Sunday, June 05, 2011

NATO Is One Step From a Land Invasion Into Libya, Says Russian Deputy PM

NATO is one step from land war in Libya, says Russia’s Ivanov

Monday, 06 June 2011 00:00
Nigerian Guardian

FROM the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov came an assertion that NATO “is one step” from sending troops into Libya to help rebels remove Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, from power, according to a report by Associated Press (AP).

This is coming on the heels of attack by British and French helicopters for the first time inside Libya on Saturday.

NATO had previously relied on attack jets generally flying above 4,500 meters.

Reuters also claimed that the helicopters struck at targets in the oil port of Brega as NATO forces stepped up their air war against Gaddafi.

Aircraft of the NATO-led alliance also hit targets in Tripoli, where about six powerful explosions were heard.

But Ivanov said in Singapore at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference: “Using attack helicopters, in my view, is the last but one step before the land operation.“

Russia abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution vote in March to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Ivanov said there has been disagreement over how to interpret the scope of the resolution.

“We thought it was a good resolution to stop civilian casualties and close down Libyan air space,” Ivanov said.

“But we haven’t agreed on what closing down air space means. Later, it apparently meant first bombing and now using attack helicopters. We think it clearly takes one side of the conflict,“ he added.

NATO air strikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces.

Meanwhile, Reuters in the Libyan capital said aircraft could be heard overhead at the time of the blasts, before sunset. It was not immediately clear which targets were hit.

“As long as Gaddafi continues to abuse his people, we will continue and intensify our efforts to stop him from doing so,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at a news conference in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Speaking in Benghazi shortly before Hague’s arrival, the head of the rebel council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, welcomed NATO’s deployment of helicopters.

“We welcome any measures that would expedite the departure of Gaddafi and his regime,” he told reporters in Benghazi, where Hague later arrived for talks with council members.

Hague visited the square next to Benghazi’s courthouse, where people greeted him with victory signs and shouted: “Libya free!” and “Gaddafi go away!”

Commenting on the use of attack helicopters, Hague said: “It’s part of reinforcing the UN Security Council resolution. We have to deal with them (Gaddafi forces) as effectively as we can and that entails the use of Apache helicopters.”

A NATO-led military alliance extended its mission to protect civilians in Libya for a further 90 days this week, and France said it was stepping up military pressure as well as working with those close to Gaddafi to try to persuade him to quit.

“This was the first operational mission flown by British Army Apaches at sea,” Defence Secretary Liam Fox said.

“The additional capabilities now being employed by NATO further reinforce the UK’s enduring commitment and NATO’s determination to ... ensure that the people of Libya are free to determine their own future.”

Military analysts say attack helicopters will allow more precise strikes against pro-Gaddafi forces hiding in built-up areas than the high-flying jets used so far, while reducing the risk of civilian casualties.

But given the vulnerability of helicopters to ground fire, their deployment also increases the risk of Western forces suffering their first casualties of the campaign.

Critics of the war have warned of “mission creep” but NATO has said the use of helicopters would not presage the deployment of ground troops, which Western nations have ruled out.

Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance towards Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be entrenched.

Rebels control the east of Libya around Benghazi and the Western Mountains stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km (95 miles) south of Tripoli, towards the border with Tunisia.

NATO has complete dominance of Libyan skies and Tripoli’s warplanes have rarely moved since Western forces entered the conflict. But a rebel spokesman in Zintan said Gaddafi’s forces had used a small agricultural plane to bomb the town.

In a speech at NATO’s Libya command base in the Italian city of Naples, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised U.S. troops for taking part in military operations that he said had stopped a humanitarian disaster in the North African country.

He reiterated the official U.S. government stance that Gaddafi must step down.

Rebel fighters repelled an attack by Gaddafi’s forces against one of their checkpoints on the eastern edges of the rebel-held city of Misrata on Saturday, a Reuters’ journalist there said. One rebel was killed and another was wounded in the clashes, medical workers said.

Gaddafi’s forces also shelled Nalut and Zintan, rebel spokesmen said by phone from the rebel-held Western Mountains towns. At least 10 people were wounded in Nalut.

NATO’s helicopter attacks struck military targets around the eastern town of Brega, location of an oil export terminal.

Rebel forces swept west through Brega early in the uprising before retreating from near Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte in late March. Gaddafi’s forces have since dug in around the oil town.

No comments: