Thursday, March 31, 2011

Video of Libya Rebels Firing Rockets Near Brega

Raw Video during Thursday's fighting in the Battle of Brega from RT TV.

Rebels Battle for Brega -- Again

The ragtag band of Libyan rebels in the East are battling in Brega, struggling today to try not to cede anymore of its captured oil towns along the Mediterranean to advancing troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Armed with only with machine guns, rocket-propelled grade launchers and mortars, the 1,000 or so rebels sought to stave off the larger, armor-fortified loyalist forces who have already re-taken the oil patch towns of Ras Lanuf, Bin Jawad and Es Sider.

The rebels, who have been in retreat since Monday after a more than 300-mile push forward over the weekend, contend the way they can hold their ground is with air cover from NATO and its partners. Coalition airstrikes cleared the path for the weekend offensive by the rebels.

"We want more to bring a speedy end to this," Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, an opposition spokesman, told CNN. "A strike is not a strike unless it kills," he said.

NATO warplanes have been hampered by sandstorms and other lousy weather in eastern Libya, but a diplomatic source said late last night there is some support for the coalition resuming those airstrikes. But with NATO now in charge, the next round of airstrikes will likely be led by the French and British.

“We will not be taking an active part in strike activities and believe our allies can sustain this for some period of time,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee today.

Even with CIA and British MI6 operatives on the ground, so far the rebel force is a poorly armed and undisciplined army that has shown few signs of understanding military tactic, exports have said. NBC's Richard Engel reported he has seen rebels fire a mortar dangerously without being anchored, rocket launchers aimed backwards and fighters who do not know how to even load their weapons.

"It's pretty much a pick-up ballgame," Gates said, with the rebels devoid of "command and control."

On the political front, NATO and the White House were hoping yesterday's political defection by Gadhafi's foreign minister and ex-intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, was a signal that the regime is on its way to toppling. Kusa is in London, where he is said to be providing valuable information to the coalition partners.

“This is a major defection and a significant blow to the Gaddafi regime. Moussa Kusa is one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides who can help provide critical intelligence about Gaddafi’s current state of mind and military plans. It also demonstrates that the people around Gaddafi understand his regime is in disarray," said Tommy Vietor, White House National Security Council spokesman.

"As the President said the other night, ‘it should be clear to those around Gaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side.’ The people around Gaddafi have to choose whether to place their bet on a regime that has lost all legitimacy and face grave consequences, or get on the right side of history. Moussa Kusa’s decision shows which way the wind is blowing in Tripoli,” Vietor added.

The U.S. is waiting to learn more about the rebels before they start handing them more sophisticated weapons. Peter Bergen, one of the top terrorism experts in the world, wrote today that he does not believe the rebel force is loaded with Al Qaeda operatives, but there is reason to be concerned about that changing.

U.S. Hails India-Pakistan 'Cricket Diplomacy'

It may be opening day for Major League Baseball, but it is the widely reported cricket match between India and Pakistan that has caught the eye of the State Department.

"The United States congratulates the people of Pakistan and India on the cricket match between the two nations’ teams, and their respective Prime Ministers on their promising 'cricket diplomacy,'" said acting deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

"The match showcased world-class cricket, sportsmanship, and statesmanship. The expansion of dialogue between India and Pakistan is a welcome and encouraging development for both countries, for the region, and for the world. It builds on the substantial progress achieved by the Interior and Home secretaries earlier this week," Toner said of on-going diplomatic efforts.

"The United States welcomes the ongoing engagement between India and Pakistan. We continue to believe that talks should continue at a pace, time, and scope of the two governments’ choosing. We applaud both leaders and their citizens for the creative initiative, warm spirit and friendly competition on display during the match," Toner concluded in his written statement this afternoon.

India defeated Pakistan by 29 runs in the World Cup semi-final match Wednesday. India faces Sri Lanka tomorrow for the championship.

So What's The French Foreign Legion Up To?

The U.S. and Britain both have spies on the ground in Libya right now, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates vows it will be over his dead body before American troops are fighting against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

"Not as long as I’m in this job,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee today when asked if U.S. combat troops would be inserted into the Libyan revolution.

In arguing for the no-fly zone, President Obama has stressed the "unique capabilities" the U.S. had to unleash hell on Gadhafi at the outset of the air campaign, like Tomahawk cruise missiles and unmanned drones. Gates, however, was clear that combat troops are not unique to the U.S.

“That’s not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that,” Gates snapped.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen agreed.

“There are plenty of countries that have the abilities, the arms, the skill set, to be able to do this,” Mullen said.

Add Canada to the list of nations that refuses to send combat troops to Libya. Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted he would not be "putting boots on the ground."


Beau Geste, s'il vous plait?

U.S. Hands NATO Libya Air Campaign

U.S. Africa Command handed over control of the Libya air campaign to NATO early this morning, NATO and AFRICOM confirmed.

"On Thursday morning at 0600 GMT (2 a.m. EDT), NATO took sole command of international air operations over Libya," Rasmussen said.

The handover came after participating nations in the mission, called "Operation Unified Protector" transferred their military assets to NATO's control.

"In line with the mandate of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, NATO's focus is on protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas against the threat of attack," Rasmussen said.

But it was Twitter and AFRICOM that tipped off some of us that the transition had gone down this morning.

At about 4 a.m. EDT, AFRICOM Tweeted: "@USAfricaCommand: Many thanx to 1000s Twitter followers past 2 weeks-w/ #AFRICOM handover 2 NATO & focus on conflict prevention, please consider staying w/ us."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Raw Video: USS Kearsarge in Action Off Libya

Harrier jets, Sea hawk helicopter, Super Stallion and Osprey take off and land on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge  during Libya missions (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mike Lenart/Released)

Gas Prices Climbing Again

On the same day President Obama called for reducing U.S. oil imports by a third in the next decade, the average price nationwide of a gallon regular unleaded gasoline came on at $3.595, AAA reported.

It was a slight uptick from yesterday's average price.

Regular unleaded gas is most expensive in Hawaii ($4.234), followed by Alaska ($4.057) and California ($4.039), Triple-A reported.

The highest recorded average price of regular was $4.114 July 17, 2008, the auto club said.

