NATO and Libyan rebels play the blame game

Anger is growing among anti-Gaddafi rebels after NATO's second friendly fire bombing raid resulted in more rebel deaths with no overt apology from the alliance following.

­NATO’s leadership is coming under more and more fire over its military operations in Libya for being ineffective and making mistakes.

It is now nine days since NATO took command of the Libyan operation from the US. In the last week alone, two confirmed friendly fire NATO air strikes left a total of over 20 rebels dead and dozens injured, so there is no wonder tensions are running high in the desert. Particularly because NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while publicly regretting the loss of lives, has not come out and said that he as the leader of the coalition is sorry for the unfortunate strikes.

NATO is essentially arguing that it was not aware that rebels were using tanks prior to the ill-fated air strikes and mistook them for Gaddafi troops.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

However, a very different argument is coming from the rebels’ commanders, saying that they did notify NATO beforehand that they had some 20 tanks in their position moving towards the frontline near the town of Ajdabiya.

It also seems rather questionable that NATO was not aware of the rebels’ possession of heavy weaponry; for weeks now the rebels have been boasting on YouTube they have practically everything from tanks and rocket launchers to fighter jets.

NATO stressed that the situation on the ground is “extremely fluid” and the frontline keeps see-sawing with vehicles moving in every direction.

The loss of morale among the rebel forces that has been witnessed for days is now being replaced by anger. Rebels claim that NATO is doing far less than has been expected, neglecting its operations, and now killing them by mistake on top of it all.

Rebels simply cannot understand why NATO did not prevent Gaddafi forces from advancing some 100 miles into rebel territory, effectively reversing the situation, and giving government troops the upper hand in terms of ground operations for days.

The coalition forces in turn blame the bad weather – sandstorms and heavy clouds combined. Another factor is that the US has withdrawn its forces from active operations, which has narrowed the coalition’s capabilities.

NATO command also complained of the lack of designators on the ground. It is true that there are CIA operatives working behind the enemy lines, but they are busy collecting intel, not supplying support to the military operations and coordinating air strikes.

There are also no established lines of communication between NATO command and the big motley throng of rebels, and NATO has already specified it is not their responsibility to organize them.

NATO command themselves seems to be extremely frustrated that for the rebels, coalition forces are nothing but some kind of proxy air force not meant to be used to save lives.

The current situation in Libya serves as a fair example of a mission ambiguous in its scope and objectives.

­Gaddafi forces advance on rebel-controlled Ajdabiya

­Meanwhile, as Al Jazeera reports, on Saturday Gaddafi forces have shelled rebel positions west of Ajdabiya, the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Gun battles were reportedly taking place in the streets of Ajdabiya. The city is now on the brink of falling to Gaddafi troops, which managed to advance overnight from the southern desert. Therefore, the major fighting is now taking place on two fronts – around Ajdabiya and Brega.

However, as rebel sources cited by Itar-Tass state, NATO has also been intervening, and a convoy of Gaddafi forces was destroyed by an air strike from the alliance’s planes on the approach to Ajdabiya.

Fighting is also continuing in the third-largest city of the country, Misrata, some 200 kilometers east of Tripoli. In this area, NATO planes have launched four air strikes on government forces in the past 24 hours, Itar-Tass reported. The offensive was praised by the rebel forces, who earlier had blamed NATO for failure to act.

However, Lawrence Davidson, Professor of Middle East History at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, believes that the Western-led three-week operation is far from being called a success.

“If the goal of this was to facilitate the victory of the rebels rather than, say, protect the civilians – and I suspect that regime change was, in fact, the goal – then they haven’t succeeded,” he said. “And they are not going to succeed, unless they can turn the rebel force into a viable fighting unit that can take on Gaddafi’s army. If they can, they’ve got a stalemate at best.”