Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gadhafi Forces Push Rebels Back

Rebels retreated Wednesday from the oil-refinery port of Ras Lanouf along the coastal road leading to the capital Tripoli, after they came under heavy shelling from ground forces loyal to leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the Associated Press reported.

Coalition warplanes flew over the zone where the heaviest fighting was under way and explosions could be heard, indicating a new wave of airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces, AP said.

The rebels' retreat brought to the fore their difficulties overcoming Col. Gadhafi's heavily-armed forces, and the question of whether coalition forces will need to arm the rebels, an action that hasn't been ruled out by the U.S. or the U.K.

On Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the government has "not ruled out" arming Libyan rebels if it was necessary to protect the country's civilians. Mr. Cameron said the United Nations Security Council resolution didn't prevent the provision of assistance to the rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at a summit of global leaders in London on Tuesday, also said the U.S. hadn't made any decision about arming the rebels. U.S. officials have said Washington is also studying the issue of formal recognition for the opposition leadership, the Interim National Council.

Leaders at the summit of 40 nations intensified their calls for Col. Gadhafi to stand down and talked to rebel leaders about how they can turn the repressive North African country into a democratic state. The summit focused on protecting Libyan civilians from Col. Gadhafi's military, and began preparing the government-in-waiting for a still-uncertain takeover of Tripoli.

"All of us must continue to increase the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Gadhafi regime," Mrs. Clinton said in an address to the conference. "This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Gadhafi that he must go, that sends a strong message of accountability, and that sharpens the choice for those around him."

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Associated Press

Rebel forces pulled out of Ras Lanuf, Tuesday.

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Associated Press

Hillary Clinton, at a London summit with U.K. leader David Cameron, left, said the U.S. hasn't made a decision about arming the Libyan opposition.

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.The conference concluded that the alliance's top priorities are protecting civilians from Libyan government forces and distributing humanitarian aid.

But representatives at the conference stressed that the international community needed to start preparing for a new government to take over. "We must help the people of Libya now for the political future they want to build," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech.

Mrs. Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé met with the Libyan opposition movement's political chief, Mahmoud Jibril, on the sidelines of the conference.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was sending his special representative to Libya, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelilah al-Khatib, to talk with both Col. Gadhafi's government and the rebel movement in the coming days.

Forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi have waged counterattacks this week and reversed some recent gains by rebel forces last weekend.

On Edge in Libya

Track the latest events in the fight for Libya.

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.In the contested city of Misrata on Tuesday, government forces, who control one thoroughfare on the western flank of the city and have laid siege for a month, tried to make a push into the rebel-controlled center, according to a rebel leader there.

Their advance on rebels in Ras Lanuf comes after rebels lost control of the tiny coastal village of Bin Jawad, east of the strategic town of Sirte, on Tuesday. Late Tuesday night, Mr. Gadhafi's forces, positioned on the outskirts of of the town, pounded rebels with artillery and rocket fire.

Allies Meet as Rebels Move

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Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

A Libyan rebel urged people to leave as shells from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, Libya, Tuesday.

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.In a bid to show the regime's grip on power, state media highlighted the appearances of Col. Gadhafi on Sunday night and his son Khamis late Monday among crowds of cheering supporters at the leader's Bab Azizya compound in Tripoli.

The U.S.-led task force overseeing the military campaign will stand down Thursday as part of a plan to hand over control of the operation to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander, according to a U.S. official.

The Obama administration has been keen to hand control of the Libya military campaign to coalition partners, although U.S. forces are expected to play a vital support role in the days and weeks ahead.

Libya's opposition has sought to define itself as a secular, democratic movement that aims to reintegrate Libya into the international community. The council published a manifesto Tuesday calling for democratic elections, a new constitution and equality for women.

Opposition representatives in London said the council had begun providing health services in eastern Libya and looking to administer financial, judicial and educational services.

President Barack Obama said in a speech Monday that his administration is seeking ways to make available to the council more than $30 billion in Col. Gadhafi's funds recently frozen by the Treasury Department.

Mahmoud Shammam, a rebel council spokesman, said that in a meeting with Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday "she stopped short of recognition," and that he understood it was "not an easy thing."

Mr. Shammam emphasized that the rebels were relying on outside powers for support, but were intent on toppling Col. Gadhafi on their own. "We are asking for political support, and more than that we are asking for arms, but if we get both that would be great," he said.

Guma El-Gamaty, another Council spokesman, said that if Col. Gadhafi falls, he should face a fair trial in Libya. "We are not going to hang people in the street," Mr. Shammam added.

U.S. and European officials are hoping Col. Gadhafi will agree to step down, particularly if senior members of his government start to defect. "We have encouraged people around Gadhafi to sort of think seriously about what's in their best interest, what's in the best interest of Libya," said a senior U.S. official traveling with Mrs. Clinton.

"We urge Gadhafi and his people to leave and not cause any more bloodshed," Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jissim Bin Jabr al-Thani, said in a press conference with Mr. Hague. "This offer might not be there after a few days," he said, referring to a possible asylum or exile.

Mrs. Clinton said a political resolution in Libya "could include [Gadhafi] leaving the country."

Remarks at the International Conference on Libya

Hillary Rodham Clinton

London, United Kingdom

March 29, 2011


Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and thanks to you and your government for the critical leadership effort you have demonstrated in our common effort. Thanks too to France, which has been at the forefront of this mission, including by hosting many of us last week in Paris, and really thanks to everyone around this table. We have prevented a potential massacre, established a no-fly zone, stopped an advancing army, added more partners to this coalition, and transferred command of the military effort to NATO. That’s not bad for a week of work at a time of great, intense international concern.

The United States has been proud to stand with our NATO, Arab, and European partners. We’ve been responding to the appeals of the Libyan people and to the Arab League’s call for urgent action. And we have joined with countries around the world, including all three countries representing Africa on the United Nations Security Council, to pass two strong resolutions. So this has been truly an international effort and a reflection of our shared concern for the safety of civilians and our support for the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.

Well, we meet now in London at a turning point. NATO has taken command of enforcing the arms embargo and the no-fly zone. On Sunday, it agreed to take on the additional responsibility of protecting civilians. Last night, President Obama expressed his full confidence that this coalition will keep the pressure on Qadhafi’s remaining forces. I second that confidence. This coalition military action will continue until Qadhafi fully complies with the terms of 1973, ceases his attacks on civilians, pulls his troops back from places they have forcibly entered, and allows key services and humanitarian assistance to reach all Libyans.

But beyond our military efforts, all of us are called to continue to work together along three tracks: First, delivering desperately needed humanitarian assistance; second, pressuring and isolating the Qadhafi regime through robust sanctions and other measures; third, supporting efforts by Libyans to achieve their aspirations through political change. On the humanitarian front, under the leadership of the United Nations, we will work with NATO, the EU, other international organizations and regional partners to deliver assistance.

The coalition military campaign has made it possible for more help to get through. For example, a convoy organized by the World Food Program was able to reach Benghazi this weekend with 18 tons of supplies, including food and blankets. But a great deal more aid is needed and we have to work quickly and cooperatively to assess and respond. Beyond the humanitarian crisis, we know long-term progress in Libya will not be accomplished through military means.

All of us have to continue the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Qadhafi regime. This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Qadhafi he must go, that sends a strong message of accountability, and that sharpens the choice for those around him. It also includes financial pressure through the vigorous enforcement of sanctions authorized under Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

As President Obama said last night, while our military mission is focused on saving lives, we must continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to the Libyan people. Now, we cannot and must not attempt to impose our will on the people of Libya, but we can and must stand with them as they determine their own destiny. And we have to speak with one voice in support of a transition that leads to that time. We agree with the Arab League that Qadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead. We agree with the African Union on the need for a democratic transition process. And we support UN Special Envoy Khatib’s planned travel to Libya following this conference to assess conditions and report to the international community.

