NATO’s United Front over Libya Crumbles

France and Britain urged their NATO allies on Tuesday to do more to pressure Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi, with Paris chiding Germany for a lackluster effort and lamenting the limited U.S. military role. A top NATO general reported that the alliance was “doing a great job.” (CBC)

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé shredded NATO’s allied front Tuesday, saying its actions were “not enough” to ease the pressure on Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata, which has been subject to weeks of bombardment by forces loyal to Gaddafi. (CBC) Juppé said NATO must do more to take out the heavy weaponry that Gaddafi’s forces are using to target civilians. “NATO must play its role fully,” Mr. Juppé said. “It wanted to take the lead on operations.” (BBC)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed that allies must “intensify” their efforts, but in a more diplomatic tone. “The U.K. has in the last week supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya,” said Hague. “Of course, it will be welcome if other countries also do the same. There is always more to do.” (CBC)

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet deplored that France and Britain carried “the brunt of the burden.” He complained that the reduced U.S. role – American forces are now in support, not combat roles in the airstrike campaign – have made it impossible “to loosen the noose around Misrata,” which has become a symbol of resistance against Gaddafi. Longuet also criticized Germany, which is not taking part in the military operation, and said Berlin’s commitment to back the humanitarian effort for Libyans was “a second chance” at best. (CBC) “Today we have no support in the ground attack role, without which there’s no chance of breaking the siege in towns like Misrata or Zenten,” he said. (BBC)

Germany does not take part in NATO’s military airstrikes in Libya because it sees the operation as too risky. Italy has also been reluctant to get involved in the airstrikes because, as Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has noted, it was the North African nation’s colonial ruler.

And the reduced U.S. role since NATO took over command on March 31 has also affected the operation. “Let’s be realistic. The fact that the U.S. has left the sort of the kinetic part of the air operation has had a sizable impact,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bidt. (CBC)

NATO Brig.-Gen. Mark Van Uhm sharply rejected French criticism of the operation in Libya, saying the North Atlantic military alliance is performing well and protecting civilians effectively. He said the alliance was successfully enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, patrolling a no-fly zone and protecting civilians there. “With the assets we have, we’re doing a great job,” Van Uhm told reporters. (CBC) However, he repeatedly declined to comment on reports that some alliance members were limiting their planes to patrolling the no-fly zone and prohibiting them from dropping bombs, saying that was a matter for governments to comment on.

NATO rejected the French and British criticism. “NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigor within the current mandate. The pac of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO also said Tuesday that it destroyed or disabled four tanks near Zintan in western Libya and destroyed an ammunition storage site southwest of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. “We’re keeping pressure on to stop the violence,” Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard said in a statement. “This supports the aim of reducing the regime’s ability to harm their own people.” (CBC)

Gaddafi’s forces have retained their ability to attack the rebels throughout the conflict. On Tuesday, several rockets struck Ajdabiya, the main point leading into the rebel-held east, and witnesses also reported shelling in Misrata. Weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata have terrorized the city’s residents, killing dozens of people and leaving food and medical supplies scarce, according to residents, doctors and rights groups. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Libya’s third-largest city.

“Unfortunately, with the long-range war machines of Gaddafi’s forces, no place is safe in Misrata,” a medical official in Misrata told the Associated Press, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals. Six people were killed Monday and another corpse was brought in Tuesday, he said. (CBC)

When it came to providing humanitarian aid to Misrata, Britain, France and Italy all said some aid was getting through without special military protection.

“Humanitarian assistance is getting through to Libya, including to Misrata. That, so far, has not needed military assistance to deliver it,” Hague said. He said the task was huge. “Events in the Middle East are the most important events so far in the 21st century in the world, and the responsibility of the European Union is commensurate with the historic nature of those events,” Hague said. (CBC)

The 27-nation European Union said over the weekend it was ready to launch a humanitarian mission in Misrata soon, with possible military support, if it received a request from the UN.

IHH, an Islamic aid group in Turkey, said it would send an aid ship to Misrata on Wednesday carrying food, powdered milk, infant formula, medicines and a mobile health clinic. Separately, Van Uhm said two aid ships had already visited the city and another would arrive Tuesday. The IHH has a mission to assist Muslims in the Middle East region. It deployed dozens of activists, including doctors, two days after the Libyan uprising began in February and established a tent city and a soup kitchen at a Libyan border crossing with Tunisia.

NATO also denied a report made by Libyan state television that a strike by international forces killed civilians in the town of Kikia, south-west of Tripoli, on Monday. “We can confirm there was an air strike in that region. However, it was 21 km (13 miles) southwest of the town that was mentioned on Libyan TV, Kikia. And the target was two tanks,” Gen. Van Uhm said. (BBC)

On Monday, the rebels rejected a ceasefire proposal by the African Union (AU) which the organization said had been accepted by Col. Gaddafi. The rebel’s Transitional National Council (TNC) said it was unfeasible as it did not include a provision for the Libyan leader to step down, but the AU have urged them to reconsider. The plan included a call for immediate end to hostilities, unhindered humanitarian aid, protection of foreign nations, dialogue between opposing sides and an end to NATO air strikes.

A stalemate between government and rebel forces is emerging and could last for some time, according to a senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest military assessments. The official agreed to speak Monday only on background because of the sensitive nature of the information. The official said the latest U.S. and NATO view is that both sides essentially remain in their fixed positions – the rebels near Ajdabiya and the pro-government forces near al-Brega. “Neither side has the wherewithal to move,” the official said. (CNN)

On the other side, another senior U.S. official who is familiar with administration contacts with the opposition said the opposition’s leadership seems to be sincere and earnest about its aim of toppling Gaddafi, but the leaders are not as organized as they need to be. They lack a detailed plan. The rebel forces and their abilities are “still a bit of a mystery,” the official said. “… Their resources are limited and their strategies and tactics are hard to fathom.” (CNN) While they are holding on to Ajdabiya for the moment, the senior official said it is hard to imagine them making any further gains toward Tripoli.

A spokesman for Libyan rebels rejected any suggestion of talks with Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief who defected to Britain but left there on Tuesday for Qatar. Qatar is hosting a meeting of countries that have expressed support for the Libyan rebels, and British officials announced Tuesday that Mr. Koussa was headed there, presumably to take a role in trying to mediate between the rebels and the Gaddafi government.
“We are sending a delegation to Doha solely to meet with the contact group, but it’s not part of the agenda to meet with Mr. Koussa,” said Abdul Hafeed Ghoga, the spokesman for the National Transitional Council, at a news conference there. “It’s not something rejected or accepted.” The council is the rebel’s representative body. (New York Times) Mr. Ghoga, noting the rebels rejection of the AU delegation’s request to negotiate a cease-fire during a visit to Benghazi on Monday, said that the Gaddafi loyalists have shelled Misrata throughout delegation’s visit, proving their lack of good faith. The rebels have maintained steadfastly that they will not enter negotiations until Colonel Gaddafi and his sons relinquish power.

Mustafa Ghereini, another spokesman for the transitional council, declined to say whether the Libyan rebels had received any offers of military assistance from Western countries. Asked if he was encouraged by their response to such requests, he said, “That’s a national security matter. But the fact that Gaddafi has not been able to take Misrata with all his might is encouraging to us.” (New York Times)

“The Libyan government’s near siege of Misrata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.” (New York Times) Human Rights Watch quoted a doctor at a Misrata Polyclinic Muhammed el-Fortia, as saying that loyalist forces had fired mortar rounds and sniper shots at the hospital, forcing its evacuation.


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