The situation in Libya is at best unclear as of Monday, 21 March, with reports saying that US-led coalition air strikes have destroyed some 70 of Gaddafi’s military vehicles and for all intents and purposes destroyed a key command and control center (though it was apparently empty) with cruise missiles in the capital, Tripoli, late on Sunday night. US officials say that the no-fly zone has been successful so far, and that not of Gaddafi’s military planes have taken to the air since Sunday. The Libyan military has apparently called for a ceasefire, but few are taking this seriously. French planes are in the skies over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, maintaining a non-stop surveillance pattern, while some ground forces have been taken out, according to report. The rebel forces holding fast to their stronghold in Benghazi appear to have been given renewed optimism, hoping that they can now resume their offensive and take it back to Tripoli. The amount of support they will actually get from international interventionist forces in this mission, however, remains unclear.
US officials are quick to say that Gaddafi himself is not a target and that regime change is not an end goal. Libyan officials say that civilians have been killed in the coalition strikes. This cannot be independently confirmed. US officials say they have no “indication” that civilians have been killed, and rebel forces say that the Libyan military took bodies killed by their forces and paraded before media as casualties of coalition air strikes. Gaddafi remains defiant, promising a long, drawn-out war and promising retribution against Libyans who side with foreign forces.
The coalition currently includes forces from Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar and Spain. On Sunday, US officials said military air planes from Qatar were moving into position, and the UAE has also begun involvement, with more support was expected from the Arab world, specifically the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. NATO’s role in the intervention for now remains one of surveillance only, as now consensus has yet been reached among NATO member states.
Russia, China and the Arab League have expressed concerns about the coalition air strikes. Russia and China abstained from the UN Security Council vote, along with three non-permanent UNSC members: Germany, Brazil and India. The Arab League had been one of the initiators of calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians, but is now concerned that the operations may lead to more civilian casualties. They fear the coalition operations are going too far. This does not necessarily signal a shift in the Arab League’s stance. There are likely to be fewer civilian casualties through coalition air strikes than if Gaddafi were allowed to quash the rebel forces, after which thousands would be rounded up and executed for their support of the rebels, particularly among tribes in the country’s east. The GCC, contrary to the Arab League, is defending the intervention for obvious reasons. China prefers to stay out the fray, though it tacitly supports efforts to halt civilian casualties in Libya. But there are other geopolitical dynamics at play here that are pressuring China. Saudi Arabia, where China has major oil interests, is one of Libya key enemies, with a history of personal animosity between Gaddafi and the Saudi royalty. China, however, is wary of the end-game prospects in this case, and as the situation further unfolds, it will become clearer what kind of a precedent international intervention in the Middle East will create. A precedent has already been set with the deployment of Saudi and Emirati troops to Bahrain – but there the deployment was to help the minority Sunni government quash largely Shia-led protests. Followed by US-led international intervention in Libya to protect civilians against the government, the precedent becomes clouded and highly geopolitical in nature. The situation in the Middle East could metamorphose into a series of regional war that have nothing to do with the “Arab Spring” or protecting civilians against regimes all too ready to use force. While Saudi Arabia was quick to send troops to Bahrain to help fight off protesters, in Libya it is hoping for the downfall of the regime and a victory for opposition forces and an extension of its own influence in the region. The region faces the threat of a major conflict that on the surface will be sectarian in nature, but below the surface will be about changing the balance of power in the region and dangerously shifting the geopolitical dynamics among countries that represent some of the world’s biggest arms purchasers. All of this certainly has Israel on edge, as its enemies could now be emboldened to use their “right to protect”, for instance, the people of Gaza against Israeli forces.
There is for now no clear end strategy, with the official line in Washington being that Gaddafi is not a target, while Republicans are calling for him to be replaced, in the least. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has indicated that this is not part of the UN resolution parameters and that it would be unwise to engage in something that may not be possible. Washington’s declaration that Gaddafi is not a target is perhaps only a ruse. There would, however, be little point to the intervention if Gaddafi is allowed to remain in power.
–by Jen Alic in cooperation with the Global Intelligence Report