We believe that Libya’s transition should come through a broadly inclusive process that reflects the will and protects the rights of the Libyan people. The Transitional National Council and a broad cross-section of Libya’s civil society and other stakeholders have critical contributions to make. Earlier today, I had the opportunity to meet with senior representatives of the council and to talk about the path forward. The UN, the African Union, the Arab League, the OIC, and the EU all have important roles to play. And through this, the United States will join the international community in our commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national unity of Libya.

This is a time of great change for Libya, for its neighbors across the region and around the world. Under different governments, under different circumstances, people are expressing the same basic aspirations – a voice in their government, an end to corruption, freedom from violence and fear, the chance to live in dignity, and to make the most of their God-given talents. Now, we know these goals are not easily achieved, but they are, without question, worth working for together. And I’m very proud that this coalition has come to this place at this time to try to pursue those goals. Thank you very much.

Clashes Fuel Debate Over U.S. Plan to Leave Iraq

March 28, 2011


KIRKUK, Iraq — Many in this divided city want American troops to stay longer than the Obama administration has said they will, and a tense standoff on the southern and western edges of town last week showed why. Here, on a bridge, behind the mud brick walls of an abandoned mill and inside a hospice, Kurdish troops from the north were in positions on the outskirts of Arab neighborhoods.

To calm the latest flare-up of the longstanding ethnic rivalries here has required a rush of high-level diplomacy, including phone calls from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to Kurdish leaders and, a rarity in Iraq today, the deployment of American troops.

The confrontation did not turn violent — precisely, many believe, because of the presence of American troops. But they will leave by the end of the year, if the current schedule stands, and many here fear that could lead to ethnic strife, even civil war.

The Kurdish soldiers, known as the pesh merga, were deployed last month by leaders in the semiautonomous northern region worried about Sunni Arab insurgents attacking peaceful demonstrators in the streets. But the action was viewed by local Arabs, American diplomats and military officials and the Iraqi government as provocative and illegal.

Kurdish officials said Monday that the troops had withdrawn as part of a deal with the Americans and the central government, although a witness in Kirkuk reported seeing the troops in their same positions, and an Arab lawmaker in the local council said that only some soldiers had left.

Sheik Burhan Mizher, an Arab member of the provincial government who like many interviewed here worries about the prospect of civil war after the Americans leave, said some pesh merga forces were still positioned around Kirkuk on Monday. He said of the American troops, “Of course, we want them to stay.”

In the debates under way in Washington and Baghdad about where the American and Iraqi relationship heads after eight years of war, those who argue for a continued American military presence beyond this year — and there are many among the diplomatic and military ranks of both countries — cite Kirkuk as the centerpiece of their case.

Perhaps the greatest unfinished chapter of America’s war in Iraq will be the status of Kirkuk, an ancient city that today is fought over by its three main ethnic groups, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, each making historical claims to the land and the oil that flows beneath.

“From my point of view, President Obama wants to win a second term and show that he keeps his promises to the American people,” said Hassan Toran, a Turkmen member of the council. “This will affect Kirkuk.”

If the Americans leave, Mr. Toran said, “Anything can happen.” In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is hemmed in by a bloc of politicians loyal to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who is opposed to any delay in the American withdrawal and whose support Mr. Maliki relied on to secure a second term as premier. Any extension of the American troop presence would require the politically risky decision by Mr. Maliki to ask for it.

Not only do American diplomats and military leaders argue for troops to stay, but outside experts do as well. A recent book written by six Iraq experts, led by Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution, called peacekeeping in Kirkuk “by far the most important U.S. military mission now” and suggested that troops stay to “be a crucial substitute for the trust that undergirds stable societies.” A report published Monday by the International Crisis Group called the pesh merga deployment a “deeply troubling development.”

At their most pessimistic, those involved in trying to solve the Kirkuk problem compare it to Bosnia or Rwanda — two socially mixed but politically divided lands that erupted in tragic and historic violence. When more optimistic, they cite the difficult but peaceful coexistence today of the French and Flemish in Brussels.

At the Kirkuk Provincial Council building, where recently a column of American armored vehicles were parked outside, the ethnic groups try to settle their differences through politics. But if democracy has emerged slowly in Iraq, it has come even more slowly here. When the rest of the country held provincial elections in 2009, Kirkuk did not. A constitutional provision that mandated a referendum on Kirkuk’s status in 2007 has not been held.

“There is no dialogue at all,” Mr. Toran said. “We all just give speeches through the media and accuse each other.” On Monday, a rock-throwing brawl broke out between Kurds and Turkmens at a technical university in Kirkuk.

Recently, the provincial governor, a Kurd, resigned. He is to be replaced by another Kurd, an American-Iraqi who once lived in Silver Spring, Md. The provincial council head, a Kurd, also recently resigned, and is expected to be replaced by Mr. Toran.

But a council session last week illustrated the layers of ethnic and religious divide here in Kirkuk. As the council considered Mr. Toran’s appointment, a Shiite Turkmen rival to Mr. Toran, who is Sunni, spoke against it, and the Kurds walked out to protest the theatrical display of identity politics. From a back row of the gallery, an American diplomat and two soldiers watched the proceedings.

On Kirkuk’s streets, insurgent attacks are still frequent. Recently, an Opel packed with explosives detonated outside a hospital, leaving two dead: a young mother and a baby girl, just 5 hours old. The father lost his right arm.

“Here I am without a wife and daughter and arm,” Samir Mahmoud, 27, said in an interview. “What can I do and where can I go? It’s our calamity.”

Across Iraq, the American invasion upended traditional notions of victimhood — the long oppressed Shiites became ascendant, while the Sunni ruling elite under Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party found itself on the margins of power. In Kirkuk, the Kurds, who had been brutalized by the former government’s policies and weapons, have the strongest grip on power. The Arabs, many of whom were moved to the area by Mr. Hussein in his campaign to alter the demographics of the area and dilute Kurdish influence, are fighting for their own stake in the new Iraq.

“Shame on the other side,” said Mr. Mizher, the Arab lawmaker. “They say we are Saddam. We are not slaves for anyone, for Saddam or for Baathists. We are Iraqis.”

Ahmed al-Askari, a Kurd and head of the provincial council’s security committee, speaks of reconciliation, but his choice of words betrays another agenda, as does a map on his wall that traces the Kurds’ broader land claims, a line stretching in to Turkey, Syria and Iran. “Leave it to the original Kirkuki people and we will reach an agreement,” he said.

Many in Iraq make a point of comparing America’s historical shortcomings in race relations to their tortured present of ethnic and sectarian divide.

“Now, the president of America is black,” Mr. Askari said. “We are working to learn democracy. Step by step, we will understand.”

Duraid Adnan and an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Kirkuk.

President Obama to call for one-third cut to oil imports

Washington Post
By Steven Mufson, Wednesday, March 30, 6:00 AM

President Obama on Wednesday will call for a one-third cut in oil imports by 2020, part of a plan he says will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign petroleum.

With rising gasoline prices at home and political turmoil throughout the Middle East, Obama will seek in a speech at Georgetown University to rally Americans — and bickering lawmakers — behind a program that draws about half of that import cut from energy savings and about half from greater energy production, according to Obama aides who briefed reporters Tuesday.

Many facets of his program will be familiar. The president will propose wider use of natural gas, including incentives to use it to fuel fleet vehicles such as city buses. He will back greater production of biofuels and will vow to establish at least four commercial-scale refineries producing cellulosic ethanol or advanced biofuels within the next two years. He also will pledge to establish higher fuel-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, just as he did for passenger vehicles early in his administration.

Obama will also urge oil companies to make greater use of the federal leases both onshore and offshore to prop up domestic oil output. The oil industry and GOP lawmakers have been loudly complaining about delays in the permitting of offshore drilling in recent months. But an irked administration, which had pledged tougher scrutiny of drilling applications after last year’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fired back Tuesday with an Interior Department report that revived earlier debates about whether oil companies were exploiting the leases they already have.