Rebels Overrun in Libyan Oil Towns

Updated 11 p.m. edt

There is a good chance airstrikes that can help the retreating Libyan rebels in the eastern coastal cities will resume once sandstorms die down, a well-placed diplomatic source said tonight.

"The French and British want the strikes to resume," the source said. "It's the weather, not politics... Nobody wants to see one of their jets go down in a sandstorm."

The running rebel force of about 1,000 poorly trained and ill-equipped fighters in somewhere between Brega and Ajdabiya, fleeing Moammar Gadhafi's armor and tactically superior force.

CIA operatives, meanwhile, may already be on the ground in Libya, trying to link up with the rebel forces and help them in any way. The covert operators theoretically will have the capability to communicate with the NATO coalition, perhaps changing the game on the ground as if they end up spotting and painting targets for the Western and Arab aircraft.

There were also reports that British intelligence operatives also will be on the ground in Libya to help the rebels.

On the political front, Gadhafi suffered a setback when his Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, an ex-Libyan intelligence chief, resigned and sought refuge in London. Kusa had been talking to the State Department for days.

end update

Updated 6:30 p.m. edt

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the Reuters report today that President Barack Obama signed a secret order sometime the past three weeks authorizing covert operations in support of Libyan rebels.

"As is common practice for this and all Administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters. I will reiterate what the President said yesterday – no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya," Carney said.

"We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in. We’re assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," Carney added.

end update

Updated 4:30 p.m. edt

This just moved a short while ago on the Reuters wire. It could give the Libyan rebels something to be hopeful about as they fall back under assault by Moammar Gadhafi's forces:

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

end update

Easy Come, easy go.

Over the weekend Libyan rebels captured the key oil ports of eastern Libya and began talk of selling oil through Qatar. Today the 1,000-man rebel "army" has been pushed out of those towns by Moammar Gadhafi's better-armed force.

Scratch Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf and Brega off the rebels "captured" list. The force is now pulling back to Ajdabiya. The New York Times has a money quote today from a rebel spokesman on the "tactical" withdrawal: "(The rebel force) dissolved like snow in the sand."

Did anyone really think Gadhafi would give up the eastern oil patch without a fight?

The high-speed retreat points to how essential the road-clearing air cover was to the rebels' swift advance over the weekend. Now under the control of NATO, there were no fighter jets seen today for a second-straight day flying above in eastern Libya. Instead, coalition warplanes were striking Misurata, where a rebel force is surrounded by Gadhafi armor.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are on Capitol Hill today for secret briefings on Libya and Gadhafi.

Video: Airborne RAF Tornadoes Refueling En Route Libya

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

No Weapons Yet for Rebels: NATO Studying Rebel Army

Updated 11:30 p.m. edt

President Obama left open a possibility tonight for arming the Libyan rebels, but the question remained over timing and how long the insurgents can hang on against Moammar Gadhafi's tanks and artillery.

"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in,' he said in an interview with NBC News. "We're still making an assessment partly about what Gadhafi's forces are going to be doing."

Obama noted that the air campaign has only been going on for nine days, promising it would continue to pummel Gadhafi's armor.

"One of the questions that we want to answer is do we start getting to a stage where Gadhafi's forces are sufficiently degraded where it may not be necessary to arm opposition groups," Obama said.

end update

Updated 7:15 p.m. edt

President Obama said in an interview with CBS today that he believes the people around Moammar Gadhafi think the Libyan strongman's "days are numbered" and will he eventually have to negotiate his departure from power.

"I think that Gadhafi's camp, people around him, are starting to recognize that their options are limited and their days are numbered, and so they're probably reaching out to a range of different people. But that information may not have filtered to Gadhafi yet, and I think it's too early for us to start having formal negotiations," Obama said.

"Qaddafi knows exactly what he needs to do to stop the constant bombardment that he's under, and it may at some point shift to him figuring out how to negotiate an exit, but I don't think we're at that point yet," he added.

Obama gave interviews today while in New York to the three major television networks.

Responding to new questions (see below) over whether any of the rebel fighters are members of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Obama said insurgent leaders that U.S. officials have met with all passed muster.

"Well, first of all, I think it's important to note that the people that we've met with have been fully vetted, so we have a clear sense of who they are, and so far they're saying the right things, and most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who appear to be credible. That doesn't mean that all the people, among all the people who opposed Qaddafi there might not be elements that are unfriendly to the United States and our interests," Obama said.

"That's why I think it's important for us not to jump in with both feet but to carefully consider: What are the goals of the opposition? What kind of transition do they want to bring about inside of Libya? Because our main concern here is the Libyan people as well as stability in the region," he added.

end update

Coalition nations did not make a decision today in London as to whether they will arm Libyan rebels, who, according to NATO's commander, are rumored to have fighters linked to jihadist groups among them.

"There could be legitimate transfer of arms if a country chose to do that. We have not made that decision at this time," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters after the meetings.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said arming the rebels "was not raised" at all at the meeting attended by representatives of the Libyan rebel government, 40 countries, the United Nations and the Arab League.

"We welcome any help we can get from any country," Interim Transitional National Council spokesman Mahmoud Shamma said at the London meetings. "We don't have the arms, otherwise we would finish Gaddafi in a few days."

The coalition forces are once again stalled and are ceding territory today back to Moammar Gadhafi's forces as they attempted to push from their stronghold in Eastern Libya to the central part of the war-ravaged nation.

But it appears that until the coalition gets a handle on just who the rebels are, getting them their own armor and anti-tank weapons is still a ways off.

U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander, told a Senate hearing today intelligence indicates there are "flickers" of jihadists among the rebels, but there is not enough information to say for sure.

"We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential Al Qaeda, Hezbollah. We've seen different things," Stavridis said. "But at this point I don't have detail sufficient to say there is a significant Al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the known rebel leaders, however, pass muster with the U.S., but they will not speak for the background of every Libyan rebel fighter.

“The leaders that Secretary Clinton met have made clear what they’re principles are and we believe that they are meritorious,” Carney told reporters. “That doesn’t mean that everyone who opposes Moammar Gadhafi in Libya is someone whose ideals we can support.”

Stavridis told the Senate hearing that NATO and the coalition are trying to gather all the Intel they can on the rebel army.

"We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces," he said.

