The Libyan civil war continued over the weekend with the usual stalemate. Gadhafi’s forces bombarded Ajdabiya on the eastern front, and both residents and rebel fighters alike fled the town. Meanwhile, Misurata, the last rebel stronghold in the west, has been under bombardment for weeks, and the civilian casualties from rocket attacks are rising. Hundreds if not thousands of families are trying to leave on humanitarian evacuations from the port every day. Just today, Gadhafi struck a deal with the UN to allow humanitarian supplies into Misurata. This would provide access to food and medicine, and safe passage for refugees. But it’s unclear if such a scheme will hold.
The situation in Misurata is bleak: hospital officials confirm 17 dead yesterday. As that continues, regardless of the UN effort you will hear the cries from residents of the need for more airstrikes or even ground troops. After all, the logic is exactly the same: the UN needed to prevent a massacre in Benghazi. Why not Misurata, the third-largest city in Libya, as well?
Mohamed, a rebel spokesman who asked for his full name to be withheld, told the Observer via Skype that “the killing and destruction and human suffering” was relentless. “The massacre that was prevented in Benghazi is now happening in Misrata. There is nowhere safe in the city.” [...]
Nato itself is in a quandary about how to break the military deadlock in Libya. UN resolution 1973 specifically rules out a “foreign occupation force”. Amid mounting calls for a Nato ground presence in Libya, politicians, lawyers and military chiefs are poring over the resolution’s semantics to establish whether such a step – with its enormous political and military risks and implications – could be taken.
Mohamed said the rebel opposition in Misrata had appealed to Nato to send ground troops to relieve the city. They were, he said, grateful for the international coalition’s military intervention. “But we’re surprised. And we’re angry. We are angered by the lack of hits on Gaddafi’s troops by Nato forces.
“This reluctance and hesitation is allowing him to suffocate the city. It’s unbearable. It’s getting to the point where it’s troops on the ground – or it’s over. We are so grateful and relieved by the international community’s efforts, it’s just that they didn’t go the extra steps, and that has played into the tyrant’s hands.”
With the coalition leaders in Britain, France and the United States saying that the NATO mission won’t end until Gadhafi exits, I see ground troops as unavoidable at this point to fulfill that mission. It’s just not going to be possible to pound Gadhafi into submission from the air. His forces are nimble, and he has the money he needs to keep this going for a long time. British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated yesterday that his country would not send ground forces, echoing what Barack Obama has said about the US. If it’s the difference between preventing a massacre in Misurata or not, I don’t see how they resist, or at least how they keep up the self-righteous notion of a humanitarian “responsibility to protect.”