Obama has made energy a priority since taking office, with the increase in automobile fuel efficiency marking perhaps his greatest impact. As part of the economic stimulus package adopted in 2009, he also won about $70 billion in grants and loan guarantees to promote energy efficiency, advanced batteries for cars and renewable energy. He has said that in addition to energy benefits those monies will create what he calls “green jobs.” But he poured a large amount of effort into winning passage of a cap-and-trade climate bill, which failed.

Obama faces a plethora of obstacles in the push for less reliance on foreign oil. One is the appetite of the U.S. economy. The federal Energy Information Administration forecasts that the United States will import a net of 9.7 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined petroleum products in 2011 and 10 million barrels a day in 2012. Net imports accounted for 49 percent of all U.S. liquid fuel consumption in 2010, down from 57 percent in 2009 primarily because of the drop in consumption during the recession.

Yet members of Congress are divided about the best ways to cut imports, with lawmakers often uniting across party lines depending on what region they represent. An expansion of offshore drilling, for example, garners substantial support among gulf coast lawmakers, but opposition from representatives from states such as California, Florida and New Jersey.

With Obama’s push for more electric cars, there is also disagreement about the best way to make sure electric utilities can meet demands. With Japan’s nuclear crisis still in progress, it is a sensitive time to promote nuclear energy.

But Obama can expect support from people across party lines worried about the national security implications of relying on oil imports. On Wednesday the Bipartisan Policy Center — featuring former senators Trent Lott and Byron Dorgan and former Obama national security adviser Jim Jones — is releasing a report saying “recent events — from unprecedented unrest in the Middle East and North Africa to the Japanese nuclear crisis to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — demand a thorough reassessment of America’s energy security.”

In addition to political obstacles, Obama faces technical ones. Legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 called on oil refiners to use minimum amounts of biofuels, including 16 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol by 2022. Though substantial amounts of venture capital — and government subsidies — have gone into pilot plants, commercial viability has remained elusive.

Finally, even if the United States becomes more efficient and uses less energy for every unit of economic output, a growing economy is one hungry for energy.

Virtually every president since President Richard M. Nixon has called upon Americans to conserve energy and seek alternatives to oil imports in the name of independence from international turmoil or pressure.

In 1973, Nixon called for a “Project Independence,” an effort he said should summon the spirit of the Apollo space missions or Manhattan Project and achieve self-sufficiency by 1980. Instead, the United States was importing more oil by that time.

In January 1975, President Gerald R. Ford said that “Americans are no longer in full control of their own destiny, when that destiny depends on uncertain foreign fuel at high prices fixed by others.”

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter called the energy challenge “the moral equivalent of war” and proposed conservation, alternative energy, higher gasoline taxes, ethanol fuels and wider use of nuclear power. He too set a goal of reducing oil imports by a third, to 6 million barrels a day by 1985 from 9 million a day in 1977.

That target was surpassed by 1982, thanks to a rise in Alaskan oil production and the virtual end of the use of oil by electric utilities and manufacturers. But soon imports resumed their relentless climb as a share of U.S. oil needs. By 2006, Bush was calling on Americans to end their “addiction” to oil , warning of “danger and decline” if the country continued to rely on “unstable” countries. He urged a 75 percent reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025.

“We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now,” Obama said in a March 11 news conference. “Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes. And when prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. And then when prices go up, suddenly we’re shocked. I think the American people are tired of that.”

VIP resources on america and libya

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Still Crusading, but Now on the Inside

Obama on Libya: The Doctrine Is Clear, but the Mission Isn't

Resource on Libya and the US

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Mr. Obama and Libya: Where’s the strategy to preserve success?

The President seems to understand that we have to win in Libya, says FPI Director William Kristol

The President made clear that American leadership is essential, even indispensable, says FPI Director Robert Kagan

Success or failure in Libya will hinge on American political and military leadership, says FPI Exec Dir Jamie Fly


The Key Is Not in Libya Ray Takyeh

Obama's Problematic Approach to War

Obama talks big picture, not details on Libya

New Libya commander: Stalemate not in anybody’s interest

Levin: Qaddafi could return to supporting terrorism if left in power

U.S. deploys low-flying attack planes in Libya

By Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung,
 Monday, March 28,
The U.S. military dramatically stepped up its assault on Libyan government ground forces over the weekend, launching its first missions with AC-130 flying gunships and A-10 attack aircraft designed to strike enemy ground troops and supply convoys.

The use of the aircraft, during days of heavy fighting in which the momentum seemed to swing in favor of the rebels, demonstrated how allied military forces have been drawn deeper into the chaotic fight in Libya. A mission that initially seemed to revolve around establishing a no-fly zone has become focused on halting advances by government ground forces in and around key coastal cities.

The AC-130s, which fly low and slow over the battlefield and are typically more vulnerable to enemy fire than fast-moving fighter jets, were deployed only after a week of sustained coalition attacks on Libyan government air defenses and radar sites. These aircraft, armed with heavy machine guns and cannons that rake the ground, allow strikes on dug-in Libyan ground forces and convoys in closer proximity to civilians.

The planes are being used to step up pressure on Libyan ground troops, who have retreated from the rebel’s advance and fortified around several cities east of Tripoli, the capital. “Our strategy continues to be to pressure them where we think it’s going to give us the best effect,” said Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, referring to the use of the new aircraft. “The number of the strike sorties that you saw, I think, is a direct result of that.”

Gortney emphasized that the military was not using the planes to facilitate a rebel advance. The Washington Post learned of their deployment last week but withheld reporting the information until their first missions at the request of U.S. military officials.

Military officials consider AC-130s and A-10s well suited to attacks in built-up areas, although their use has led to civilian deaths. Unlike fighter jets and bombers, which typically carry 500- or 1,000-pound bombs, the AC-130s and A-10s deliver more discriminate but still devastating machine-gun fire. “They offer weapons that you can meter against a much smaller area and not risk as much collateral damage,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who played a key role in overseeing the initial U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2002.

AC-130s were used to great effect during the two U.S. offensives in Fallujah, a stronghold of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq in the early days of the Iraq war. In Afghanistan, the military considers them particularly effective against entrenched militants, and commanders have frequently complained that they are in too short supply. The gunships, developed from a Hercules C-130 transport plane for use in Vietnam, put pilots at greater risk than fighter jets, but they have been used in virtually every U.S. military combat operation since then.

In Libya, “we are determined to step up the mission, to attack his tanks and [troop] columns every day until he withdraws,” a French official said of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and the forces loyal to him.

The AC-130s, which are flying from a base in Italy, were requested by Gen. Carter Ham, the senior U.S. general overseeing the operation, and are likely to continue flying over Libya in the coming days as allied forces attempt to increase the pressure on Gaddafi’s ground forces.

“The longer it lasts, the more danger of civilian casualties,” said a Western diplomat whose country is involved in the attacks. He warned that one errant missile strike against a hospital or a house full of children could have a deeply polarizing effect on the fragile alliance of NATO and Arab nations.

The tougher and more risky mission to stop Gaddafi’s ground troops from attacking key cities has quickly overshadowed the less challenging task of stopping the Libyan dictator from launching his aircraft to attack rebels. The ground attack mission also opened up some rifts among coalition partners in NATO and Arab nations, which were reluctant to support attacks that could cause civilian casualties. And it has led some U.S. lawmakers to accuse the Obama administration of inserting the U.S. military in the middle of a complex ground fight between rebels and loyalist forces without a clear exit strategy.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said strikes on Gaddafi’s forces would amount to taking sides in what he called a civil war. He said such attacks would breach a U.N. mandate authorizing intervention in Libya that was initially envisaged as establishing a no-fly zone only to protect civilians.