It would not be the first time NATO has helped rebels with jihadist elements. It has been documented that the fighters in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s who were threatened by the genocidal Serbian leadership's "ethnic cleansing" campaign. The consensus is it was the right decision to help the rebels in Bosnia and Kosovo, since it has not come back to haunt NATO.

Syria Going Better Than Libya for Opposition?

Syria is now being run by a caretaker government after the cabinet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepped down as a concession to protesters who refused to be broken by a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Dozens of Syrians haver been killed, beaten or imprisoned by al-Assad's secret police in recent weeks. The Syrian dictator is expected to address the unrest in a speech tomorrow before the Syrian parliament to address the parliament, state-run television reported.

Some Syrian protesters demanding political and social reforms are skeptical that the resignation today of the ruling Baath Party government is a real step in that direction.

"What they hear in the media is completely different to what they see on the ground. That is why they don't believe the promises of the government that it will reform itself," Syrian national Mounir Atassi tells the BCC in this article that delves into the history behind the al-Assad regime.

Guided-Missile Destroyer Fires At Libyan Targets

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout launches a barrage of Tomahawk missiles against Moammar Gadafi during weekend attack in Operation Odyssey Dawn. (U.S. Army video by SPC Neil Standfield/Released)

Battle for Gadhafi's Birthplace Commences

Updated 5:20 p.m. est

Elements of the Libyan rebel force reportedly made it within 35 miles of Sirte, but reinforcements around Moammar Gadhafi's hometown pushed them and the rest of their army back today beyond Bin Jawad, according to battlefield reports.

Bin Jawad, about 100 miles east of Sirte, was taken during the insurgents' more than 300-mile sweep over the weekend. The BBC's Nick Springate reports the rebels have lost Bin Jawad, and most have now retreated further east, beyond Ras Lanuf.

Gadhafi's forces, which retreated about 200 miles in one day during the rebel offensive, have regrouped in and around Sirte in an effort to halt the insurgents for a second time this month (in just about the same place where they was stopped the first time, around March 13).

Sirte is believed to be the last major urban battlefield until Misurata to its west, where the Eastern Libyan rebel army would link up with the insurgent force fighting there and then band together for the march toward Tripoli.

It may take a while for that scenario to play out, if at all. The rebels remain in need of armor and anti-tank weapons to defeat Gadhafi's tanks and artillary, but there was no movement on that today in London where the coalition nations met.

There are also indications that civilians loyal to Gadhafi, many believed to be from the Libyan dictator's own Qadhadhfa tribe, are armed and ready to fight a street-to-street campaign. That type of warfare would likely make the march west even more difficult, as well as threatening the safety of innocent civilians in Sirte.

end update

The battle for Sirte has been joined, and as predicted the fight for the city where Moammar Gadhafi was born looks to be bloody and a bit more prolonged than the engagements of the past few days.

The rebel sweep across the coastal highway is stalled tonight in the desert 35 miles east of Sirte in a town called Harawa, where people dressed as civilians (and they may very well be) fired on the insurgent force.

The rebels then pulled back from the village and came under heavy artillery fire, it was reported.

The new rebel front in Central/Eastern Libya after gains made over the weekend.

CNN military analysis retired Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's former Supreme Allied Commander, said tonight he thinks the rebels need to negotiate with the people to get out of the way before they launch an all-out attack on Sirte.

If this offensive fails it could put the revolution into a stalemate, as many observers have noted.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, disclosed that it quietly called in its close-in air power over the weekend, using A-10 Thunderbolt tank-killers and AC-130 gunships to pound Gadhafi's ground forces. The Pentagon previously would not discuss the use of those planes, but it is clear they saw a role for using the aircraft that are vulnerable to small-arms fire because they fly closer to the ground that the fighters and bombers used thus far by the coalition.

"We have employed A-10s and AC-130s over the weekend," said Pentagon spokesman Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said, without naming targets.

The A-10 is armed a multi-barrelled 30mm cannon that fires nearly 4,000  armor-piercing rounds per minute. The AC-130 gunship is a converted transport plane that packs a punch with its 105mm cannon, as well as the 20mm & 40mm guns.
The rebels march to Tripoli, from one end of Libya to nearly the other.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama Says US Had To Act And Did

President Obama sent a message tonight to some of the naysayers on his Libya policy:

"It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.  And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right," Obama said.

"So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear: the United States of America has done what we said we would do."

Obama framed his anticipated Libya speech tonight around the greatness of America and what separates it from others, with a genuine tip of the hat to the U.S. Armed Forces.

"I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform who, once again, have acted with courage, professionalism and patriotism. They have moved with incredible speed and strength. Because of them and our dedicated diplomats, a coalition has been forged and countless lives have been saved," Obama said in his remarks at the National Defense University.

Obama said NATO will take over the mission Wednesday with the U.S. playing a support role, as promised. The U.S. will not increase its role and while it would be best for Gadhafi to go, regime change is not the mission's purpose, Obama said.

The President politely made the contrast with the Iraq War as he reinforced his decision against using ground forces in Libya.

"To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future.  But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya," Obama said.

The President called on America's better angels to see that sometimes the greatest nation in the world is called to step up. Libya is one such case, especially as it threatened the stability of the fragile emerging democratic neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia.

"To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.  Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries.  The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," Obama said.

"Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership."
You can watch the President's speech here.

Essay: Libya Is A War For All The Right Reasons

The first time I was exposed to the Navy's ad and slogan, "A Global force for good," I could not  keep myself from thinking out loud that the marketing people had poured a little too much sugar on its messaging this time.

"That's Madison Avenue packaging. The last two wars we got into were for revenge," I said.

"I like it," a neo-hawk friend snapped back as we watched The Winter X Games. "It sends the right message."

The back and forth went on for a bit with neither of us swayed by the other's argument.

Well, as the saying goes, seeing is believing, and given the U.S. response in Libya, now I am a believer.

The Navy owns the ad, but not the message: the Air Force, Marines and Army personnel involved right now in Libya are all a force for good. They have stopped much of Moammar Gadhafi's killings, they are trying to help avoid a humanitarian crisis and the playing field has been leveled for the rebels.

