As NATO Continues Air Strikes on Civilian Targets, Washington Seeks to Expand War on Libya

May 13th, 2011 - by admin

The Washington Post & The New York TImes – 2011-05-13 01:32:12

NATO Missiles Hit Gaddafi’s Complex
Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung / Washinton Post

TRIPOLI, Libya (May 12, 2011) — NATO continued its intensified assault on Libya’s capital on Thursday, sending missiles into Moammar Gaddafi’s compound hours after the longtime leader appeared on state television to dispel rumors that he had died. The attacks continued a major escalation that NATO says will help protect civilians, but Libyan government officials say they are simply attempts on their leader’s life.

The attacks came on the same day that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said that Western allies needed to take a cautious approach to dealing with Libya’s rebels.

NATO attacks on Tripoli have spiked this week since a spokesman said allies had entered the second phase of the campaign. Attacks on bunkers and other sites in the city that NATO defines as key targets, including tanks, missile launchers and ammunition depots as well as command-and-control sites, rose from three on Monday to 11 on Tuesday and 10 on Wednesday.

Gaddafi appeared on Libyan television late Wednesday. Hours later, missiles blasted several areas in his sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, located just over a mile from the hotel in which his videotaped appearance was recorded.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied any connection between Gaddafi’s appearance and the attack on the Tripoli compound, saying that “we do not target individuals, we target military capabilities that can be used to attack civilians,” although he has in the past called for Gaddafi to step down.

Any facility used for command-and-control operations is a “legitimate target,” Rasmussen said in an interview during a visit to Washington on Thursday, describing himself as “pleased to see opposition forces gain ground in recent days.”

Using NATO strikes to enable opposition gains, Rasmussen said, did not constitute taking sides in the nearly three-month-long conflict. “In the sense that Gaddafi attacks” civilians, he said, “opposition progress will protect civilians.”

But when the NATO operation might end remained unclear. NATO’s original 90-day planning for the operation will end next month and members will have to determine ongoing contributions, Rasmussen said.

Although the Obama administration has praised opposition leaders — a senior member of the opposition political council, Mahmoud Jibril, is due at the White House on Friday for a meeting with national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon — senior US officials continue to express concern about the makeup of the rebel fighting force.

“With the exception of some of the people at the top of the opposition or the rebels in Libya, we don’t know who they are,” Gates said at a town hall meeting at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Thursday. “We deal with a handful of people in Benghazi, but we forget about those who led the uprisings in cities all over Libya when this whole thing started. And who are they?

“We have seen reports that there are some extremists that are fighting for the opposition,” Gates said. “I think we have to keep a wary eye on it.”

Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg told senators Thursday that international sanctions against the Libyan government were beginning to bite, pointing to fuel shortages, dwindling cash supplies and blocks on the export of oil.

“Their access to the financial system has been badly damaged. And so we do see signs that this is creating real pressure there,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The British government offered on Thursday, during a visit from the chairman of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, to supply uniforms and bulletproof vests to police in opposition-held areas.

The British government also invited the rebels’ transitional council to open an office in London.

The NATO strikes Thursday hit a bunker complex “that was used to coordinate attacks against civilian populations,” the alliance said in a statement, although a Libyan government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said the facility that was hit — which was inside the walls of Gaddafi’s expansive residential and governmental compound — was a sewage treatment plant. Gaddafi was not in the compound at the time, he said.

Reporters visiting the complex on an official government tour of the damage were able to peer into a reinforced-concrete chamber that had partially caved in. At least 30 feet deep, it smelled of fuel, not sewage, and a ventilation shaft and several satellite dishes appeared to indicate a specialized purpose for the site.

Elsewhere in the complex, a separate missile dug a crater into what appeared to be rebar and concrete underneath a paved road.

The strikes were close to the ruins of the building hit by US airstrikes in 1986 and preserved by Gaddafi as a monument.

Ibrahim said three people had died in the attack on Bab al-Aziziya and 27 were injured. Civilians have streamed into Gaddafi’s compound every evening since the NATO campaign started in mid-March, serving as human shields. Some civilians could be seen in the complex — which NATO also bombed March 20 and April 30 — while it was being shown to foreign reporters Thursday.

“It’s an official administrative facility that doesn’t have any military applications,” Ibrahim said of the complex. “These people are civilians.”

DeYoung reported from Washington. Staff writers Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington and Joby Warrick in Nuuk, Greenland, and special correspondents Karla Adam in London and Portia Walker in Benghazi contributed to this report.

At Deadline, US Seeks to Continue War in Libya
Charlie Savage and Thom Shanker / The New York Times

WASHINGTON (May 12, 2011) — President Obama and his legal advisers are deliberating about how the United States military may lawfully continue participating in NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya after next week, when the air war will reach a legal deadline for terminating combat operations that have not been authorized by Congress.

Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a president must terminate such operations 60 days after he has formally notified lawmakers about the introduction of armed forces into actual or imminent hostilities. The Libya campaign will reach that mark on May 20.

Though Congressional leaders have shown little interest in enforcing the resolution, James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, was asked Thursday about the deadline at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

He said the administration was examining the military’s “role and activities as we move through the next period of time” and would consult Congress about evaluating “what we think we can and can’t do.”

“Mindful of the passage of time including the end of the two-month period, we are in the process of reviewing our role, and the president will be making decisions going forward in terms of what he sees as appropriate for us to do,” Mr. Steinberg said.

The administration apparently has no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign, and Mr. Steinberg said that Mr. Obama was committed “to act consistently with the War Powers Resolution.” So the Obama legal team is now trying to come up with a plausible theory for why continued participation by the United States does not violate the law.

A variety of Pentagon and military officials said the issue was in the hands of lawyers, not commanders. Several officials described a few of the ideas under consideration.

One concept being discussed is for the United States to halt the use of its Predator drones in attacking targets in Libya, and restrict them solely to a role gathering surveillance over targets.

Over recent weeks, the Predators have been the only American weapon actually firing on ground targets, although many aircraft are assisting in refueling, intelligence gathering and electronic jamming.

By ending all strike missions for American forces, the argument then could be made that the United States was no longer directly engaged in hostilities in Libya, but only providing support to NATO allies.

Another idea is for the United States to order a complete — but temporary — halt to all of its efforts in the Libya mission. Some lawyers make the case that, after a complete pause, the United States could rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.

Congress passed the War Powers Resolution at the end of the Vietnam War, overriding President Richard M. Nixon’s veto. It was intended to re-assert Congress’s constitutional role in making decisions about getting involved in significant military conflicts.

That role had been eroding for several decades, as presidents of both parties, taking advantage of the large standing army left in place after World War II, increasingly initiated or escalated combat operations on their own.

While many presidents of both parties have deployed forces into hostilities without prior Congressional permission, there is far less precedent for defying the section of the War Powers Resolution that imposes the 60-day deadline on hostilities. For the most part, the issue has not arisen because fighting was over by then, or Congress voted to continue an operation.

One event that set off a legal controversy came in 1999, when President Bill Clinton continued the bombing campaign in Kosovo more than two weeks after the deadline. But the Clinton legal team argued that Congress had implicitly authorized the operation to continue by appropriating specific funds for it.

That option is not available to Mr. Obama. This year, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. But Congress has neither approved nor specifically financed United States participation in enforcing the zone, and the House of Representatives is in recess next week.

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