UN Allies Bombard Libya to protect Protesters

United Nations allies France, Britain and the United States took the lead Saturday evening in imposing a no-fly zone on Libya. French and British fighter jets flew dangerous missions, given that the anti-aircraft batteries of the pro-Qaddafi forces had not yet been knocked out. Then the United States launched a barrage of 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles, targeting Qaddafi’s anti-aircraft installations. Apparently this role of taking out Qaddafi’s air defenses is the primary one envisaged for the US, after which it will fade into the background and allow other UN allies to take the lead. In Paris, the Qatari foreign minister announced that Qatari jets would join the mission, but did not say when.

In international law,there are few constraints on the UN Security Council, and it certainly was within its rights to pass the no-fly resolution and to lobby for it to bear fruit. In some ways, the stated mission, of protecting civilians in Libya, resembles the Genocide convention. It wasn’t invoked, but it could have been. This protection mission also implicitly authorizes the UN alliance to go beyond establishing a no fly zone to other sorts of military action

Aljazeera English reports

Reuters Arabic reports that in rebel-held Misrata, which is besieged by pro-Qaddafi forces, Western fighter-jets on Saturday targeted a nearby airbase used by pro-Qaddafi forces. Two eyewitnesses in the city told the wire service that Qaddafi’s forces had fallen back from the city after the airstrike. They denied that the Western bombardment had aimed at civilian areas or fuel storage facilities.

One Abdel Basit, who resides in Misrata, told Reuters by telephone that “international forces attacked Qaddafi’s brigades in the Air Force Academy, but some of the forces fled a little before the assault.”

The air base lies 7 km from Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, which is a major rebel stronghold. Another resident, Sami, said that he heard the sound of a powerful explosion coming from the airbase. He said, “Qaddafi’s forces that had surrounded the city started to move, but I do not know to where.” Inhabitants of the city are on their third day without water and many have no electricity. Lack of drugs and anesthesia makes it difficult to operate on the wounded. Qaddafi’s forces have been intensively bombarding Misrata since the no-fly resolution was passed on Friday.

France sent five aircraft right away to establish a ‘no-drive’ zone south of the rebel center of Benghazi which had been besieged on Friday and Saturday. French fighter jets destroyed tanks and armored vehicles belonging to pro-Qaddafi forces, which were being used to advance on Benghazi.

If Qaddafi’s forces can take Benghazi before the UN allies can assemble their air forces, he would be buying himself a lot of time and it is not impossible that he could thwart the intent of the no-fly zone altogether. The French military has clearly figured all this out, which is why its pilots are taking the risk of flying missions at a time and in places where there could still be anti-aircraft defenses.

Arwa Damon of CNN (@arwaCNN) tweeted around 5 am Sunday Libyan time that she could still hear jets overhead: “…hearing fighter jets over #benghazi right now. sounds like #gadhafi forces will not be able to attack as easily as before.”

Although the Qaddafi regime alleged that the strikes killed civilians and damaged a hospital, the precise numbers in such claims should be treated cautiously in the absence of good proof. Some of the ‘news’ coming out of Tripoli, just as that coming out of Western capitals, will be part of an information psycho-war. Qaddafi has already made it clear that he will try to depict the UNO action against him as a neo-colonial campaign, or new ‘crusade.’

Ironically, actual anti-colonial movements such as Algeria’s FLN or National Liberation Front back in the late 1950s and early 1960s often attempted to elicit the intervention of the United Nations. In that regard, the elation of the Benghazi crowds at the UNSC resolution authorizing a no-fly zone stands in a long tradition of seeking succor from oppression from the international community.

Moreover, the impetus for the no-fly zone came from the Arab League, full of what used to be called Third World states. It was tabled at the UNSC by Lebanon and supported by Bosnia, Nigeria, Colombia and South Africa. As for ‘crusades,’ it is not an accusation that can plausibly be launched against the Arab League, full of Muslim states, or, indeed, against Bosnia or the current Lebanese government or religiously plural Nigeria.

Posted in Libya | 20 Responses | Print |

20 Responses

  1. AU mission to Libya link to news.xinhuanet.com

    Interesting comment from Ugandan press

    “But if a revolutionary can be asked to talk to another of his kind whom the world is anxious to see leave power, just what should we expect from the Museveni-Gaddafi talk?