The good guys (the coalition and NATO) are winning, but somehow President Obama's critics find fault in his soul-searching decision to avoid another Srebrenica, another Rwanda, another Darfur, another Warsaw Ghetto. His critics charge that Obama should have sought congressional approval, suggesting erroneously that he did something unconstitutional.

Some Republicans, like Newt Gingrich, even went so far as to flip-flop in order to take a politically charged swipe at Obama's Libya policy. Gingrich was actually for a no-fly zone before he was against it.

Liberal Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich hinted that Obama had committed an impeachable act by circumventing Congress. Some of my leftist colleagues were split: Some wrote Kucinich was right, others accused him of providing aid and comfort to his enemy, the Republicans.

Washington journalists dine out on this kind of political discourse, relishing the quotes that spew from all comers and gleefully scribbling every word. But with American servicemen and women in action right now in Libya are these lawmakers, and their echo chamber, going too far this time to score political points?

During the buildup and early days of the Iraq war, the White House would question the patriotism of anyone who criticized the beat of then-President George W. Bush's war drums.

Bush's Barnumesque buildup to the war back then would be laughable at this point, if more than a 100,000 Americans, Brits, Iraqis and others had not lost their lives, while countless others were injured, many severely, in that war of revenge.

In "selling" the Libya mission, there were no "slam dunk" predictions that weapons of mass destruction would turn up, no counterfeit documents claiming a despot was buying "yellow cake uranium" in Nigeria, no rumors of the dictator's connection to Al Qaeda, and a CIA operative's career would not be destroyed for political revenge.

No, instead Team Barack argued: Innocent Libyans are going to die under Gadhafi's orders, and our allies in that neighborhood could suffer from the disruption to the region.

And, thanks to a special breed of  government worker, the men and women who wear the uniforms of the American Armed Forces, lives have been saved in Libya. As Obama has said, it has so far been a success.

There will be plenty of time to hear from congressional committees and cloistered constitutional scholars on whether Obama overreached in not seeking the blessing of Congress. For now, though, it may be best to not politicize the essential work of the global force for good.

Libyan Rebels Control Eastern Oil Fields

The Libyan rebels may be the wealthiest revolutionaries on the planet.

The rebels this weekend took control of the vast oil fields and key oil ports in Eastern Libya.

The main oil ports in Eastern Libya, including Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk are all now in rebel control. Many of the giant oil tanks are full at the terminals, experts believe, because shipments of Libyan petroleum have ceased to move during the fighting.

Ali Tarhouni, finance and oil minister for the rebel government, said Qatar has agreed to market the captured Libyan oil and shipping could resume by the end of this week.

"We contacted the oil company of Qatar and thankfully they agreed to take all the oil that we wish to export and market this oil for us," Tarhouni, a University of Washington economist  who returned to Libya from exile little more than a month ago to join the rebellion, told Reuters.

United Arab Emirates reportedly has also made offers to help sell the Libyan oil.

The main oil ports in Eastern Libya, including Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk are all now in rebel control. Many of the giant oil tanks are full at some of those terminals, experts believe, because shipping Libyan petroleum has ceased during the fighting.

The rebels captured the precious oil fields and terminals after coalition air strikes and the fast-moving opposition force chased Gadhafi's army from the coastal cities of Eastern Libya, retreating more than 200 miles in a single day.

Libya produced 1.6 million barrels of oil per day before the revolt, about 2% of world's oil supplies. Libyan output has fallen off to between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels per day , but Tarhouni said he thinks output could quickly get back to about 300,000 barrels per day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raw Video: Gadhafi's Armor After French Air Force Strikes

Video taken on the ground by RT newsperson who is following the rebel force.

Rebel Offensive Still Moves West; NATO to Run Show

Updated 11:45 p.m. set

The coalition turned their sites on Sirte today as rebel forces moved carefully towards what could become a major engagement with Moammar Gadhafi's forces in the city where he was born.

Coalition jets were seen and about a dozen blasts could be heard by reporters visiting Sirte,located less than 300 miles from Tripoli The Washington Post reported. Coalition strikes and anti-aircraft fire were also heard around Tripoli today.

The rag-tag rebel force and their column of person vehicles and pickup trucks with machine guns and rocket launchers mounted in the back was marching westward down the coastal highway after taking a string of town since they launched the offensive late last week.

Most of the territory had been in the hands of the rebels previously, but Sirte is nerw territory that has remained in Gadhafi's grip. His forces are believed to have substancial numbers in Sirte. The Wall Street Journal cited a person close to the Libyan military command who said loyalist reinforcements had been sent to Sirt from the southern towns of Sebha, Waddan and Al-Jufra.

end update

Updated 5:45 p.m.

Statement today by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Libya:

"NATO Allies have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the United Nations Security Council Resolution. Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime. NATO will implement all aspects of the UN Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.

"This is a very significant step, which proves NATO's capability to take decisive action.
In the past week, we have put together a complete package of operations in support of the United Nations Resolution by sea and by air. We are already enforcing the arms embargo and the No Fly Zone, and with today's decision we are going beyond. We will be acting in close coordination with our international and regional partners to protect the people of Libya.
We have directed NATO's top operational Commander to begin executing this operation with immediate effect."

end update

Libyan rebels stormed westward again today, re-capturing the oil town Ras Lanuf and nearby Bin Jawad, apparently girding for a showdown in coming days with limping loyalist forces in the birthplace of Moammar Gadhafi: Sirte.

The rebel charge came as NATO agreed to take over the entire mission over Libya, Reuters reports.

U.S., French and British warplanes cleared the road for the fast-moving offensive, taking out Gadhafi's armor and troops, leveling the playing field for the outgunned rebels (Defense Secretary Robert Gates charged that Gadhafi is moving bodies that Libyan forces have killed to bombed out coalition target sites).

The rebels claim they will begin shipping oil as early as this week after re-taking the oil centers they pulled out of more than a week ago.

BBC's Ben Brown in Ras Lanuf reports, "It's been a remarkable day for the rebels. After seizing Ajdabiya, they have advanced westwards alsong the coastal highway at breakneck speed. Town after town as fallen to them - Brega, Ugayla, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad. It has been hard at times for us to keep up with them. The rebels are in a state of high excitement, exhilarated."

