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The Monitor's View

Slaughter in Libya's Misurata: Is this Obama's 'Rwanda'?

NATO admits it can't help keep Qaddafi forces from slaughtering civilians in Libya's third-largest city, Misurata, which is keey to the rebels' aims. Obama faces a humanitarian choice, as he did with Benghazi.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / April 20, 2011



President Obama was rightly praised for using US forces last month to prevent a civilian massacre in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Now he and US allies must decide whether to stop an ongoing slaughter in Misurata, a port city of 500,000 people.

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Hundreds of civilians in Libya’s third-largest city have been killed – including dozens of children – by pro-Qaddafi fighters. Hospitals are overwhelmed as snipers pick off people trying to survive in a city with little food and water.

Entire families are being wiped out as devastating types of bombs are used indiscriminately on homes. Thousands are trying to flee by ship, the only way out for them.

NATO commanders admit they are helpless against the urban-guerrilla tactics now being used by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. Air power alone cannot strike at soldiers in pickup trucks – indistinguishable from rebels – with mortar rockets or at snipers on tops of buildings. The ragtag rebel groups have few arms.

As a Canadian officer told German media: “It’s a knife fight in a phone booth and it’s very difficult to get in the middle of that.”

The UN mandate for foreign forces to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Libya didn’t anticipate the type of killing in Misurata. “What we have perhaps underestimated is Muammar Qaddafi’s capacity to adapt,” admits Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister.

Only half or less of Libya’s military equipment and headquarters facilities has been destroyed, despite nearly two months and thousands of airstrikes by the United States and other NATO aircraft.

This week, the horrific crisis in the besieged city of Misurata compelled Britain, Italy, and France to decide to send military advisers to the rebel leaders in Benghazi. The Europeans will assist the rebels in organizing their forces better. And a group of French lawmakers wants to send noncombat military specialists to Misurata to help rebels identify targets for NATO air attacks.

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