    Well, many will be hard-pressed to believe Foreign Affair’s Sam Kuteesa has already divulged enough of the mission when he said ‘it is revolutionary to be democratic’.”

    link to monitor.co.ug

    Assume the Libyan forces stop attacking Benghazi and retreat to Adjabiya, and the forces attacking Misrata pull back to Tripoli and then Qaddafi declares and sticks to a cease fire.

    It respect of SC 1973 that would seem to be Mission Accomplished

    But is that a viable status quo, how will Misrata be sustained, could the oil industry resume operations, even if they wanted to …

  2. All those American blowhards who called the French “surrender monkeys” a few years ago should put this in their pipes and smoke it!

  3. According to Al Jazeera, right-wing president Sarkozy’s poll numbers have jumped from their lowest ever.

    Of course, US, UK and France aren’t doing this for the Libyan people and it seems doubtful that there will be any positive consequences for the Libyans in the long-term from Sarkozy and Cameron’s intervention.

    The prospect of and the actual Western intervention may have strengthened Ghaddafi’s hand and is likely to exacerbate hatred and violence on the ground in that country.

    It seems the imperialist powers are busy destroying some of the weaponry they sold to the Ghaddafi’s regime in the first place (which included tear gas and crowd control equipment) and trying to cover up evidence of their collaboration with him in the past.

    There is of course no way a similar intervention will occur in Bahrain where people are being oppressed and unarmed protestors are being shot.

    So, please enough of the pro-war propaganda.

  4. Genocide? Nasty repression, aimed at civilians perhaps, but hardly genocide. Funny how little constitutional requirements–declaration of war, anyone?–and international law mean when it’s “liberals’ doing the bombing.

    Qaddhafi’s a nasty piece of work, but if we have national interests in Libya, I’m a Centaur.

  5. He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.
    – Albert Einstein

  6. “Moreover, the impetus for the no-fly zone came from the Arab League, full of what used to be called Third World states.”
    True, but only one democracy amongst the lot of them, plus the west made sure the Security Council Resolution was vague enough to reinterpret as they saw fit.

    Al Jazeera Libya Live Blog 4:30pm

    Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League says that Arabs did not want military strikes by Western powers that hit civilians when the League called for a no-fly zone over Libya, saying:

    What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.

    Al Jazeera Libya Live Blog 5:28am

    The African Union has reportedly joined China in expressing disapproval of the coalition’s military action against Libya. The AU’s Libya committee met in Mauritania and released a statement on Sunday calling for an “immediate halt” to the attacks, the AFP news agency reported.

  7. Let us not kid ourselves!

    First of all, it is “rebels” that are being protected, not “protesters.” Protesters don’t wield machine guns.

    Second, the West cannot tolerate a protracted civil war in a country that exports 1.6 million barrels of oil, and in which many Western companies have been doing business in the oil and gas sectors, with prospects for even more lucrative contracts in near future.

    The West is betting that the rebels can overthrow Mr. Qaddafi. Expect a significant number of covert operations, as well as outright aerial attacks on Tripoli intended to weaken Mr. Qaddafi. Expect the West to far exceed the mandate established by the UNSC. This is not going to be about protecting non-combatants. It’s going to be about regime change.

    Third, if it were about protecting non-combatants, a resolution would have been passed in regard to Bahrain. For that matter, a no fly zone would have been established in Iraq and the U.S. during 2003 as the US attacked Iraq.

    Fourth, it is not clear at all that the rebels are democrats and human rights activists. The fact that they’ve been hunting down and killing Libyan blacks and foreign migrant workers is not a good sign. We were told in 2003 that the US wanted to establish democracy. But “democracy” was code for a Mubarak-style autocracy headed by Mr. Chalabi. Democracy in Iraq owes more to Mr. Sistani than to Mr. Bush.

    Fifth, if aggression justifies bombing, then it was justified to bomb the US after 2003. The UNSC is concerned not with peace and justice, but with power politics.

    Sixth, let’s keep in mind that most of the information about Libyan atrocities, mercenaries, etc. comes from rebels and dissidents.


  8. Excuse me, but I thought what was going on in Libya is a civil war, an internal matter. Is the UN intervention really an attempt to “protect civilians” or a slightly-masked multi-country imperialist aggression to expedite the demise of Qaddafi? After all, Libya is a major oil supplier – 9th largest – and Qaddafi has long been a political outlier, to say the least, and general a pain in the butt for Western powers. This is not the first time that the U.S. has bombed Libya.