Brown added, "They can hardly believe the progress they have made... But the truth is that they never would have made this breakthrough if it had not been for the devastating coalition air strikes outside Ajdabiya on Thursday and Friday. They destroyed dozens of Col Gaddafi's tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces."

Taking Sirte, to the west, may be different story, however.

"The rebels claim that on Monday they could be in Sirte - Col Gaddafi's birthplace and heartland. Yet, the closer they advance towards Tripoli, the more of a fight the regime is likely to put up. Today may have been the easy part," Brown reported.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

RAF Tornado Destroys Libyan Tanks

Exclusive video obtained by Daily Telegraph.

Rebels Take Key City of Ajdabiya

Updated 11:15 p.m. est

There are reports tonight that Moammar Gadhafi's forces pulled back further west, ceding the oil port of Brega west of Ajdabiya to the rebels marching to expand their territory under the cover of coalition jets and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

“We are in the centre of Brega,” Abdelsalam al-Maadani told AFP by telephone. “Gaddafi‘s forces are on the retreat and should now be at Al-Bisher, west of Brega.”

If reports are accurate, rebels recaptured Brega after withdrawing from the city March 13.

Earlier, the rebels captured the strategically located city of Ajdabiya to the east.

“We’re succeeding in our mission," President Obama said in his weekly Saturday morning address recorded before word of the rebel conquests.


For the first time since the Libyan opposition inherited the greatest air force in the world more than a week ago, the rebel army launched an offensive today that captured the key eastern city of Ajdabiya.

"Without the planes we couldn't have done this. Gadhafi's weapons are at a different level than ours," said Ahmed Faraj, 38, a rebel fighter from Ajdabiya. "With the help of the planes we are going to push onward to Tripoli, God willing."

In Misurata, truckloads of snipers were seen getting out of vehicles outside that city and moving towards positions where they could fire on rebels and civilians, an eyewitness told CNN. Coalition strikes pushed Gadhafi's armor out of Misurata, but the snipers have been difficult to target and disperse.

And in a sign that Gadhafi's brutality against civilians has not ceased, a Libyan woman ran to a hotel housing reporters today in Tripoli and told journalists she had been raped and beaten by the despot's thugs. There is video of her being dragged away by Gadhafi's secret police here from CNN.

Rejuvenated rebel forces launched their first offensive since they were nearly wiped out last weekend by Gadhafi's forces. French warplanes ended Gadhafi's forces of destroying the rebel army in the initial coalition mission. Marine Harriers mopped up following days.

Ajdabiya is considered to be the gateway to the de facto rebel capital, Benghazi. Conversely, the rebels can now move forces forward and use Ajdabiya as a springboard to eventually move on Tripoli.

French and British warplanes yesterday hammered Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Ajdabiya, taking aim at government artillery and armor after the Libyan dictator refused to agree to a ceasefire. The air attacks softened up Gadhafi's forces, allowing the outgunned rebels to win the importantant battle.

Weekly Address: The Military Mission in Libya

President Obama says in his weekly address that the military action in Libya has shown "progress" so far.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today's MidEast Unrest: The Empires Strike Back

Updated 6:20 p.m. est

NATO will take over command of the no-fly zone and Naval arms embargo "in a couple days," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced today.

"NATO has now decided to take over the no-fly zoned over Libya," he said on CNN.

For the time being, separately coalition forces will fly missions aimed at protecting rebels from Moammar Gadhafi's forces, he said.

"We are considering right now whether we should take on that broader responsibility," Rasmussen said.

end update

The Turkish parliament gave the green light today to sending four frigates, a submarine and a support vessel to join a NATO naval operation to enforce a U.N.-sanctioned arms embargo off Libya, a key step toward moving the U.S. closer to handing off command of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

A French fighter jet blasted a Libyan plane on a runway that was in violation of the no-fly zone, the French Foreign Ministry said.

Initially it was reported the French fighter had shot down a Libyan jet
today near Miserata, but that report was later clarified.

There is an ear-full of chatter coming from military analysts over whether it will take ground forces to help the rebels defeat Moammar Gadhafi.

Richard Engel on MSNBC last night told Rachel Maddow he has spoken to Libyan rebels who told him they are "looking actively to hire mercenaries" to fight and help coordinate with the coalition. The rebels are also open to having special operation teams on the ground to  coordinate air attacks, Engel reported.

NBC's chief foreign correspondent also said out loud what a lot of military strategists have been thinking, but so far has not been hinted at around the Pentagon: Apaches and A-10 tank killers are best suited to do the job if Gadhafi's forces remain in the cities like Misurata. That scenario raises the risks facing U.S. forces, and there is an election next year. At first glance, close-in air support is a long shot, at best.

The Washington Post takes a look deep inside how a languishing ferry loaded with Americans (and other factors) contributed to the timing of the Obama administration's move to freeze Gadhafi's assets.

Turning to domestic politics, GOP House Speaker John Boehner wrote Obama to complain about being kept in the dark about Libya and a mixed message from the administration.

"We obviously take very seriously... the need for congressional consultations. And we have done them and will continue to do them," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. I would also say that it’s important to remember that in the run-up to this action, we were criticized somewhat -- in fact, fairly frequently -- by those who felt like we weren’t moving quickly enough, and now some are criticizing us for going too quickly, and what the President did was make an action based on an imminent threat of a humanitarian nature to a great number of Libyans, and he has done that with a great number of consultations with Congress that will continue. But I think it’s important to remember where we were a week ago and where we are now."

The White House has been walking a tightrope, but nonetheless has been pushing back (in some cases loudly) at reports or comments that it circumvented congressional action when it jumped into the fray in Libya. The genocide that went unchecked in Rwanda (then-President Clinton later apologized for his inaction) played a big role in Obama's change of heart, USA Today's David Jackson blogs.

So far the Obama administration and its allies have tried to brush off those complaints as political not constitutional, and even a few conservative sources proudly but privately acknowledge the U.S. military appears to be getting the job done in Libya as of now.

They know at the White House they dodged a bullet with the successful rescue of the American pilots whose plane crashed in the desert.

"We were very lucky that we didn't have another Mogadishu," an Army source admitted.

The New York Times Nick Kristof's "Hugs From Libyans," his column arguing that the military intervention is historic and essential.


