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Libyan rebels retreating from their positions outside the oil town of Brega and facing heavy fighting elsewhere in the country have accused NATO forces of not providing enough air support and failing to protect civilians.
The complaint comes as international players involved in Libya increase their efforts to resolve the situation through diplomatic means. Many rebels say the coalition's shift to negotiations has led to a decline in NATO’s military campaign, a move that rebels say is costing lives.
Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis, Libya’s rebel commander and Col. Muammar Qaddafi's former interior minister, said NATO forces were “not doing anything.” He complained that an overly bureaucratic process has created a system that keeps NATO jets from responding to developing situations for hours. He also faulted NATO for limited actions in Misratah, the only large city in western Libya still under the control of antigovernment forces, which he said were at risk for "extermination."
“If NATO should wait another week, there will be no more Misratah,” said General Younis in an article by BBC. “You will not find anyone.”
Younis's sentiments run deep amid the rank and file of the Libyan rebels. After suffering their first major territorial loss to government forces in almost a week, many rebels say they felt let down by NATO, reports The Wall Street Journal. Rebels had held their lines in Brega for three days when government forces began shelling their position and they had to retreat.
“Ever since Qaddafi started looking for a way out, negotiating for an end, NATO has backed off,” said Abdallah Daboob, a rebel fighter who retreated from Brega. “Our question for NATO is this: are you with us or against us?”
NATO has insisted that it is in Libya not to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi, but to prevent further loss of civilian life.
Former US Congressman Curt Weldon is scheduled to meet with Qaddafi Wednesday in Tripoli. The embattled Libyan ruler invited Mr. Weldon, whom he first met in 2004 when he visited Libya on a congressional delegation.
CNN reports that Weldon will try to talk Qaddafi into peacefully stepping down. Weldon has said it is unlikely anyone can “simply bomb him into submission.” The US also sent Chris Stevens as their special envoy to meet with the Libyan opposition on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, rebel forces can expect a tough fight. Army veterans who’ve volunteered to train the rebel fighters say that many people had never even held a weapon before joining opposition forces, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It appears that Qaddafi’s forces also vastly outgun the rebels.
Even though NATO forces say they have eliminated roughly a third of government troops, rebels say they still require much more help if they are to succeed. BBC reported that NATO is having trouble staging airstrikes on Qaddafi's forces because they are hiding weaponry in civilian areas, where NATO will not strike out of concern about causing civilian casualties.
Despite the setbacks, rebel forces are optimistic. They say that loss of territory is to be expected in a war like this one and does not constitute defeat.
“There is no revolution without setbacks,” said Mustafa Gheriani, the rebel government’s spokesman, in an article by The Telegraph. “But the people will win. ... We are committed to fighting this tyrant, and either we will drive him out or he will rule a country with no people in it.”