  9. The unity between Arab League and the West does not appear to be that clear. I myself am rather conflicted with pictures of previous colonial powers (UK, France) boasting about “pounding” an Arab country with bombs. I do understand the help the freedom loving anti Gaddafi people need from the intrrnatinal community. but coud it haebeen differently? Orbeterstated is there a danger that the situation could be “taken advantage of”? Or may be better said, could that perception be created in the mind of people?

    link to news.sky.com

  10. The problem is President Obama decided to go to war with no consultation with Congress and that is setting an anti-democratic precedent.

  11. African Union demands an end to military strikes on Libya.
    An African Union Committee trying to broke peace in Libya has been denied air travel to the country by foreign powers.

    African Union states again that it opposes the Western military intervention in Libya and calls for an inmediate stop to air strikes. “Our desire that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected as well as the rejection of any kind of foreign military intervention”
    link to allafrica.com
    This call to an end of Western military strikes join the recent call made by the Secretary General of the Arab League. The two regional organizations relevant to Lybia are now oppossing the air strikes performed by UK, US, France and other European countries on Libya.

    An African Union comittee composed by several african presidents (including South African president Jacob Zuma) has been trying to reach Libya “to engage with all parties in Libya, facilitate in an inclusive dialogue among them, and engage AU parties for the speedy resolution of the crisis in Libya”. The comittee was scheduled to travel to Libya on Sunday but it revealed today that they have been unable to get international permission to fly there.
    link to sudantribune.com

  12. “As for ‘crusades,’ it is not an accusation that can plausibly be launched against the Arab League, full of Muslim states, or, indeed, against Bosnia or the current Lebanese government or religiously plural Nigeria.”

    Come now, Professor Cole.
    There aren’t many accusations that cannot be launched, plausibly, against the Arab League. In this case the prime movers were all rulers who live in defiance of their people and will not countenance dissent or protest, not even in neighbouring states.

    Lebanon’s case is quite unique in this matter. As to Bosnia-Hercegovina can anyone see them voting against NATO? That leaves Colombia, about which we are all aware, a country in which human rights abuse is endemic, and government organised.
    The only real surprise is South Africa, it will be interesting to learn what that was about. I doubt that it signified any change of heart.

    Let’s face facts, this resolution was hustled through the Security Council, it is a fig leaf and a very small one at that.

    Since it is contemporaneous with Ms Clinton’s justifications for the cold blooded murders in Bahrain and the administration’s determination to be found on the wrong side of history in Yemen it amounts (as BRIC is very well aware) to a foreign policy disaster for the US, quite as egregious as the recent veto exercise.

  13. It is strange to see any optimism about military action from Juan Cole. That almost makes me believe this action will be successful. I know he’s not a war-monger.

  14. So, “No Fly” really means “No Drive.” That little bit of mission creep didn’t take long. Sounds like “Free Fire” to me. But if Shock and Awe doesn’t produce either shock or awe, how long before the Law of Diminishing Returns sets in with a vengeance? It shouldn’t take long to find out.

  15. Dear Right Wing War Mongers,

    Please come and meet your close cousin, the Humanitarian Interventionist Liberal/Leftist!

    He often poses as anti-war, but all you need to do is to throw around words like ‘massacre’ and ‘genocide’ and promise this time it will be different. Next thing you know, he’ll be on the sidelines cheering your warplanes along and taping flowers to your cruise missiles.


    In other news, here is the report card of the president that rode a wave of anti-war sentiment into the white house:

    1. Expanded War in Afghanistan
    2. Expanded War in Pakistan
    3. Began Covert War in Yemen
    4. Started attacking Libya without even a hint or inkling of conferring with Congress on the ANNIVERSARY of the Iraq war.

    And now he has former anti-bush anti-war elements cheering him on.

    Sometimes you have to stand in awe of the Empire. I’m thoroughly impressed.

    • No, those are just “low intensity conflicts” that’s why the President got Nobel Prize.

      “the West won the world,” according to Samuel P. Huttington, “not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”

      Yes US academia (Chomsky) and journalism (Counterpunch) is loaded with “leftist” and “humanitarian interventionists”

      Hope the Juan won’t delete this one!

  16. I know I’m out on a limb, but this is the first US military operation (at least what has been done as of this moment) on foreign soil I have supported in my entire life, and I wish it had happened sooner than it did. I can’t speak for my possible naivety regarding the “slippery slope” of continued involvement and all the corrupt interests driving the latter. That, and precedent, are my biggest reservations.

    I’m going to have to suffer watching Rambo to commemorate my folly. :(

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