With legislature wired from the start, supporters approved President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s request for a 30-day state of emergency. The embattled tyrant, who has worked with the U.S. in targeting Al Qaeda terrorists, is barely clinging to power and his government fractures.

Yemen's leader says he accepts transition plan by the end of 2011, CNN says.

A thorough and thoughtful photo montage of the Yemenis revolution from Foreign Policy magazine.


At least 20,000 mourners and protesters took to Syrian streets today protest the wave of killings of civilians by Syrian security forces.

A day after hundreds of people marched against the government for a fifth consecutive day, Syrian forces killed at least seven protesters in a mosque in Daraa, bringing to 13 the number of demonstrators killed in recent days.

Some counts put the death toll yesterday at 14 Syrian protesters killed.

In an editorial, The Washingtom Post leaves little doubt where it stands: Syria is the next front.


What diplomacy? MSNBC asks in analysis of Bahrain protests and policies.

Gulf Air and Bahrain Air cancelled all flights in and out of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport amid the unrest in Bahrain.

"While US and international attention is focused largely elsewhere in the region, especially Libya, the violent crackdown against protestors in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain may well pose a bigger threat to the entire region's stability," Middle East scholar Salman Shaikh posted on Foreign Policy magazine's blog. "Urgent action is therefore needed to de-escalate the situation in Bahrain and create the trust necessary for the government and opposition to start a much delayed national dialogue that charts the future of the country."

Time reports on its blog "thugs hired by Bahrain's government, posing in civilian clothing at checkpoints around the capital" are "increasingly targeting the country's medical personnel, who have been treating injured protesters since the first day the Shi'ite uprising against Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa turned violent."


A day after a British woman was killed in a bus bomb blast in Jerusalem, the Israelis attacked targets in retaliatory strikes in Gaza today, and Hamas responded with rocket and mortar fire into Israel, Haaretz reports.

AIPAC apologizes for using bombing to raise money. The pro-Israel groups quickly jumped all over the tragedy yesterday, as it was reported here.

Saudi Arabia:

The Wall Street Journal reports Saudis raise pay and plan polls, but their woes linger in the kingdom.

Who Are Libya's Rebels?

The U.S., Western allies and the Arab states are trying to learn all they can about Libya's rebels, a rag-tag army who's enlistees appear to be a very loosely held political entity, at first look. 

Ali Tarhouni, a University of Washington economist who returned to Libya a month ago after 35 years in exile and now finds himself finance minister of the rebel government, is not afraid to admit the shortfalls of the rebel fighters.

“The process was, and is, very chaotic,” Tarhouni told The New York Times.

There is much to learn about these revolutionaries, experts say.

"Well we don’t know too much about the rebellion. We have been putting some emphasis on the foreign minister of interior Abdul Fataunis but other than him we really don't know too much about this opposition," Steven Cook, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, said on ABC's "Top Line" program."

"We have essentially intervened in a civil war. What we are trying to do through the implementation of the no-fly zone is essentially level the field so that the revolutionary forces will have somewhat of a fighting chance against Gadhafi's much superior military forces,” Cook added.

The Interim National Council named Mahmoud Jabril to head an interim government and assemble a cabinet, as rejuvenated rebels in Benghazi began taking steps towards toward forming their own government.

Some rebels in other parts of the country complained the government should not be formed until the war is over and it appears there will be some wrangling over that issue. There are deep divisions in Libya's tribal society.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with Jabril, and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz has convened his own meetings with leaders of the rebel's fledgeling Interim National Council, the provisional government based in Benghazi. President Obama has named an envoy to the rebels.

Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, who defected from Gadhafi to lead the rebel army, "has perhaps the most challenging job of all in eastern Libya: organizing a coherent fighting force that can mount an invasion of the west — something that will be difficult even after an extensive foreign bombing campaign," the STRATFOR military intelligence service said.

The lack of information and relationships with the rebels has slowed the "confidence-building" process, and because of that, it has hampered efforts to coordinate with the rebels, Yahoo reported on its Middle East diplomatic intelligence and security blog.

So Just Who Will Run The No-Fly Zone? TBD

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says foreign ministers from the Western coalition protecting the no-fly zone over Libya as well as Arab and Africans representatives plan to meet in London Tuesday, but the U.S. appparentlyuu is not ready to discuss plans for that session.

"Obviously, we remain in close contact. We’re aware of the meeting that was proposed. And obviously, (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and others remain in close contact with our allies and partners in the coalition, but nothing to announce specific to that meeting," said Mark Toner, acting deputy State Department spokesman.

President Obama has said he wants to turn over command and control of the Libya mission in a matter of days, but the question for now is to whom does the U.S. hand over control of Libya? ABC ponders the question.

The U.S. would prefer that NATO run the show, but the French government wants a hybrid, a steering committee that includes a seat for NATO and perhaps Arab members, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"It won't be NATO that will have the political steering of the operation," Juppe said.

There are problems that must be attended to quickly in the coming days and for whichever entity takes over command for the next phase.

"Without substantial defections from the loyalist army, the rebels cannot hope to become a cohesive military force unless they receive weapons and training from outside, which would seem to be in breach of the UN arms embargo," The Economist opines in its Clausewitz blog, cooling defence, security and diplomatic issues.

The Christian Science Monitor noted, "The resolution had broad international support when it passed 10-0 with 5 abstentions. But now, as questions arise over what a no-fly zone actually entails and what “all necessary measures” means."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gadhafi Confidantes Reportedly In Touch With U.S.

There are more signs today that top people near Moammar Gadhafi are at least sweating their future, feeling out the U.S. and Arab allies for options as the coalition continues to shrink the forces loyal to the Libyan dictator.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spurred the palace intrigue when she revealed to ABC's Diane Sawyer the U.S. had picked up on signals that people might be interested in who might be willing to host a deposed leader.

Following up, CNN reports tonight that "none of Gadhafi's inner circle have indicated Gadhafi was ready to leave, nor have any of them suggested they are ready to abandon Gadhafi," but they are talking to State Department officials.

Gadhafi's close confidant and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi calls the State Department almost daily, and Foreign Minister Musa Kusa has also been in touch more than once, senior U.S. officials told CNN.

Arab allies have told U.S. officials they have heard from people close to Gadhafi.

"They are indeed reaching out, but it's not clear to what end," one senior official said. "It's not clear what's the purpose of all these calls."

