Libyan crisis escalates

"The armed conflict in Libya has been ongoing since mid-February. Government armed forces and foreign mercenaries under the supposed control of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi have been accused of vicious suppression tactics against both rebels and civilian populations in rebel-held areas. Through press sources and official Libyan discourse, the outside world has seen Gaddafi’s clouded sense of reality and damaged mental state. It has been widely speculated that the Libyan government is under the direct control of the nation’s abusive and despotic intelligence network, which will apparently stop at nothing to ensure continued control of the country. There is no single figurehead in charge of this shady network, which is said to be responsible for the Libyan peoples’ mistreatment over the past few decades.

"The rebels of eastern Libya are currently led by a political coalition which calls itself the National Transition Council. Made up of raw recruits with little or no training, air force defectors, and various small tribal groups, this patchwork militia fights against government forces for control of various towns.

"This effort, until recently, does not appear to be an attempt to liberate the entire country, but rather to safeguard the civilian population of areas held by rebels, such as Benghazi, which would have suffered greatly from government reprisals. Various sources estimate that there are roughly 12,000 government troops fighting approximately 17,000 rebels. Conservative casualty estimates stand at 600 government troops, 1,600 rebels and 10,000 civilians killed.

"NATO engagement has changed the conflict drastically. Before engagement occurred, government forces relied heavily on their fleet of attack helicopters, the backbone of the Libyan military. These helicopters, and certain bomber aircraft, were used to harass and subdue rebel-held areas. The rebels have negligible anti-air capability, and such attacks by government forces mean heavy losses and demoralization. Tentative U.N. approval for action and the declaration of a no-fly zone over Libya has evened the battlefield. The Allies’ air force decimated the Libyan air force, thereby giving the rebels a real chance at not only defending the territory they hold, but to liberate the entire nation and dispose of the current regime.

"Without NATO intervention, it seems the Libyan rebels would be in serious danger of defeat. The most populous rebel-held area, Benghazi, most likely would have been the rebel army’s final point of defense. In the days prior to Allied intervention, government forces advanced closer to Benghazi, and Colonel Gaddafi proclaimed he would "show no mercy." It can be inferred that the civilian population of Benghazi would have suffered greatly under the madman’s revenge. The Libyan air force’s destruction prevented this slaughter. By approving a no-fly zone, the international community has traded the violent subjugation of a city of 670,000 for the lives of 16 Libyan soldiers and an estimated 100 civilians. Many would say that this was an honorable trade.

"Gratitude for the intervention has been enthusiastic and heartfelt. Rebels thanked France for its role in the operation, but apparently forgot Britain and the U.S. were instrumental in pushing the resolution for approval by the UN Security Council and the success of the operation itself.

"This snubbing could be the political byproduct of U.S. and British involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. It can be understood that the Libyan people do not want the type of complications that these nations have as a result of Anglo-American interference. The Libyan rebels have also asked the world to disengage and stay uninvolved now that Libya’s air force is gone.

"It seems, however, that the world is not ready to leave the Libyan theater of operations. While at a summit in London to discuss Libya’s future, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Allied military operation was a "reflection of our shared concern for the safety of civilians and our support for the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people" and that military action in Libya "will continue until Gaddafi fully complies with the terms of 1973." Clinton was referring to UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which demands an immediate ceasefire, authorizes all means to protect civilians from harm except for foreign military occupation, and establishes a panel of experts to monitor the situation.

"There is much debate between world powers as to the justification of the no-fly zone declaration. Brazil, India, Russia and China have all voiced discontent. Russia regards Libya as its most important ally in the Muslim world, and has benefits in seeing the current regime continue. Russia and China, following typical rhetoric, voiced concern over what they perceive to be an invasion of the Libyan government’s sovereignty. The US and allies counter this by officially stating that they no longer view Gaddafi’s regime as the legitimate government of Libya, but that the National Transitional Council now represents the wishes of the Libyan people. India wishes that further preventative measures had been taken instead of military force, which India believes will only exacerbate the situation. Germany, an important member of the military alliance, supports this stance on the conflict and has provided no support for the military campaign. Though it was initially stated that members of the Arab League supported intervention, official statements from member states show widespread disapproval.

"The Allies have been acting under the justification that a failure to act in favor of the Libyan rebels would have cost countless civilian lives. It has also been recently stated by President Obama that the US has a "strategic interest" in seeing the creation of a free Libya. This is true for two main reasons. Libya holds the world’s ninth largest proven oil reserves, which it has historically not traded with the US. The government of Libya is also known to be a sponsor of terrorism. Removal of the Libyan government would cement the opportunity for a new era of bilateral relations.

"Even with the intervention, the conflict’s final result is not set. Battles still rage in various towns. Reports are circulating that the western port of Misratah has fallen to government forces after an incredibly heavy siege. According to witnesses there was slaughter on an unprecedented scale. According to CNN, government supporters are chasing journalists away from the city, which had a population of over 500,000 before the uprising. This could mean the government is trying to cover up more brutality than initially reported. News sources also report that rebel troops appear wary and "shell-shocked."

"Libya’s future is uncertain. What was a three-week protest for Egypt has turned into an almost two-month long bloodbath. The possibility of reconciliation between the two sides of the conflict is slim. The possibility of a ceasefire and eventual split between loyalist Libya and liberal Libya is almost as unlikely, as India has voiced serious opposition to such a proposal and it is certain that Russia and China, both of whom did not support the Kosovo split, would support such opposition. With these options discarded, there is little hope of a peaceful end to the conflict.

"The intervention in Libya shows a pragmatic shift in US foreign policy that is characteristic of the Obama administration. Just as President Clinton authorized the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, President Obama has used the powers of his office to act unilaterally without the consent of Congress to safeguard Libyan lives and American interests without committing the U.S. military for the long-term. The administration has also been a vocal supporter of the Libyan peoples’ right to self-determination, with Secretary of State Clinton saying, "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."