Reuters – 2011-04-16 13:03:47
Obama Acknowledges ‘Stalemate’ on Ground in Libya
TRIPOLI (April 15, 2011) — US President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday there was a “stalemate” on the ground in Libya, but said he still expected the three-week-old air campaign to succeed in ousting Muammar Gaddafi eventually.
Obama and the leaders of France and Britain earlier jointly authored a newspaper article in which they pledged to continue the military campaign until Gaddafi leaves power, effectively making regime change the officially-stated aim of their air war.
“I didn’t expect that in three weeks, suddenly as a consequence of an air campaign, that Gaddafi would necessarily be gone,” Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press. “What we’ve been able to do is set up a no-fly zone, set up an arms embargo, keep Gaddafi’s regime on its heels, make it difficult for them to resupply.”
He said the mission had succeeded in stopping large-scale civilian casualties, especially in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, and would eventually succeed in ousting Gaddafi.
“You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He is running out of money, he is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening and he is becoming more and more isolated.
“My expectation is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which Nato is doing very capably, then I think over the long term Gaddafi will go and we will be successful.”
More than a hundred government rockets crashed into Misrata on Friday, a second day of heavy bombardment of the city, the lone major bastion of the rebels in the western part of Libya.
A local doctor told Al Jazeera TV at least eight people had died and seven others were wounded. Rebels said 23 people were killed by missiles there on Thursday.
Hundreds of people are believed to have died in the city, under what Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron described in their article as a “medieval siege”.
“It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government,” they wrote in the article, published on both sides of the Atlantic.
They acknowledged that their new goal of regime change went beyond the explicit terms of a UN Security Council resolution authorising force to protect civilians, but said Libyans could never be safe as long as Gaddafi remained in power.
The United States led the bombing campaign in its first week, but has since then taken a back seat, putting Nato in command with the British and French responsible for most strikes on Gaddafi’s forces. Obama made clear Washington was not planning to resume to a more active military role.
“What we’re doing is still providing jamming capacity, intelligence, refuelling, so we still have a lot of planes up there. We’re just not the ones who are providing strikes on the ground for the most part,” he said.
Britain and France have been trying to persuade other Nato allies to contribute more fire power. Nato ministers met for a second day on Friday in Berlin, where the divisions were clear.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen voiced optimism that allies would supply more combat planes, but Italy immediately ruled out ordering its aircraft to open fire.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said London and Paris wanted to extend strikes to Gaddafi’s logistic installations to try to break a stalemate in the two-month civil war.
Russia attended the Nato meeting and said the alliance was going beyond the terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution. Russia abstained but did not veto the resolution in March.
On the fluid eastern Libyan front, rebels said Gaddafi forces advancing from the oil port of Brega had opened fire on the western outskirts of the insurgent-held town of Ajdabiyah on Friday, killing one of their fighters.
The rebels have begged for more air strikes to avert what they say is a potential massacre in Misrata.
A rescue ship carrying nearly 1,200 Asian and African migrants, many needing urgent medical attention after weeks with little food or water in Misrata, was expected in Benghazi.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Nato allies were searching for ways to provide funds to the rebels, including helping them to sell oil from areas they control.
“The opposition needs a lot of assistance, on the organisational side, on the humanitarian side, and on the military side,” she said.
Analysis: Western Powers Dig in
For Long War in Libya
William Maclean/ Reuters
LONDON (April 15, 2011) — Western powers spearheading air strikes against Libya have vowed to oust Muammar Gaddafi come what may, but it is far from clear the wider coalition can stomach a long war or even that his rule is under mortal threat.
A joint article by leaders of the United States, France and Britain on Friday said they would strike loyalist forces until Gaddafi quits, lending support to a widely held view that the time for peace talks is not yet and more bloodshed lies ahead.
“They are digging in for a long conflict,” said Firas Abi Ali, senior forecaster for the Middle East and North Africa at Exclusive Analysis.
“They are saying (to Gaddafi) ‘We can play the long game as well’,” said Alex Warren of Frontier, a Middle East and North Africa research firm.
“These three countries don’t want dialogue yet. They are trying to play for time to encourage an internal collapse in Tripoli by defections or by an internal coup.”
The message published in three leading newspapers by US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared intended to boost the morale of the militarily fragile rebels and send an intimidating message of resolve to close aides of Gaddafi.
A mention in the article of The Hague war crimes court also appeared to be a veiled threat to pursue cases against any Gaddafi aides with blood on their hands who decide to stay loyal.
But Gaddafi, for one, was giving no sign this week that his morale was under a cloud. Libyan state television on Thursday broadcast footage of the veteran leader, ever the showman, driving around Tripoli in an open-top vehicle. The broadcaster said he went on the outing while the Libyan capital was being bombed by NATO.
His daughter Aisha told a rally in the capital that demanding his removal was an insult. “Gaddafi isn’t even considering departing,” said Abi Ali.
Italians Won’t Open Fire
It is not only Gaddafi loyalists coalition leaders have to convince of the wisdom of their goals. It is their own allies.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Friday Britain had made progress in persuading other countries to supply more strike aircraft for NATO operations in Libya.
But Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said Italy would not order its aircraft taking part in operations over Libya to open fire, despite pressure from Britain and France.
France and Britain, the NATO hawks on Libya, have led the air campaign but are growing impatient with lack of commitment and provision of ground strike aircraft from other members.
Friday’s article restated, in more forceful terms, an April 13 statement by a much larger group of coalition countries meeting in Qatar that called for Gaddafi to step aside.
But the fact that the leaders of only France, Britain and the United States put their names to Friday’s commentary seemed to underline an impression of disarray in coalition ranks.
Exclusive Analysis’s Abi Ali said he expected that Libya was facing another six months of stalemate at the very least.
Jon Marks, chairman of UK political risk consultancy Cross-border Information, agreed that the standoff in Libya had the makings of a lengthy conflict.
Mediation Wouldn’t Have a Chance
“The situation in Misrata and Ajdabiya is terrible, as it is in the Berber towns of the Jebel Nefousa where there are signs of an ethnic cleansing policy at work, but otherwise the fighting broadly around the country is actually at a low level, to judge by the casualty figures and the extent that people are travelling around.”
“In this context, the standoff looks like it could go on for a painfully protracted period.”
An African mission failed last week to secure a ceasefire after Gaddafi’s forces continued to shell a besieged city and the rebels rejected any deal not including Gaddafi’s removal.
Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya, said the West hoped that over time the rebel-held east would grow stronger and Gaddafi-controlled parts of the west would grow weaker, prompting at some point a renewed popular uprising against him.
“But for now, neither side thinks it is going to lose: No mediator has an earthly chance in such circumstances,” he said. Others have disagreed.
In an article on British policy, analyst Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute argued that Britain’s insistence on Gaddafi’s ousting was a mistake and Gaddafi family members should be allowed to take part in an interim government.
“Goals must be commensurate with (limited) resources and resolve,” he wrote. “The objective ought to be regime modification rather than regime destruction. Unless we wish to invite a horrific siege of Tripoli…”
For now there is little sign this argument holds sway.
Asked by Reuters whether there were any moves afoot to encourage talks between one of Gaddafi’s sons and the rebel interim National Council, Hague replied: “I’m not aware of any new effort in that regard … We do not have the basis yet for a political process to take place.”
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft. Editing by Giles Elgood)
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