In discussions that began in late February, NATO planners focused primarily on providing humanitarian support, enforcing an arms embargo and establishing the no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi from using his aircraft to attack his people, according to a senior NATO diplomat.

Separately, the United States, Britain and France made preparations for stopping a ground assault by Libyan forces. There was little support within President Obama’s national security team for a mission that revolved solely around a no-fly zone seen as likely to do too little to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces.

Some administration officials, with memories of enforcing no-fly zones over Bosnia while civilians were being exterminated on the ground, said the United States should not participate in such a limited operation. At the , there was concern about plunging U.S. forces into a conflict without a clear goal, and there was worry that chaos would ensue if Gaddafi fell too quickly and the loosely organized, tribally divided rebels tried to govern the country.

But by March 12, the Arab League had formally backed the imposition of a no-fly zone, after a similar move by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of several of the United States’ closest Arab allies.

Until the week of March 13, the rebels seemed to be making progress. Then Gaddafi unleashed his military, taking towns that the opposition had won and heading toward the de facto rebel capital, Benghazi.

Pushed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the administration took control of a British-French draft resolution for a no-fly zone and began making the case to the rest of the Security Council that stronger action was needed. The resolution passed March 17, authorizing the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian areas under threat.

“In an ideal world, we would sit down with a blank sheet of paper and say, ‘Let’s get rid of Gaddafi.’ That’s not the way it unfolded,” said the Western diplomat whose country is involved in the Libya mission.

The Israeli Dilemma


March 25, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, Thursday. There was no shortage of issues for the defense officials to discuss amid what appears to be an impending Israeli military operation in Gaza, gradually building unrest in Syria and the fear of an Iranian destabilization campaign spreading from the Persian Gulf to the Levant. Any of these threats developing in isolation would be relatively manageable from the Israeli point of view, but when taken together, they remind Israel that the past 32 years of relative quietude in Israel’s Arab backyard is anything but the norm.

Israel is a small country, demographically outnumbered by its neighbors and thus unable to field an army large enough to sustain long, high-intensity conflicts on multiple fronts. Israeli national security therefore revolves around a core, strategic need to sufficiently neutralize and divide its Arab neighbors so that a 1948, 1967 and 1973 scenario can be avoided at all costs. After 1978, Israel had not resolved, but had greatly alleviated its existential crisis. A peace agreement with Egypt, insured by a Sinai desert buffer, largely secured the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv. The formalization in 1994 of a peace pact with Jordan secured Israel’s longest border along the Jordan River. Though Syria remained a threat, it by itself could not seriously threaten Israel and was more concerned with affirming its influence in Lebanon anyway. Conflicts remain with the Palestinians and with Hezbollah in Lebanon along the northern front, but these do not constitute a threat to Israeli survival.

The natural Israeli condition is one of unease, but the past three decades were arguably the most secure in modern Israeli history. That sense of security is now being threatened on multiple fronts.

To its West, Israel risks being drawn into another military campaign in the Gaza Strip. A steady rise in rocket attacks penetrating deep into the Israeli interior over the past week is not something the Israeli leadership can ignore, especially when there exists heavy suspicion that the rocket attacks are being conducted in coordination with other acts of violence against Israeli targets: the murder of five members of an Israeli family in a West Bank settlement less than two weeks ago, and the Wednesday bombing at a bus station in downtown Jerusalem. Further military action will likely be taken, with the full knowledge that it will invite widespread condemnation from much of the international community, especially the Muslim world.

“The natural Israeli condition is one of unease, but the past three decades were arguably the most secure in modern Israeli history. That sense of security is now being threatened on multiple fronts.”

The last time the Israel Defense Forces went to war with Palestinian militants, in late 2008/early 2009, the threat to Israel was largely confined to the Gaza Strip, and while Operation Cast Lead certainly was not well received in the Arab world, it never threatened to cause a fundamental rupture in the system of alliances with Arab states that has provided Israel with its overall sense of security for the past three decades. This time, a military confrontation in Gaza would have the potential to jeopardize Israel’s vital alliance with Egypt. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and others are watching Egypt’s military manage a shaky political transition next door. The military men currently running the government in Cairo are the same men who think that maintaining the peace with Israel and keeping groups like Hamas contained is a smart policy, and one that should be continued in the post-Mubarak era. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, part of an Islamist movement that gave rise to Hamas, may have different ideas about the treaty and even indicated as much during the political protests in Egypt. An Israeli military campaign in Gaza under the current conditions would be fodder for the Muslim Brotherhood to rally the Egyptian electorate (both its supporters and people who may otherwise vote for a secular party) and potentially undermine the credibility of the military-led regime. With enough pressure, the Islamists in Egypt and Gaza could shift Cairo’s strategic posture toward Israel. This scenario is not an assured outcome, but it is likely to be on the minds of those orchestrating the current offensive against Israel from the Palestinian Territories.

To the north, in Syria, the minority Alawite-Baathist regime is struggling to clamp down on protests in the southwest city of Deraa near the Jordanian border. As Syrian security forces fired on protestors who had gathered in and around the city’s main mosque, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, like many of his beleaguered Arab counterparts, made promises to order a ban on the use of live rounds against demonstrators, consider ending a 48-year state of emergency, open the political system, lift media restrictions and raise living standards – all promises that were promptly rejected by the country’s developing opposition. The protests in Syria have not yet reached critical mass due to the relative effectiveness of Syrian security forces in snuffing out demonstrations in the key cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Moreover, it remains to be seen if the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which led a violent uprising beginning in 1976 aiming to restore power to the Sunni majority, will overcome their fears and join the demonstrations in full force. The 1982 Hama crackdown, in which some 17,000 to 40,000 people were killed, forced what was left of the Muslim Brotherhood underground and is still fresh in the minds of many.

Though Israel is not particularly keen on the al Assad regime, the virtue of the al Assads, from the Israeli point of view, is their predictability. A Syria far more concerned with wealth and exerting influence in Lebanon, rather than provoking military engagements to its south, is far more preferable than the fear of what may follow. Like in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Syria remains the single largest and most organized opposition in the country, even though it has been severely weakened since the massacre at Hama.

To the east, Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy has a far better handle on their political opposition (the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is often referred to as the “loyal opposition” by many observers in the region,) but protests continue to simmer there and the Hashemite dynasty remains in fear of being overrun by the country’s Palestinian majority. Israeli military action in the Gaza could also be used by the Jordanian MB to galvanize protestors already prepared to take to the streets.

Completing the picture is Iran. The wave of protests lapping at Arab regimes across the region has created a historic opportunity for Iran to destabilize its rivals and threaten both Israeli and U.S. national security in one fell swoop. Iranian influence has its limits, but a groundswell of Shiite discontent in eastern Arabia along with an Israeli war on Palestinians that highlights the duplicity of Arab foreign policy toward Israel, provides Iran with the leverage it has been seeking to reshape the political landscape. Remaining quiet thus far is Iran’s primary militant proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. As Israel mobilizes its forces in preparation for another round of fighting with Palestinian militants, it cannot discount the possibility that Hezbollah and its patrons in Iran are biding their time to open a second front to threaten Israel’s northern frontier. It has been some time since a crisis of this magnitude has built on Israel’s borders, but this is not a country unaccustomed to worst case scenarios, either.

Good Resources on America and middle East Revolutions 1

What intervention in Libya tells us about the neocon-liberal alliance

How Obama turned on a dime toward war

Why the U.S. Went to War: Inside the White House Debate on Libya

Why Obama’s Libya war coalition is the smallest in decades

The Bahrain Crisis and Its Regional Dangers

U.S. treats the Libya mission like a hit-and-run accident

Is Syria reaching the point of no return?

A New Lease on Life for Humanitarianism

Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

United States Must Take Sides to Keep the Arab Spring from Islamist Takeover

Obama’s Unconstitutional War

Gaddafi's Endgame: How Will the U.S. Get Out of Libya?