Israel No Longer Just a Spectator

After a deadly bomb blast ripped apart a bus in Jerusalem, pro-Israel groups snapped into action today, urging their supporters to lobby Congress to maintain its support for its ally in the tumultuous Middle East.

Until now Israel has played the role of cautious observer as the Pan-Arab freedom movement began in Tunisia, toppled their ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and has now swept throughout Arab kingdoms and dictatorships. From conversations with Israelis, the changes all around them more often trigger fear of the unknown, rather than euphoria over the potential for democratic reforms on the Arab street.

"Historically, when the peace process stalls, terrorists are quick to fill the vacuum. Some Arab governments like Syria may also be inciting violence against Israel to distract attention away from their own corruption and unpopularity," Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi wrote to supporters of her Washington-based organization, The Israel Project.

Mizrahi sent around pro-Israel speaking points to her group's email list, asking backers to write to their members of Congress to urge them to support the Jewish state.

But one Jewish lobbying group that advocates for peace on the Middle East, J-Street, may have a hard time selling its liberalk line in Israel, a blogger at The Boston Globe notes.

President Obama condemned the attack and offered condolences.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the bombing in Jerusalem today, as well as the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza in recent days. Together with the American people, I offer my deepest condolences for those injured or killed," Obama said. "There is never any possible justification for terrorism. The United States calls on the groups responsible to end these attacks at once and we underscore that Israel, like all nations, has a right to self-defense."

Obama also acknowledged the Palestinian victims of Israel's retaliatory attacks.

"We also express our deepest condolences for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza yesterday. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties," the President said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his top security advisers when the explosion ripped through the bus.

The bombing came "just hours after the southern Israeli city of Beersheva was hit by two Katyusha missiles from Palestinian militants in Gaza – the first such attack since the Gaza war ended two years ago," The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Laura Rozen, Yahoo's newly acquired Middle East maven, notes that it has been about four years since a bomb struck terror on Israeli territory.

Freedom Movement Sweeps Arabia

Since there is extraordinary activity, this blogger has compiled a timely nation-by-nation summary of the Pan-Arab Revolution and the freedom movement sweeping the Middle East.  It includes links to top stories today and analysis.


President Obama cut short today by a couple of hours his trip to Latin America to focus on the fighting in Libya, while NATO steps up its role in implementing  the no-fly zone.

NATO started sea patrols as air strikes hit Tripoli again today while some units loyal to Qadhafi were reported to have stalled in Misurata, The New York Times reports.

Obama still insists U.S. will hand over command and control of Libyan operations in a matter of days.

The misery in Misurata: Gadhafi snipers fight on. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signals in an interview with ABC the U.S. would welcome a Gadhafi exit, suggesting he or his friends might be sniffing around for a place for the despot to pitch his tent.


Yemen’s leader remains defiant amid the waves of protests and the increasing number of defections from his government. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s proposal was unclear, and the opposition called for his immediate exit, The NYTimes reports.

Saleh warns there could be a civil war triggered by attempts to stage a coup against his rule, the BBC reports.

Al Jazeera English reports: "Major-General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, the head of the north-western military zone and the first armoured division, announced his support for the protesters following a brutal crackdown. Other high-ranking officers that have defected include Brigadiers Hameed Al Koshebi, head of brigade 310 in the Omran area; Mohammed Ali Mohsen, who heads the eastern division; and Nasser Eljahori, head of brigade 121. General Ali Abdullaha Aliewa, an adviser to the Yemeni supreme leader of the army, also deserted the president."

The Washington Post highlights the problems the uprising in Yemen is causing in the hunt for suspected terrorists.


Time offers a take on the seeds of the Syrian revolt. 

Al Jazeera English ponders the potential for a Syrian revolution.

The BBC's running story on Syrian bloodshed.

And one from Haaretz.

Amnesty International wants Syrian deaths probed, Bloomberg reports.


Bahrain's dream to be the money capital of the Persian Gulf kingdom are fading fast amid escalating unrest in the tiny island state. The Zawya Dow Jones news service reports it is helping neighboring Doha and Dubai to lure international financial institutions.

Bahrain is not scoring any  better with the human rights watchdogs, who say the violations are mounting, VOA says.

Bahrain's monarch Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has said that a foreign plot against his kingdom had been foiled and thanked troops brought in from neighbouring countries to help end increasing unrest after weeks of protests, Al Jazeera reports.

Eyes Turn To The Battle for Misurata

Updated 3:30 p.m. est

Moammar Gadhafi's tanks pulled back from Misurata today as coalition strikes repelled the armored attacks, but did little to silence some of the snipers who were still reportedly picking off civilians in Libya's third-largest city.

Witnesses said Gadhafi's tanks pulled back from their positions, but said snipers continued to target people from rooftops, the BBC reported.

"Some of the tanks were hit and others fled," a doctor said, according to NPR, citing a report from the Associated Press. "We fear the tanks that fled will return if the airstrikes stop."

Here is an analysis brief on Misurata from the Council on Foreign Relations.

With Gadhafi's air power grounded or destroyed, CNN reports the coalition  is setting its sights on his Gadhafi's ground forces in Ajdabiya along with Misurata.

In  Ajdabiya, about 100 miles south of Benghazi, there are reports of heavy fighting.

end update
Coalition forces are facing a test of whether its air superiority can defeat Moammar Gadhafi's forces in an urban battlefield laden with snipers and armored units that are now stepping up the siege of Misurata.

At least 90 people have died the past nine days in Misurata, according to The New York Times.

There were reports late today that coalition forces were targeting sites around Misurata, Mediterranean coast city about 130 miles east of Tripoli. Fighting has gone back and forth in the third-largest city in Libya (after Tripoli and the rebel stronghold Benghazi) since the earliest days of the revolt.

According to The Los Angeles Times, "A witness in Misurata said coalition warplanes or missiles struck a large ammunition depot used by Gadhafi forces south of the city, causing an earth-shaking explosion and sending a fireball into the sky early Wednesday."

Anti-Gadhafi elements in Misurata again asked for more help from the coalition, wondering whether a no-fly zone will be enough to stave off the attacks and defeat the loyalists decisively.

