Al Jazeera & Xinhua News – 2011-04-03 23:39:41
(April 2, 2011) — US and Egyptian special forces have reportedly been offering covert armed training to rebel fighters in the battle for Libya, Al Jazeera has been told. An unnamed rebel source related how he had undergone training in military techniques at a “secret facility” in eastern Libya.
He told our correspondent Laurence Lee, reporting from the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi, that he was sent to fire Katyusha rockets but was given a simple, unguided version of the rocket instead. “He told us that on Thursday night a new shipment of Katyusha rockets had been sent into eastern Libya from Egypt. He didn’t say they were sourced from Egypt, but that was their route through,” our correspondent said.
“He said these were state-of-the-art, heat-seeking rockets and that they needed to be trained on how to use them, which was one of the things the American and Egyptian special forces were there to do.”
The intriguing development has raised several uncomfortable questions, about Egypt’s private involvement and what the arms embargo exactly means, said our correspondent. “There is also the question of whether or not the outside world should arm the rebels, when in fact they [rebels] are already being armed covertly.”
Our correspondent added that since the rebels appear to be receiving covert support in terms of weaponry and training, it is not surprising that they are not inclined to criticise NATO openly.
The Libyan government, meanwhile, has produced a video said to show civilians, including women and children, in a Brega hospital. They are believed to have been wounded as they tried to escape the air strikes. Doctors say more than 240 people have been killed and over 1,000 wounded in Misurata in the last month alone, as a counter-offensive by Gaddafi’s troops raised the number of casualties.
On Saturday, the first three Swedish fighter jets landed in Italy as the Nordic country joins the NATO-led no-fly zone operation over Libya. Five more will leave for the mission on Sunday, Rickard Wissman, an air force spokesman, said. Wissman said the JAS 39 Gripen planes arrived at the base in Sicily after leaving from their base in Blekinge in southern Sweden earlier on Saturday.
The pilots were initially instructed to fly to Sardinia, but were informed by NATO after take-off that the destination had been moved to the Sigonella base on Sicily in Italy.
Gates: US Should Not Train Libyan Rebels
(April 1, 2011) — US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said it should not be up to Washington to train and assist Libyan rebels or do nation-building after any fall of Muammar Gaddafi, jobs better left to others.
Gates comments on Thursday came during a day of tense testimony to Congress as legislators questioned whether the United States might deepen its involvement in Libya, where poorly organised rebels are struggling against better armed loyalist forces.
Gates agreed that rebel forces needed better training and organisation but played down prospects the United States would directly assist them. “In terms of providing that training, in terms of providing assistance to them, frankly, there are many countries that can do that,” Gates said. “That’s not a unique capability for the United States. And, as far as I’m concerned, somebody else should do that.”
The comments underscored the intensity of the debate in Washington about what to do next in Libya. The Obama administration had previously declined to rule out the possibility of arming the rebels.
Gates stressed the limits of US military action, saying no US troops would deploy in Libya while he was in the job and that ousting Gaddafi was not part of the mission. “I am preoccupied with avoiding mission creep and avoiding having an open-ended, very large-scale American commitment,” Gates said.
He also played down any major US role in a post-Gaddafi Libya, saying “the last thing this country needs is another enterprise in nation-building. My view is that the future of Libya — the United States ought not take responsibility for that, frankly,” he said.
‘Weakened but Not Debilitated’
The top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, acknowledged in his testimony that the Libyan leader was not close to a military breaking point despite nearly two weeks of coalition air strikes. Gaddafi’s forces have used superior arms and tactics to push back rebels trying to edge westward along the coast from their stronghold of Benghazi toward the capital Tripoli.
Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition strikes had taken a toll on Gaddafi’s loyalists but he signaled a long struggle ahead. “We have actually fairly seriously degraded his military capabilities … We’ve attrited his overall forces at about the 20 to 25 percent level,” Mullen said. “That does not mean he’s about to break from a military standpoint because that’s not the case.”
The rebels have said too much reliance on foreign military support would undermine their credibility and stressed they do not want foreign “boots on the ground.” But they have appealed for arms to knock out Gaddafi’s heavy weapons and tanks.
Legal Experts Say Arming Libyan Rebels Could Break UN Charter
LONDON (April 1, 2011) — A British expert on international law said prime minister David Cameron’s statement that he would not rule out arming rebels of Libya as potentially breaking the United Nations charter.
Professor Nick Grief, director of the legal studies department at the University of Kent in England, whose expertise includes international law, told Xinhua Friday, “Arming the rebels would be fundamentally at odds with the primary purpose of United Nations resolution 1973, which is to protect civilians in Libya. This is about respecting the terms and language of the resolutions and ultimately of the UN Charter itself.”
At issue were two United Nations resolutions. The first, resolution 1970, passed in February, imposes an arms embargo on Libya.
The second, resolution 1973, passed this month, allows for a no- fly zone, which has been enforced by Western nations and some Arab forces, since March 19.
British Prime Minister Cameron said in a House of Commons debate on Wednesday, “The arms embargo applies to the whole territory of Libya. But, at the same time, UN Security Council resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas. Our view is that this would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. We do not rule it out, but we have not taken the decision to do so.”
Grief said resolution 1973, which authorizes “all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya” has to be interpreted ” strictly or narrowly because it is an exception to the UN charters prohibition of the use of force.”
He added, “The resolution must also be interpreted in accordance with its own aims — the aim of 1973 is to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack. It seems to me that UN resolution 1970 is still in place. The arms embargo is still in place — it has not been over-ridden or displaced by UN resolution 1973.”
“Arming the rebels would not necessarily protect rebel civilians and it would certainly not, in my view, protect pro- Gaddafi civilians,” said Grief.
He added that it “doesn’t matter which side of the fence they are on, they are to be protected.”
Grief’s analysis was backed up by another British expert Philippe Sands, professor of international law at University College London.
“The embargo appears to cover everybody in the conflict which means you can’t supply arms to rebels,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
British lawmaker Rory Stewart, a member of Cameron’s own Conservative party, said recently that Britain should be “very careful not to push the letter of the law but stick to the spirit of that resolution. If anyone is to arm the rebels, can I respectfully suggest Britain should not be in the lead?”
He was joined in his criticism by a senior member of the Conservative party, Edward Leigh who feared that if Britain armed rebels then the weapons would end up in terrorist hands.
He said, “Would it not be a double win for al Qaeda and would we not start to lose support in the Arab world if we were seen to impose a solution on Libya and at the same time to give arms to what could prove to be Islamist insurgents in the future?”
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