By Fareed Zakaria,8599,2061106,00.html

Obama's 'Poorly Conceived' Libya Intervention

The Middle East Is Changing, But Is U.S. Policy?


Obama Cites Limits of U.S. Role in Libya

March 28, 2011


WASHINGTON — President Obama defended the American-led military assault in Libya on Monday, saying it was in the national interest of the United States to stop a potential massacre that would have “stained the conscience of the world.”

In his first major address since ordering American airstrikes on the forces and artillery of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi nine days ago, Mr. Obama emphasized that the United States's role in the assault would be limited, but said that America had the responsibility and the international backing to stop what he characterized as a looming genocide in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

“I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action,” Mr. Obama said.

At the same time, he said, directing American troops to forcibly remove Colonel Qaddafi from power would be a step too far, and would “splinter” the international coalition that has moved against the Libyan government.

“To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

Speaking in the early evening from the National Defense University in Washington, Mr. Obama said he had made good on his promise to limit American military involvement against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces — he did not use the word “war” to describe the action — and he laid out a more general philosophy for the use of force.

But while Mr. Obama described a narrower role for the United States in a NATO-led operation in Libya, the American military has been carrying out an expansive and increasingly potent air campaign to compel the Libyan Army to turn against Colonel Qaddafi.

The president said he was willing to act unilaterally to defend the nation and its core interests. But in other cases, he said, when the safety of Americans is not directly threatened but where action can be justified — in the case of genocide, humanitarian relief, regional security or economic interests — the United States should not act alone. His statements amounted both to a rationale for multilateralism and another critique of what he has all along characterized as the excessively unilateral tendencies of the administration of George W. Bush.

“In such cases, we should not be afraid to act — but the burden of action should not be America’s alone,” Mr. Obama said. “Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.”

Mr. Obama never mentioned many of the other nations going through upheaval across the Arab world, including Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, but left little doubt that his decision to send the United States military into action in Libya was the product of a confluence of particular circumstances and opportunities.

He did not say how the intervention in Libya would end, but said the United States and its allies would seek to drive Colonel Qaddafi from power by means other than military force if necessary.

Speaking for 28 minutes, Mr. Obama addressed a number of audiences. To the American public, he tried to offer reassurance that the United States was not getting involved in another open-ended commitment in a place that few Americans had spent much time thinking about. To the democracy protesters across the Middle East, he vowed that the United States would stand by them, even as he said that “progress will be uneven, and change will come differently in different countries,” a partial acknowledgment that complex relations between the United States and different Arab countries may make for different American responses in different countries.

“The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change,” Mr. Obama said. But, he added, “I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed against one’s own citizens; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.”

The president’s remarks were timed to coincide with the formal handover of control over the Libya campaign to NATO, scheduled for Wednesday. But in the wake of criticism from Congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle that Mr. Obama overstepped his authority in ordering the strikes without first getting Congressional approval — and the return of lawmakers to Washington after their spring recess — Mr. Obama had another audience: Congress.

Mr. Obama said that he authorized the military action only “after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress,” which White House officials have maintained is sufficient for what they have described as a limited military campaign.

Whether his comments will do much to calm the criticism on Capitol Hill remains unclear. Some liberals remain unsettled by the fact of another war in a Muslim country, initiated by a Democratic president who first came to national prominence as an opponent of the Iraq war, even as others backed the use of force to avert a potential massacre.

Some Republicans continued to criticize Mr. Obama for moving too slowly, while another strain of conservative thought argued that the intervention was overreach, a military action without a compelling national interest.

“Since the allied military campaign began in Libya, President Obama’s seeming uncertainty about the parameters and details of our engagement has only inspired a similar uncertainty among the American people,” Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, said in a statement after the speech. “The president’s speech this evening offered very little to diminish those concerns.”

From the start, Mr. Obama has been caught between criticism that he did not do enough and that he had done too much. He continued to try to explain some seeming contradictions on Monday evening, including that while the United States wants Colonel Qaddafi out, it would not make his departure a goal of the military action.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he said, will attend a meeting in London on Tuesday where the international community will try to come up with a separate plan to pressure Colonel Qaddafi to leave.

“I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya,” Mr. Obama acknowledged. “Qaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous.”

But, he said, “if we try to overthrow Qaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers to our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.”

Aaron David Miller, a State Department Middle East peace negotiator during the Clinton administration, said Mr. Obama described a doctrine that, in essence, can be boiled to this: “If we can, if there’s a moral case, if we have allies, and if we can transition out and not get stuck, we’ll move to help. The Obama doctrine is the ‘hedge your bets and make sure you have a way out’ doctrine. He learned from Afghanistan and Iraq.”

White House officials said the American strikes in Libya did not set a precedent for military action in other Middle East trouble spots. “Obviously there are certain aspirations that are being voiced by each of these movements, but there’s no question that each of them is unique,” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said on Monday. “We don’t get very hung up on this question of precedent.”

But the question of precedent is one that Mr. Obama is clearly still grappling with. “My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas — when the news is filled with conflict and change — it can be tempting to turn away from the world,” he said.

But, his conclusion was ambiguous at best: “Let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world.”

The Obama doctrine

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

A firm President Obama gave one of the most detailed foreign policy speeches of his presidency on Monday, laying out a broad philosophy for the looming conflicts in the Middle East while responding directly to his critics on Libya.

Much of the coverage of the speech will be devoted to what Obama said in response to those critics, and it was noteworthy, to be sure.

But perhaps more long-lasting and significant were his more general remarks about foreign policy. As America deals with increasing uncertainty in many places overseas, Obama took the opportunity to set forth his agenda going forward and tried to clarify why some nations rise to the level of U.S. involvement, while others do not.

Obama irritated both extremes by going into Libya (liberals disapproved) but not aiming for Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster (conservatives disapproved).

But in his speech Monday, the president remained content to press forward with very much a middle-ground approach, positioning himself as more of a hawk than Bill Clinton and more of a dove than President Bush. In fact, Obama alluded directly to the conflict in Bosnia (Clinton) and the war in Iraq (Bush), arguing that the response in Bosnia took far too long, while pushing for regime change in Iraq was foolhardy.

Obama pushed back on the notion that the United States should police the world, but also left the door open to getting involved when American interests — or even values (a much lower standard) — are at stake.

The key to Obama’s remarks, though, was the idea that the United States should act in concert with allies.

“In such cases, we should not be afraid to act,” he said. “But the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”

“Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well,” Obama said. “That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in Libya.”

Obama’s remarks about working with other nations are unlikely to sooth conservatives who have criticized the president for “apologizing” for America — a key theme of the nascent GOP presidential race.

Nor are they likely to alleviate criticism on the left, which might bristle at the idea of that the costs of conflict “cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

Obama is staking out very much a middle ground on foreign policy. And the increasing uncertainty oceans away will continue to test the doctrine — call it “the Obama Doctrine” — that he set forth Monday.

The middle ground is generally some of the easiest political territory to inhabit. But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s not always so easy to be stuck in the middle when it comes to foreign policy.

Americans divided on Libya: Fifty percent of Americans in a new Pew poll said the mission in Libya is not defined, while 39 percent say it is.

Less than a majority of people — 47 percent — approve of the decision to launch air strikes in Libya. But just 36 percent oppose taking action and 17 percent had no opinion. People are similarly divided about trying to remove Gaddafi from power, with 46 percent supporting and 43 percent opposed.

But there’s plenty of room for opinions to move. Just 15 percent of people say they are watching the situation in Libya closely, which is far less than say that about the earthquake in Japan.

Allies Count on Defiant Streak in Libya to Drive Out Qaddafi

March 29, 2011


TRIPOLI, Libya — The official government tour was supposed to show Western journalists the suffering of people who had been driven from their homes by the allied bombing in the city of Mizda, Libya. But the people themselves did not cooperate: when a half-dozen of them emerged from their tent encampment and fired rifle shots, the visitors were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

It was a fleeting display of the kind of defiance of official authority that coalition forces are counting on from the people and tribes of western Libya, who dominate the country’s military, to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.

