Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Imperialists Send Military Advisers, Equipment to Further Attempts to Overthrow the Libyan Government

Imperialists Send Military Advisers, Equipment to Toughen Libya Rebels

April 20, 2011, 8:31 PM EDT

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and its allies, a month into their air campaign in Libya, are being drawn more deeply into a conflict they expected would quickly topple leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Italy, France and the U.K. said they are sending military advisers and trainers to help Libya’s disorganized and poorly equipped rebels, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for intensifying airstrikes. The U.S. announced yesterday that it would provide $25 million in non-lethal aid from Pentagon stockpiles, including radios, body armor, boots, medicine, and prepared halal meals. Qatar, which has helped the rebels sell oil valued at more than $100 million, is supplying light weapons, Suleiman Fortia, a member of the opposition group, said April 19 in Benghazi.

The uprising, which began Feb. 17, has settled into a military stalemate near the central oil-port city of Brega. Residents in the rebels’ western outpost of Misrata, besieged for more than six weeks, suffer daily shelling by Qaddafi’s forces that a United Nations official said yesterday may constitute war crimes.

Photographers Killed

Two Western photographers covering the fighting in Misrata -- Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated film director and war photographer who produced the film “Restrepo,” and Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images -- were killed yesterday, the Associated Press reported. Two other photographers nearby were wounded.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says Western leaders underestimated Qaddafi’s staying power as the Libyan uprising seemed to have the momentum for a quick outcome.

“It has become all too clear that gambling on Qaddafi caving in has created a far more serious humanitarian crisis for the Libyan people than would ever have occurred if the coalition had acted decisively from the start and had directly attacked Qaddafi, his centers of power, and the military forces loyal to him,” he wrote yesterday on the CSIS website.

The U.S. and its allies should have started out directly targeting the regime leadership, including Qaddafi, rather than narrowly trying to protect civilian population centers, he wrote.

“The humanitarian cost of humanitarian restraint is all too clear: Hundreds of Libyan and foreign workers have been killed, thousands injured, thousands more arrested and sometimes tortured, and hundreds of thousands lack jobs, security, and safe conditions of life,” Cordesman wrote.

Oil Fields Damaged

Forces loyal to Qaddafi have shelled and caused damage to three oil fields since the fighting started in mid-February, rebel spokesman Abdul Hafiz Ghoga said yesterday at a press briefing. Crude oil for June delivery climbed $3.30, or 3.05 percent, to settle at $111.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil exports from Libya, which has Africa’s biggest oil reserves, dropped by about 1.3 million barrels a day to a “trickle,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency said last month.

The shelling caused damage to the Messla field, operated by Arabian Gulf Oil Co., oil well 59 in the Waha field operated by Waha Oil Co., and field 103 A/D operated by Zueitina Oil Co, Ghoga said.

Elsewhere in the Region

In other developments in the region, the Syrian cabinet’s backing for a draft decree ending a 48-year-old state of emergency failed to persuade anti-government protesters to end their challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

In Yemen, clashes between pro-government forces and protesters calling for an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have left at least five people dead since April 19. Saleh, who has refused to yield to demands that he quit, said a power transfer must occur through elections, the state news agency reported.

The ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, wrote in the Washington Times newspaper that Bahrainis’ “legitimate” grievances about civil and political rights had been “hijacked by extremist elements with ties to foreign governments,” threatening the country’s security and “economic viability.”

Libyan opposition forces have failed to take and hold territory along the Mediterranean coast, or to capitalize on air strikes that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says have destroyed more than 30 percent of Qaddafi’s military. Rebels were pushed back this month from Brega under a barrage of artillery fire east to Ajdabiya, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Al Arabiya television reported yesterday that rebels re-entered Brega.

European Advisers

The European advisers, likely to total fewer than 50, will be the first Western military boots on the ground in an outside intervention that has been limited to airpower and sea power to police a no-fly zone, to protect civilians and to enforce an arms embargo on the Qaddafi regime. U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending U.S. ground forces to Libya.

The rebels are open to having additional foreign intervention -- namely UN-designated ground troops -- help protect aid deliveries, Ghoga, spokesman for the Interim National Transitional Council, told reporters in Benghazi.

The UN hopes to get humanitarian aid into Misrata by road, under an agreement earlier this week with the Libyan government, without the need to consider European or NATO military help, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said at a briefing in New York.

Airstrikes’ Limits

The attacks in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, and the rebels’ failure to advance from their eastern positions have forced NATO officials to concede the limits to what airpower alone can accomplish. The UN Security Council’s resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians bars “a foreign occupation force of any kind.”

NATO warplanes flew 62 strike missions April 19, up from 53 the day before, the alliance said in an e-mailed statement. Jets hit three tanks and three rocket-launcher vehicles near Misrata, two ammunition depots near Tripoli and a surface-to-surface missile site near Sirte, the statement said.

Sarkozy, who met yesterday with Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the Interim Transitional National Council, said France will “intensify the strikes,” the Associated Press reported, citing a presidential aide.

Additionally, France will send a “very small group” of officers to Libya, government spokesman Francois Baroin said yesterday. Italy plans to send 10 military instructors, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said. About 20 British army members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are being deployed to advise rebels, a U.K. Ministry of Defense official said on condition of anonymity.

Obama and Cameron

Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron discussed increasing diplomatic and economic pressure’’ on Qaddafi’s government in a telephone conversation yesterday, according to a statement issued by the White House.

The U.S. is working with a number of opposition groups, not just the Interim Transitional National Council, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. The U.S. has “some confidence” that the rebels “can work cohesively as a group,” he said. Toner said the aid that the U.S. is providing rebels is “not a blank check; this is goods and services that would be drawn down from U.S. stocks.”

The rebels do need training, Toner acknowledged. “We’re all well aware they’ve had trouble with some of the equipment,” he said. “These are doctors, lawyers, people from civil society who’ve taken up arms to protect their homes.”

‘Step Backwards’

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi said the military presence by foreign powers in Libya would be a “step backwards.” In a BBC interview, he called for a cease-fire along the lines of an African Union plan and a period to establish a dialogue on revamping the Libyan political system.

The rebels will not accept a political deal to remove Qaddafi that would enable him to safely go into exile, Ghoga said. Libyans want him judged for his “crimes,” he said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the government’s use of cluster bombs and heavy weaponry, reported by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch, could amount to war crimes because of the substantial toll on civilians.

“Reportedly, one cluster bomb exploded just a few hundred meters from Misrata hospital, and other reports suggest at least two medical clinics have been hit by mortars or sniper fire,” Pillay said in a statement on the UN group’s website.

‘Substantial’ Numbers

“Since the city is largely cut off,” she said, “it is not known precisely how many civilians have died or been injured during two months of fighting there, but it is clear that the numbers are now substantial, and that the dead include women and children.”

She said that the “pro-government forces besieging the city, including their commanders and all other personnel, should be aware that -- with the International Criminal Court investigating possible crimes -- their orders and actions will be subject to intense scrutiny. Under international law, the deliberate targeting of medical facilities is a war crime, and the deliberate targeting or reckless endangerment of civilians may also amount to serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.”

A vessel carrying 500 tons of food, medical supplies and other equipment was bound for Misrata yesterday and plans to rescue some of the estimated 5,000 migrants from the besieged city, the International Organization for Migration said on its website.

--With assistance from Mark Shenk in New York, Helene Fouquet in Paris, Nicole Gaouette in Washington, Mariam Fam in London and Jeffrey Donovan and Andrew Davis in Rome. Editors: Terry Atlas, Leslie Hoffecker

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at; Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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