Libya says European military advisers for rebels will extend fighting

The British and French decision to send advisory forces to Libya stoked concerns about mission creep and accusations from Libya's government of overstepping the UN mandate.

Nasser Nasser/AP
A convoy of Libyan rebels deploy around the western gate of Ajdabiya, Libya, on Tuesday, April 19. Europe is ready to send an armed force to Libya to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid and Britain said Tuesday it will dispatch senior military officers to advise the opposition - signs that Western nations are inching closer to having troops on Libyan soil.

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Libya's foreign minister warned Tuesday that Britain's decision to send troops to Libya to advise the rebels would draw out the conflict and hamper attempts at dialogue.

Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, the foreign minister, said that the arrival of the foreign troops would derail progress on a cease-fire, which includes plans for a UN-supervised election, the BBC reported. Mr. Obeidi said the UK, France, and Italy have been obstacles to the Libyan government's efforts to work with the international community toward a cease-fire.

"We think any military presence is a step backwards and we are sure that if this bombing stopped and there is a real cease-fire we could have a dialogue among all Libyans about what they want – democracy, political reform, constitution, election. This could not be done with what is going on now," he said.

According to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, the British team of 10 will be working with the rebels to "improve their military organizational structures, communications, and logistics" and will not take part in any fighting, the BBC reported. France announced today that 10 French officers will join the British team.

Other members of the Libyan government have called the endeavor a waste of time, and in Europe there are increasing concerns about mission creep.

The Tripoli Post reports that Libya's deputy foreign minister said the advisory mission is beyond the UN mandate for intervention in Libya and that it constitutes a decision to take sides against the Libyan government. According to Al Jazeera, he also called it "an impossible mission" and said that the rebel forces are too divided for the foreign assistance to do much.

"To organize who? They [the rebels] are different groups. There is no leader. They are not well organized, and I am sure it will be a failure," the deputy minister said.

His concerns are similar to those that have been heard throughout Europe and the US for weeks: are Libya's rebels capable of fighting Col. Muammar Qaddafi's forces? They have struggled to capitalize on the NATO bombing campaign that wiped out Colonel Qaddafi's air force and halted many of his forces' ground operations as well. The civil war appears to be locked in a stalemate.

Al Jazeera described the rebels as a ragtag group of men joining the front lines after no more than a week of military training, but gradually becoming more adept and organized.

In recent days, the rebels' tactics and organization have improved, and they have begun to resemble something like a trained militia, if not an army.

But months into the fight to overthrow Qaddafi's regime, their forces remain a hodgepodge of civilians like Bukatwa, pressed into service and made to rely on scavenged weapons and an aging fleet of captured armored vehicles they are barely able to repair.

Debate in Britain about the mission led to accusations by a British lawmaker that the country has indeed taken sides in Libya's conflict, according to Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, The Guardian reported that several British lawmakers are concerned that while the advisory mission lies within the parameters of the UN resolution, it could broaden into actions that do not.

A Guardian editorial warned of the ease with which current efforts in Libya could develop into an occupation force.

The 20 British and French military advisers being sent to help the rebels in Benghazi do not constitute an occupation force. They are advisers rather than trainers, but they are boots on the ground. With every step being taken by those boots, Nato's military involvement in the civil war in Libya is deepening. …

Each step has fueled fears of mission creep, although, as one observer said yesterday, preventing the mission from collapsing altogether may be closer to the mark. Each of these steps is cumulative, and the direction of travel should concern us all.

The US has so far refrained from offering any similar assistance, although the Washington Post reports that the US has not taken "nonlethal assistance" or the provision of arms off the table.

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