In the allies’ shadow war in Libya, airstrikes are aimed not only at Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and artillery, but also at the elite of his remaining armed forces in an effort to persuade them to turn against their embattled leader. He may be able to hold out against Western warplanes, but he cannot long survive without the loyalty of certain tribes — the Warfalla, the Margaha and his own people, the Qaddafa — whose members now dominate the government’s only dependable militias.

“The question is how much pressure can you put on the tribal elements in the armed forces?” asked Gary Li, a defense analyst who has studied the Libyan military. “Can you turn his own tribe against him? And just who out of the reduced army remaining stays with Qaddafi until the bitter end?”

As Colonel Qaddafi’s militias beat back the rebels’ advance in eastern Libya on Tuesday, it was clear that the last 10 days of airstrikes had failed to cripple his forces enough to erase their advantage in firepower. Nor have the strikes renewed the uprising that briefly threatened his stronghold in Tripoli, the capital, four weeks ago.

“Where is Sarkozy?” the rebels in Bin Jawwad, Libya, lamented on Tuesday when they did not get the air cover that they had come to expect and that had been ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, President Obama and other Western leaders.

By the late afternoon, the rebels were retreating, and Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had pushed past Bin Jawwad for an attack on the oil town of Ras Lanuf, which the rebels had retaken only on Sunday. Reports late Tuesday said the loyalists had advanced as far east as Brega, another strategic oil town. The events on Tuesday, which amounted to a rout, erased days of rebel gains.

Because Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had been weakened even before the allies began the air campaign, the rebels’ weakness on Tuesday was all the more pronounced, said Henry Boyd, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Of his roughly 50,000-man army, Colonel Qaddafi evidently trusted only two militias — with a total of about 10,000 men — to deploy against the rebels, Mr. Boyd said. They are the 32nd Brigade, a formidable unit that is loyal to his son Khamis, and the Ninth Regiment, which has less training but is now believed to be under the direction of another son, Muatassim. The fighters in both units are mostly members of the Warfalla, Margaha and Qaddafa tribes.

Mr. Boyd wrote in an e-mail message that Colonel Qaddafi’s equipment advantage had been “significantly degraded” by the allied airstrikes. But satellite images indicated, he said, that the Libyan leader had as many as 20 barracks for his forces, with an emphasis on tanks and artillery, almost all of them garrisoned along the Mediterranean coast.

Most were concentrated around Tripoli “in keeping with Qaddafi’s apparent primary focus on internal, rather than external threats,” Mr. Boyd said.

About three units appeared especially significant, including two around the city of Zlitan in areas that residents said had been hit hard by the airstrikes.

But Mr. Li, the defense analyst, warned that Colonel Qaddafi might be planning to return to the strategy he used early in the conflict and pull back his forces to his two coastal power bases: to Surt, his tribal hometown, and to Tripoli, where the heavy civilian population would protect his fighters from allied air power.

And within the cities, Mr. Li argued, even a few tanks or other heavy weapons would allow Colonel Qaddafi’s forces to hold off the rebels and elude Western airstrikes. “A deadlock,” Mr. Li called it.

The wild card is the divided loyalties of the tribes who dominate the military’s upper echelons.

Although Colonel Qaddafi has surrounded himself with guards drawn from his own tribe and those close to it, a coup would not be unexpected.

A 1986 disagreement between Colonel Qaddafi and a cousin from the Qaddafa tribe who had been a top military commander ended when the cousin’s body was left at the gates of Colonel Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.

And a 1993 coup attempt by officers from the Warfalla and Qaddafa tribes set off more than a decade of retaliation by Colonel Qaddafi against members of the tribes — a campaign that many Libyans said had left deep resentments.

Some analysts said that Colonel Qaddafi’s fear of betrayal by even his own tribal cousins was one reason that he had turned to his sons to lead his defense.

The big tribes close to Colonel Qaddafi have stayed more or less loyal to him in part because so many of their men enjoy the salaries and the prestige of high-ranking positions in the Libyan military. A professor at a university in the Warfalla homeland, for example, said his classes were almost all filled by women because so many local men had taken high-paying jobs as soldiers.

As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made clear in recent days, Western strategists are betting that Colonel Qaddafi’s allegiances will frayed and finally be severed by the loss of tanks, artillery, barracks and, ultimately, by a high death toll.

In Bin Jawwad on Tuesday, it was the rebels who feared betrayal.

After advancing within 45 miles of Surt on Monday, they spent most of Tuesday retreating as the government’s fighters advanced behind a flurry of artillery fire and missiles. By the early afternoon, government shells were landing in Bin Jawwad, where rebels were already worried that residents did not support the uprising.

The rebels’ initial response to the attack seemed to work, for a time, and showed at least fledgling attempts at organization.

Rebel trucks, mounted with missile and artillery launchers and working more or less in tandem, took up positions facing west and southeast. As their missiles lit up the sky, dozens of other rebel vehicles, lying in wait, started to advance to the western edge of town.

“Go search their houses!” a fighter yelled. “They ran!” said another. Their victory lasted barely an hour.

Artillery shells exploded to the west, and began to move closer. Gunfire hit the sand near the rebel fighters’ feet. A bullet, perhaps from a sniper, hit one young fighter in the heart, killing him. At least 14 others were wounded. Rebels said some of the shelling appeared to come from the sea.

The attack — by loyal government troops, and maybe even armed civilians — indicated that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces remain unified, at least for now.

After the retreat to Ras Lanuf, the government’s heavy weapons had found them within two hours.

A fighter at the hospital in Ras Lanuf, Taher Abu Farwa, called the retreat a setback, not a defeat. “It took us eight days to take Ajdabiya,” he said, predicting the rebels could still advance on Surt. But not without airstrikes.

“I swear to God,” he said. “It would be a massacre.”

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Tripoli, and Kareem Fahim from Ras Lanuf, Libya. Moises Saman contributed reporting from Mizda, Libya.

Washington in Fierce Debate on Arming Libyan Rebels

March 29, 2011


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to Al Qaeda.

The debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, these officials said, and has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about a ragtag band of rebels who are waging a town-by-town battle against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, from a base in eastern Libya long suspected of supplying terrorist recruits.

“Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior official said.

On a day when Libyan forces counterattacked, fears about the rebels surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when the military commander of NATO, Adm. James G. Stavridis, told a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” in intelligence reports about the presence of Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the anti-Qaddafi forces. No full picture of the opposition has emerged, Admiral Stavridis said. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in the late 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to Al Qaeda.

The French government, which has led the international charge against Colonel Qaddafi, has placed mounting pressure on the United States to provide greater assistance to the rebels. The question of how best to support the opposition dominated an international conference about Libya on Tuesday in London.

While Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration had not yet decided whether to actually transfer arms, she reiterated that the United States had a right to do so, despite an arms embargo on Libya, because of the United Nations Security Council’s broad resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians.

In a reflection of the seriousness of the administration’s debate, Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he was keeping his options open on arming the rebels. “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in,” Mr. Obama told NBC News. “We’re still making an assessment partly about what Qaddafi’s forces are going to be doing. Keep in mind, we’ve been at this now for nine days.”

But some administration officials argue that supplying arms would further entangle the United States in a drawn-out civil war because the rebels would need to be trained to use any weapons, even relatively simple rifles and shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons. This could mean sending trainers. One official said the United States might simply let others supply the weapons.

The question of whether to arm the rebels underscores the difficult choices the United States faces as it tries to move from being the leader of the military operation to a member of a NATO-led coalition, with no clear political endgame. It also carries echoes of previous American efforts to arm rebels, in Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and elsewhere, many of which backfired. The United States has a deep, often unsuccessful, history of arming insurgencies.

