With Libya rebels stalled, frustration with NATO mounts
Libya rebels' outcry over a mistaken NATO airstrike demonstrates frustration with the alliance as the opposition realizes that international action is not intended to win their war for them.
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He helped lobby western powers to intervene when Qaddafi’s forces looked set to overrun Benghazi three weeks ago, and said NATO’s reluctance to go on the offensive stems from the deal that was struck within the UN Security Council.Skip to next paragraph
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NATO “committed itself to a mandate to protect civilians, and there is little doubt that the intervention by the French prevented a massacre from occurring in Benghazi. But they won't fight this war for the rebels against Qaddafi, because that isn't their mandate. So they are left to intervene whenever they feel civilians are threatened, and that can cause costly mistakes,” Bouckaert writes.
Flight follows errant strikes
Last night in Ajdabiya, which was besieged by a small force of Qaddafi loyalists for weeks until the Qaddafi tanks surrounding the city were destroyed by British jets, rebels and residents were in panicked flight, convinced that the NATO strike had paved the way for another Qaddafi assault on the city.
Brega, the next town to the west that hosts a major petrochemical complex, was retaken by Qaddafi’s forces earlier this week, and by dark thousands of Ajdabiya’s residents had convinced themselves Qaddafi’s men were moving in again. Thousands of families fled.
By morning today, it was clear there’d been no advance. But the deserted streets of the town of 100,000 – particularly on the western side nearest to Qaddafi’s forces – were testament to how quickly confidence in NATO protection has been eroded.
The elation of few weeks ago, when US, French and British attacks turned Qaddafi’s tanks and mobile rocket launchers into twisted heaps of scrap metal, convincing the rebels victory was at hand, has been replaced with confusion and anger.
“NATO has become our problem,” General Abdel Fatah Younes, who is officially in command of the rebel forces here, complained last night. “Either NATO does its work properly or we will ask the Security Council to suspend its work."
Confusion over tanks
General Younes, a close confidant of Qaddafi until he defected in late February, said NATO has been told that the rebels had taken 20 old Russian tanks out of mothballs and were moving them to the front, though that’s something that Admiral Harding appeared to dismiss today.
“It is not for us, trying to protect civilians of whatever persuasion, to improve communications with those rebel forces,” Harding said. The NATO strike also hit a rebel ambulance, killing a doctor inside.
Abdel Ali, a medical assistant with an ambulance crew just to the west of Ajdabiya, says that 23 dead civilians and rebels were found between Brega and Ajdabiya at the end of yesterday’s fighting, though he didn’t know how many of them died as a result of the NATO strikes.
For now, it’s fairly clear that Qaddafi’s forces are better equipped, better led, and more lethal than the rebels. Younes says that more trained soldiers are being brought into the fight, but there is a little evidence of them along the desert road between Ajdabiya and Brega.
The rebel militia, born out of a protest movement forced to take up arms when Qaddafi decided to fire on protesters, seems to have learned little from the past two months. Clumps of militiamen continue to charge up the road in pickup trucks toward Qaddafi’s positions, where accurate mortar fire inevitably kills them and drives them back.
There are no signs of foxholes being dug or defensive fortifications being constructed on the approaches to Ajdabiya. Younes himself rarely visits the rebels advanced positions.
“Our young men are beginning to realize that they can’t win this war without strong outside help to advance – I personally would welcome foreign troops at this point,” says Mohammed Daifullah, a retired civil servant. “But that’s an uncomfortable realization for them. So they get angry.”
IN PICTURES: Libya conflict