People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 20

May 15, 2011


Libya: Mission Creep


Yohannan Chemerapally



AS the NATO backed rebels in Libya were on the verge of losing total control of the oil port town of Misurata, the British and the French governments announced in the last week of April that they are despatching military trainers to Libya. Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, has also announced that it would be sending military officers to help the rebels in the fight against the Libyan government. The Obama administration is also bolstering the rebels from Benghazi by authorising the use of the killer Predator drones. American drones are already causing considerable havoc in two other Muslim countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan. American drones were already in operation over Libya from February for surveillance purposes. Now, they will be armed with “Hellfire” missiles to take out Libyan forces that have been holed up in defensive positions. The drones will also be used for targeted assassinations.


David Ignatius, the Washington Post’s world affairs columnist wrote that the “Predator drone is a tool for assassination”. The Obama administration has not stated which targets the drones will strike. Ignatius has written that the most likely goal was to kill Gaddafi and his inner circle. A few days after his article appeared, there was a missile attack on the residence of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al Arab Gaddafi. The strike was aimed at the Libyan leader who was to his son’s residence. Also killed were Gaddafi’s three grandchildren. Gaddafi had lost a daughter when her residence was attacked by American planes in 1986 during the Reagan administration. The killing of Gaddafi’s son happened just before the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Instead of attracting opprobrium from the international community, president Barack Obama instead basked in glory for the success of another targeted assassination.




The reputed newspaper Boston Globe said in a recent editorial that president Obama had grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military aggression in Libya. He had said that the American intervention in Libya was to “prevent genocide”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report said the forces loyal to Gaddafi are not deliberately targeting civilians but focussing its firepower on the rebel army. “Misurata’s population is only 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people, including combatants, have died there”, the HRW report stated. Out of these, less than three per cent were women. If the Libyan army was really targeting civilians, the number of women and children killed would have been much higher.


The latest military escalation is in clear contravention of UNSC Resolution, 1973. The Resolution passed in March does not authorise UN member states to support the rebels, to support armed militias or to oust the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. Mission creep of the kind witnessed in Vietnam is now happening in Libya, despite growing evidence that the military situation there was heading towards a stalemate.


Till the choreographed announcements by the British prime minister, David Cameron and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the third week of April about sending “military liaison teams” to Benghazi, the NATO coalition had been insisting that “there would be no military boots on the ground” in Libya. Senior advisers to the French president had told this correspondent in Paris, in the third week of April, that there was no question of French military personnel being deployed in Libya. They said that the only goal the western coalition had was to implement the “no fly zone”.


Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they also continue to insist that “regime change” is also not on the French agenda. They also claimed that no arms were being supplied to the rebels at this juncture but at the same time said that the French government was not against other countries arming the rebels. One official said that “humanitarian help” will be delivered with military help “if necessary”. France was the first country to recognise the rebel outfit in Benghazi as the legitimate Libyan government and the first to launch air attacks without adequately coordinating with other NATO members. Britain and Italy soon joined in, to guarantee that their financial stakes in a post-Gaddafi Libya would not be jeopardised. French officials insist that their country will keep on playing “the leadership role” in the Libyan military campaign though the British prime minister seems keen to abrogate that role.


After the establishment of a no fly zone and the consequent air assault, Paris and London expected the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to sue for peace and leave the country. But things have not gone according to the script envisaged in Paris and London. As Gaddafi digs in for the long haul, the French and the British have progressively escalated the military aggression. NATO officials claimed in the last week of April, that 30 per cent of the Libyan army has been destroyed as a result of the air strikes. 


The ineptitude of the West’s Libyan protégés in Benghazi has forced the three NATO countries in the forefront of the Libya military operation, to intervene even more openly. It is no secret that American, British and French military advisers have been advising the rebel army leadership since late February when the revolt against the Libyan government was sparked off in Benghazi. Now their presence has been only formalised. From now on a joint team of British/French officers will openly advise the rag tag rebel force on logistics, intelligence gathering and communications. There will be of course coordination between them and the US military, which will let loose its killer drones in areas under the control of the government in Tripoli.  


Many observers have already predicted for French, British and Italian ground forces to move in and do the fighting on behalf of the rebels. Leading British, American and French politicians have already started calling for the speedy despatch of troops so that so called “safe havens” for civilians in Libya can be created. The Americans had done this for the Kurds in northern Iraq in the nineties and NATO for the Bosnians during the war in the Balkans. The European Union (EU) has started discussions on sending troops to protect civilians and provide help in providing humanitarian relief. The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has confirmed that the EU has offered to send 1000 troops to Misurata, if there was a request from UN officials in charge of relief there. A joint article written by the British prime minister along with the French and American presidents in the third week of April stated that their goal “is not to remove Gaddafi by force”. At the same time, the article also reiterates that the three countries will continue using force “so long as Gaddafi is in power”.  Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron ended their article by reiterating that the three countries will not rest “until UNSC resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their future”. There was no mention whatsoever in UNSC 1973 about enabling the Libyan people to choose a new government.




Russia, a veto wielding member of the UNSC had lodged a strong protest stating that the NATO action in bombing Libya’s military was against the mandate given by Resolution 1973. Moscow has said that it is unlikely to give its approval for an extension for NATO’s operations in Libya. “The UN Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime. All those who are currently using the UN resolution for that aim, are violating the UN mandate”, said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.   

Lavrov reminded the international community that the deployment of military “advisers” is fraught with danger. “There are cases in history when everything started with the sending of instructors and then everything went on for many years and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people on both sides”. Already thousands of people have been killed in Libya, many of them victims of NATO bombs and missiles. The leaders of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) who met in China in the third week of April blasted the “arbitrary interpretation” by some countries of the UNSC resolution on Libya. “The resolutions should be implemented in accordance to their content, in accordance with their spirit and letter. The BRICS countries unanimously believe in this”, the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev said.


For that matter, most NATO members have had serious doubts about the joint London/Paris initiative to wage war against Libya. Germany has kept out of it altogether. Only six NATO members are involved in the actual fighting, with France, the UK and the US carrying the major burden. Public opinion in the US has already started turning against yet another war their country is involved in. In the UK and France, the media has started asking questions about the mounting expenses incurred by their governments in the ongoing military adventure which started from February. These two countries are bearing the brunt of the military expenses with the US now taking a back seat. Arab League, barring Qatar and the UAE, have distanced themselves from the Libya mission. Tunisia and Egypt have refused to provide air bases for the French and British air force, which are now the de facto air wing of the rebel forces.


The rapacious colonial baggage France and England carry in the region have not helped matters either. President Hugo Chavez, who was the first world leader to call for a negotiated settlement of the crisis, was scathing in his remarks about the leaders of the three major foreign countries involved in the military campaign against Libya. “Do these presidents think that they own the world? Do they think that they have the right to bomb villages and peoples? – imperialism and the governments of Europe want to take over Libya’s petroleum. They don’t want to defend the people of Libya. That’s a lie”, he said in a recent speech.


The Libyan government has said that it will consider all foreign army personnel on its territory as “enemy combatants”. The Libyan deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim told the media that if there is deployment of any armed personnel on Libyan ground, there will be fighting. “The Libyan government will not take it as a humanitarian mission. It will be taken as a military mission”, he said. The Libyan government has on several occasions in the last two months since fighting broke out said that it was willing to accept an unconditional cease fire. The government in Tripoli even went to the extent of saying that it was prepared for an internationally supervised election. The African Union (AU) which sent a high level delegation to Libya in the middle of April has proposed a cease fire plan and proposed a transition period for the devastated country. The economy of Libya, which had the highest standard of living on the African continent till February, now remains shattered.