Libyan loyalists and the rebels who control the area, killing at least nine people.

The US has also been embarrassed by the 'friendly fire' incident involving US aircraft bombing and shooting at Libyan civilians aiding one of their crashed pilots.

Al Jazeera now reports that, with speculation that that the No-fly Zone over Libya will need to be widened to cover almost 1,000 kilometres, because of the limited effectiveness of present operations, allied firepower is also targeted Gaddafi's strongholds of Zuwarah, Sirte, Sebha and Ajdabiya.


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