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Libyan rebels aided by no-fly zone

March 31st, 2011

Libyan rebels celebrating at a checkpoint in eastern Libya on March 27. (AP)

Ever since coalition bombs starting falling on forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi, the loyalists have been retreating.

The U.S.-supported rebels, who had been pushed right up to their capital of Benghazi, seized the opportunity and swiftly advanced westward. Such was the initial effect of the U.S., Britain and France-led offensive on Gadhafi troops in Libya.

But in the resilient, never-say-die attitude exemplified by Gadhafi, his soldiers have now checked the rebels’ Tripoli-bound advance and pushed them back from two key towns, Surt and Bin Jawad.

The former is especially strategic for Gadhafi because its capture would provide the rebels with a direct route into Tripoli, the only Gaddafi stronghold that is yet to come under rebel attack.

The UN resolution authorizing the coalition’s intervention advocated a limited humanitarian aim by endorsing the “use of all necessary means to protect civilians.”

How accurate the now NATO-led coalition forces are sticking to that aim depends on one’s interpretation of the resolution.

The coalition forces have employed an expansive interpretation that has led the offensive to evolve from its initial identity.

From striking Gadhafi’s military command stations to destroying his tankers, the coalition planes are almost acting as the rebel’s air force currently.

This was evident when the pro-Gadhafi forces successfully halted and counter-attacked the rebels for the first time in almost a fortnight and marched eastward to Ras Lanuf.

Their cause was aided by the conspicuous absence of the coalition’s missiles that had pounded their fold repeatedly in previous days.

While it is yet to be explicitly stated that the coalition forces will see to the ousting of Gadhafi, their actions strongly suggest that an operation with such an inclination is already underway through informational warfare.

Using revolutionary military technology, coalition planes have been conducting psychological operations to try to break loyalists’ will to fight by broadcasting messages in Arabic and English, telling Libyan soldiers and sailors to defy Gadhafi’s orders.

Meanwhile, the multilateral cooperation that has seen nations and organizations speak with one voice on Libya was evident again in London as a meeting of forty nations, NATO and the U.N. agreed that Gadhafi must relinquish his power.

It was a boost to the coalition operations that Arab states, like Qatar, endorsed the ousting of Gadhafi and even sent artillery and personnel as part of the offensive against him.  Russia provided a dissenting opinion, as it has throughout the Libyan clashes.

The international community is mapping a Libyan future without Gadhafi and the presence of a representative of the rebels at the London conference attests to that.

Numerous diplomats are reaching out to Gadhafi loyalists to either defect from the Gadhafi camp or negotiate the terms on which he will leave office.

Such terms, should they ever be agreed upon—Gadhafi has promised to fight until he dies—would most likely include the coalition forces seeing to his safe exile from Libya to a country that does not subscribe to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.

The court wants Gadhafi to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

As the control of Libyan cities repeatedly changes from loyalists to rebels and vice versa, the world waits to see if the leadership of the country will ever leave Gadhafi’s hands.

It has been there for forty-two years and counting.