Mr. Obama pledged on Monday that he would not commit American ground troops to Libya and said that the job of transforming the country into a democracy was primarily for the Libyan people and the international community. But he promised that the United States would help the rebels in this struggle.

In London, Mrs. Clinton and other Western leaders made it clear that the NATO-led operation would end only with the removal of Colonel Qaddafi, even if that was not the stated goal of the United Nations resolution.

Mrs. Clinton — who met for a second time with a senior opposition leader, Mahmoud Jibril — acknowledged that as a group, the rebels were largely a mystery. “We don’t know as much as we would like to know and as much as we expect we will know,” she said at a news conference.

In his testimony, Admiral Stavridis said, “We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces.”

The coalition members discussed other ways to help the rebels, like humanitarian aid and money, Mrs. Clinton said. Some of the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan funds may be channeled to the opposition.

But a spokesman for the rebels, Mahmoud Shammam, said they would welcome arms, contending that with weaponry they would already have defeated Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. “We ask for political support more than arms,” Mr. Shammam said, “but if we have both, that would be good.”

So far, the rebels have obtained arms from defecting Qaddafi loyalists, as well as from abandoned ammunitions depots.

A European diplomat said France was adamant that the rebels be more heavily armed and was in discussions with the Obama administration about how France would bring this about. “We strongly believe that it should happen,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he had had conversations with two senior administration officials about this issue. Mr. Levin said he was most concerned about how the rebels would use the weapons after a cease-fire. “Would they stop fighting if they had momentum, or would they be continuing to use those weapons?” he asked.

Gene A. Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya, said last week that he was impressed by the democratic instincts of the opposition leaders and that he did not believe that they were dominated by extremists. But he acknowledged that there was no way to know if they were “100 percent kosher, so to speak.”

Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said some who had fought as insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan were bound to have returned home to Libya. “The question we can’t answer is, Are they 2 percent of the opposition? Are they 20 percent? Or are they 80 percent?” he said.

Even if the administration resolves these concerns, military officials said it was unclear to them how an effort to arm the rebels would be carried out.

They said the arms most likely to be of use were relatively light and simple shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons for defense against tanks, as well as rifles like Soviet AK-47s and communications equipment. Although these weapons are not especially sophisticated, months, if not years, of on-the-ground training would still be necessary.

Even with training, anti-armor weapons and rifles would allow the rebels only to consolidate their gains and hold the territory they have, said Nathan Freier, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

One crucial voice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has experience in the unintended consequences of arming rebels: As a C.I.A. official in the late 1980s, he funneled weapons to the Islamic fundamentalists who ousted the Soviets from Kabul. Some later became the Taliban fighting the United States in Afghanistan.

Mark Landler and Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from London.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy

March 26, 2011


WASHINGTON — Even as the Obama administration defends the NATO-led air war in Libya, the latest violent clashes in Syria and Jordan are raising new alarm among senior officials who view those countries, in the heartland of the Arab world, as far more vital to American interests.

Deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement, several analysts said. It could also alter the American rivalry with Iran for influence in the region and pose challenges to the United States’ greatest ally in the region, Israel.

In interviews, administration officials said the uprising appeared to be widespread, involving different religious groups in southern and coastal regions of Syria, including Sunni Muslims usually loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The new American ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, has been quietly reaching out to Mr. Assad to urge him to stop firing on his people.

As American officials confront the upheaval in Syria, a country with which the United States has icy relations, they say they are pulled between fears that its problems could destabilize neighbors like Lebanon and Israel, and the hope that it could weaken one of Iran’s key allies.

The Syrian unrest continued on Saturday, with government troops reported to have killed more protesters.

With 61 people confirmed killed by security forces, the country’s status as an island of stability amid the Middle East storm seemed irretrievably lost.

For two years, the United States has tried to coax Damascus into negotiating a peace deal with Israel and to moving away from Iran — a fruitless effort that has left President Obama open to criticism on Capitol Hill that he is bolstering one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world.

Officials fear the unrest there and in Jordan could leave Israel further isolated. The Israeli government was already rattled by the overthrow of Egypt’s leader, Hosni Mubarak, worrying that a new government might not be as committed to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

While Israel has largely managed to avoid being drawn into the region’s turmoil, last week’s bombing of a bus in Jerusalem, which killed one person and wounded 30, and a rain of rocket attacks from Gaza, have fanned fears that the militant group Hamas is trying to exploit the uncertainty.

The unrest in Jordan, which has its own peace treaty with Israel, is also extremely worrying, a senior administration official said. The United States does not believe Jordan is close to a tipping point, this official said. But the clashes, which left one person dead and more than a hundred wounded, pose the gravest challenge yet to King Abdullah II, a close American ally.

Syria, however, is the more urgent crisis — one that could pose a thorny dilemma for the administration if Mr. Assad carries out a crackdown like that of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who ordered a bombardment in 1982 that killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama. Having intervened in Libya to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, some analysts asked, how could the administration not do the same in Syria?

Though no one is yet talking about a no-fly zone over Syria, Obama administration officials acknowledge the parallels to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Some analysts predicted the administration will be cautious in pressing Mr. Assad, not because of any allegiance to him but out of a fear of what could follow him — a Sunni-led government potentially more radical and Islamist than his Alawite minority government.

Still, after the violence, administration officials said Mr. Assad’s future was unclear. “Whatever credibility the government had, they shot it today — literally,” a senior official said about Syria, speaking on the condition that he not be named.

In the process, he said, Mr. Assad had also probably disqualified himself as a peace partner for Israel. Such a prospect had seemed a long shot in any event — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no inclination to talk to Mr. Assad — but the administration kept working at it, sending its special envoy, George J. Mitchell, on several visits to Damascus.

Mr. Assad has said that he wants to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. But with his population up in arms, analysts said, he might actually have an incentive to pick a fight with its neighbor, if only to deflect attention from the festering problems at home.

“You can’t have a comprehensive peace without Syria,” the administration official said. “It’s definitely in our interest to pursue an agreement, but you can’t do it with a government that has no credibility with its population.”

Indeed, the crackdown calls into question the entire American engagement with Syria. Last June, the State Department organized a delegation from Microsoft, Dell and Cisco Systems to visit Mr. Assad with the message that he could attract more investment if he stopped censoring Facebook and Twitter. While the administration renewed economic sanctions against Syria, it approved export licenses for some civilian aircraft parts.

The Bush administration, by contrast, largely shunned Damascus, recalling its ambassador in February 2005 after the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of involvement in the assassination, a charge it denies.

When Mr. Obama named Mr. Ford as his envoy last year, Republicans in the Senate held up the appointment for months, arguing that the United States should not reward Syria with closer ties. The administration said it would have more influence by restoring an ambassador.

But officials also concede that Mr. Assad has been an endless source of frustration — deepening ties with Iran and the Islamic militant group Hezbollah; undermining the government of Saad Hariri in Lebanon; pursuing a nuclear program; and failing to deliver on promises of reform.

Some analysts said that the United States was so eager to use Syria to break the deadlock on Middle East peace negotiations that it had failed to push Mr. Assad harder on political reforms.

“He’s given us nothing, even though we’ve engaged him on the peace process,” said Andrew J. Tabler, who lived in Syria for a decade and is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I’m not saying we should give up on peace talks with Israel, but we cannot base our strategy on that.”

The United States does not have the leverage with Syria it had with Egypt. But Mr. Tabler said the administration could stiffen sanctions to press Mr. Assad to make reforms.

Other analysts, however, point to a positive effect of the unrest: it could deprive Iran of a reliable ally in extending its influence over Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

That is not a small thing, they said, given that Iran is likely to benefit from the fall of Mr. Mubarak in Egypt, the upheaval in Bahrain, and the resulting chill between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

“There’s much more upside than downside for the U.S.,” said Martin S. Indyk, the vice president for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “We have an interest in counterbalancing the advantages Iran has gained in the rest of the region. That makes it an unusual confluence of our values and interests.”

Airstrikes Clear Way for Libyan Rebels’ First Major Advance

March 26, 2011


AJDABIYA, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces retreated from this strategic city on Saturday, running for dozens of miles back along the coast with Libyan rebels in pursuit in their first major victory since American and European airstrikes began a week ago.

The rebels’ advance was the first sign that the allied attacks, directed not only against Colonel Qaddafi’s aircraft and defenses but also against his ground troops, were changing the dynamics of the battle for control of the country. As night fell, rebel forces had recaptured Ajdabiya, a crucial hub city in eastern Libya, and had also driven almost uncontested to the town of Brega, erasing weeks of losses as the airstrikes opened the way.

At the same time, however, Western leaders are debating the ability of the military operation to achieve notably differing goals: to protect Libyan civilians and remove Colonel Qaddafi from power.

President Obama, in his weekly radio address, tried to reassure Americans that the mission was both important and effective. “Today I can report that thanks to our brave men and women in uniform we’ve made important progress,” he said, adding, “We are succeeding in our mission.”

In Ajdabiya, the charred hulls of government tanks hit by allied missile strikes and strafing runs marked the city’s gates, where from a perch on a hill they had driven back rebel assaults over the past few days. But on Saturday, hundreds of opposition fighters streamed in, honking their horns, shooting weapons into the air and waving their tricolored flags in celebration.

“We owe the West much. They saved many thousands of people,” said Muhammad Fergani, a safety specialist at an oil company who drove with a Kalashnikov rifle to the front. “It is not easy for this man to raise the white flag,” he said, referring to Colonel Qaddafi. “His roots are deep in the earth.”

By the end of the day, the rebel trucks had covered more than 50 miles, quickly gathering in Brega and beginning to move beyond. But battles along that road over the past month have been defined by vast swings of momentum, in advances and retreats that have covered miles in minutes until Colonel Qaddafi’s forces have been able to bring their armored vehicles and heavy weapons to bear.

That had been the case in Ajdabiya, where tanks and superior artillery had kept the rebels at bay for a week until allied air support allowed them to reclaim a city that they had seen as a stronghold protecting the path to Benghazi, the rebel capital.

“People are celebrating,” said Najib al-Mukasabi, who was driving from Ajdabiya north toward Benghazi. “The west and east gates are liberated.”

The evidence of intense fighting could be seen everywhere, with apartment blocks and a mosque punctured by tank shells, and wrecked cars in the streets. Before being routed from the city by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, rebel fighters had vowed to make their stand in Ajdabiya, which is on both the major highway networks in northeastern Libya. A vital city of 120,000 before the battles began, it seemed more a deserted husk on Saturday.

At a news conference in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim confirmed that government fighters had made a “tactical pullback.” And he reiterated the government’s charge that the American and European forces were overstepping mandates from the United Nations and NATO by providing close air support to the rebels instead of merely establishing a no-fly zone or protecting civilians.

The airstrikes in and around Ajdabiya had hit the government troops who were not advancing but merely “stationary,” he said.

He also repeated accusations that the airstrikes have killed dozens of civilians, though the Qaddafi government has not yet presented evidence of those deaths. In a news conference late Friday night, the Health Ministry said more than 100 people had died in the air attacks, but officials did not break out civilian casualties from the military deaths.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commanding officer of the American-led operation, confirmed on Saturday that government forces were retreating south and west from Adjabiya and, in some cases, had abandoned their vehicles and equipment, presumably to avoid being attacked by allied warplanes. “We have to be careful not to make too much of this,” General Ham said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. “The opposition is not well trained or well organized.”

He said allied warplanes were also attacking troops from the Libyan 32nd Brigade, which is based in Tripoli and commanded by Colonel Qaddafi’s son Khamis. Colonel Qaddafi has used that brigade in other crackdowns, General Ham said, and allied commanders suspect it may be brought up to counterattack the rebel forces in the next few days.

General Ham said that he was preparing to turn over command of the overall military campaign to a NATO commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada. If the North Atlantic Council approves the mission, which could come as early as Sunday, General Ham said a handoff could take place by midweek.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been pressed at home to assure an American electorate that the United States will not be drawn into another long war.

In his radio address, recorded before the rebel victory on Saturday, President Obama defended American involvement and the airstrikes’ targets, arguing that the United States was protecting a strategic interest in preserving the stability of the region as well as carrying out an international mandate to prevent a bloodbath.

“In places like Benghazi, a city of some 700,000 that Qaddafi threatened to show ‘no mercy,’ his forces have been pushed back,” Mr. Obama said. “So make no mistake, because we acted quickly a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided, and the lives of countless civilians — innocent men, women and children — have been saved.”

The rebel forces are still outgunned on the ground by Colonel Qaddafi’s better-equipped militia, the rebel battle lines are still hundreds of miles from the capital and there is no indication of an imminent uprising in the west against the government.

Mr. Obama did not address how the conflict might end, but he repeated his vow that the United States would not send ground forces into Libya.

“This is now a broad, international effort,” he said. “Our allies and partners are enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and the arms embargo at sea. Key Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have committed aircraft.”

He added, “This is how the international community should work: more nations, not just the United States, bearing the responsibility and cost of upholding peace and security.”

There was evidence on Saturday that the allied military effort was having an effect not just in the rebel-held east, but in the west as well. France reported that it had struck at the Libyan military airfield near Misurata, destroying several aircraft on the ground. Rebel commanders in Misurata, where Libya’s military has kept up a tight siege against the last opposition redoubt in the western part of the country, said the allied airstrikes had allowed them to hold out.

A rebel spokesman using the name Aiman said that government tanks and artillery resumed firing into the city on Saturday morning until three waves of airstrikes forced them back.

“After the airstrikes, things have been quiet,” he said by telephone, though he added that government snipers remained active in the city’s center. His report could not be confirmed because the government had barred journalists from the city.

In eastern Libya, Colonel Qaddafi’s artillery left deep scars throughout Ajdabiya, and his fighters appeared to have fled in a hurry.

The entrance to the city was a preview of destruction, with the iron gates of storefronts shredded, the asphalt on the road pierced, and the facade of a mosque blown full of holes. The devastation continued in a neighborhood near the hospital, where a tank shell landed in a kitchen and another in the top floor of a house. “The shelling was at night,” said Khaled Ibrahim, 37. “All night, every night.”

He and other residents were just beginning to emerge from shelter. Others were returning after they had fled the government forces and headed to refugee camps on Ajdabiya’s outskirts.

Inside the main hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Kareem — one of six physicians who remained through the battle — said many residents had been afraid to seek treatment. Those who neared the doors often came under fire, he said, adding that the hospital had only three working ambulances during the worst of the violence; some of the others had been destroyed. Badly injured people were taken in the ambulances, or private cars, to hospitals in Benghazi or Tobruk, he said.

The cemetery manager, Imbarek Muhammad, said 81 people were buried in the graveyard during the violence. Dozens were interred in graves with no headstones, or only inscribed with numbers. Others had headstones of cement etched with names, like Ali Abdul Rahim, who died on March 17, two days after Colonel Qaddafi’s forces took the city.

On the main road, on the way to the city’s western gate, the colonel’s soldiers had left their fatigues, their damaged or destroyed vehicles and a dead comrade, whose bloated body was photographed by onlookers before a man covered it with a blanket.

The trail of fatigues continued miles away, in Brega, where a small hut by an oil refinery was filled with cigarette butts and old food from the soldiers who had camped out there before fleeing. They left more than clothes: trucks full of ammunition were also recovered by the rebels, who cheerily drove them back toward Benghazi for use in their next fight.

Kareem Fahim reported from Ajdabiya, Libya, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, Libya. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.