“This no-fly zone doesn’t mean anything to us because Gaddafi only had a few planes and they were doing nothing,” said a doctor, who spoke by telephone to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because he fears Libyan forces may soon retake the city. “We need a no-drive zone because it is tanks and snipers that are killing us.”

The concern for the coalition is the difficulty in hitting urban targets without hurting innocent civilians or the rebels.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gadhafi: I'm Still Here

Updated 7:45 p.m. est

President Obama today at a news conference in El Salvador that Libayans are at risk as long as Moammar Gadhafi remains in power.

Responding to a reporter's question, Obama said, "Now, you were absolutely right that as long as Qaddafi remains in power, unless he changes his approach and provides the Libyan people an opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms in the Libyan government, unless he is willing to step down, that there are still going to be potential threats towards the Libyan people."

end update

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi made an appearance a short while ago at what looked to be a staged rally at his Bab al-Azizia compound. Standing in a bombed-out building, Gadhafi shrugged off the scores of coalition missiles that have rained down on the despot.

"We will be victorious," Gadhafi said, according to a translation on CNN. "Nothing scares me."

It appeared from the video that Gadhafi's goons were shuffling in the dictator's "supporters" for the rally.

The remarks came several hours after two U.S. pilots were recovered alive in Libya after their jet apparently malfunctioned and they were forced to eject.

"Obviously we were extraordinarily relieved to find out that these two young men were safe in American hands. As the Pentagon indicated, this appears to have been a malfunction in the aircraft, and it is a testament to our military that we have fully prepared for any contingency, including something like this, and they were able to recover these individuals rapidly," President Obama said.

Monday, March 21, 2011

US & UN Insist Arab League Still With NFZ

President Obama said firmly today the Arab League gave an important endorsement of a United Nation's resolution approving a no-fly zone and he expects Arab nations "absolutely" will be part of the mission.

"The Arab League specifically called for a no-fly zone before we went to the United Nations," Obama said at a press conference while traveling in Chile, where he dismissed concerns today over the Arab League getting cold feet and wanting to back out of its commitment to the no-fly zone over Libya.

Asked whether Arabs will be part of the mission, Obama said "Absolutely, and we are in consultations as we speak."
The President added, "As I said, there are different phases to the campaign. The initial campaign, we took a larger role because we've got some unique capabilities; our ability to take out, for example, Gadhafi's air-defense systems are much more significant than some of our other partners."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa did an about-face not long after the no-fly zone was imposed on Gadhafi over reports of civilian casualties. Moussa threatened to withdraw the 22-member group's backing for the action.

So UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had to do some hand-holding with Moussa today, meeting with the Arab League's boss to urge him to remain committed to protecting Libyans from Gadhafi's wrath.

"Now, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak with one voice to fully implement the Security Council resolutions. Thousands of lives are at stake. We could well see a further humanitarian emergency," Ban said after emerging from discussions with Moussa.

"We are moving quickly to take effective action. On Saturday in Paris, I and Secretary-General Moussa met with world leaders to coordinate our plans. Secretary-General Moussa, I welcomed your contributions and that of the other Arab leaders who attended that session," Ban said looking at the Arab leader. "Egypt and the Arab League are standing with the international community and the United Nations at this critical time for the region."

Gadhafi Dodges A Bullet Not Meant For Him

Updated 5:45 p.m. est

President Obama remarked in diplo-speak today that Moammar Gadhafi not being targeted, saying the U.S. has tools beyond military to enforce administration's policy that the Libyan dictator must go.

"It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go. And we've got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts to support that policy," Obama said at a news conference while traveling in Chile.

"We were very rapid in initiating unilateral sanctions and then helping to mobilize international sanctions against the Gadhafi regime. We froze assets that Gadhafi might have used to further empower himself and purchase weapons or hire mercenaries that might be directed against the Libyan people. So there are a whole range of policies that we are putting in place that has created one of the most powerful international consensus around the isolation of Mr. Gadhafi, and we will continue to pursue those," Obama explained.

"But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate," Obama added.

The UN sesolution does not include language about targeting Gadhafi, but as the Pentagon has suggested, there is not much that can be done if the Libyan despot is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

End Update

The U.S. insists Moammar Gadhafi is not being targeted by allied attacks, but the strike Sunday night on the Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli sent a very strong message to the Libyan dictator.

“At this particular point, I can guarantee that he’s not on a targeting list,” said Joint Chiefs staff director Vice Adm. Bill Gortney.

The sprawling compound, the setting of some of Gadhafi's recent speeches, was bombed by the United States in 1986.

According to CNN, "Airstrikes Sunday in the heart of Moammar Gadhafi's Tripoli compound had a military objective but also no doubt brought a message of allied resolve to the Libyan leader's doorstep."

The BBC reported the attack destroyed a target in the compound that coalition officials said was a military command headquarters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Arab League Gets Queasy Quickly on No-Fly Zone

The Arab League is having a difficult time accepting that a no-fly zone against despot Moammar Gadhafi is a combat situation with consequences, even when precautions are taken.

The leader of the 22-nation organization threatened today to withdraw the Arab League's endorsement for the no-fly zone, angered by civilian casualties and the scope of the allied strikes on command and control and combat targets.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in a statement issued through the state-run information agency. “And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”

It was a contrast from the cheers from grateful Libyans who feared they were about to be overrun by Gadhafi's forces.

"Thank you France, thank you America," Abdul Gader told The Associated Press as he looked over Gadhafi's armored vehicles destroyed by French aircraft. "Obama good, Sarkozy good."

Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia and Cuban figurehead Fidel Castro all condemned the intervention, The Washington Post reports.

The Guardian warns in an editorial there will be more complaints from the Arab chieftains,at least until the tide turns and Gadhafi capitulates.

French Send Carrier; Marine Harriers Join In

French air attacks are slowing Moammar Gadhafi's siege of the rebel capital Benghazi as the allies impose a no-fly zone and ceasefire orders from the United Nations, according to multiple reports.

Navy drones and Marine Corps attack jets joined the battle today. Navy EA-18G Growlers launched from unnamed land bases are providing eye-in-the-sky surrveilance over Libya, while Marine AV-8B Harriers from the USS Kearsarge conducted strikes on Gadhafi's troops and air defenses, MSNBC reports.

The first barrage of cruise missile attacks were fired from the guided-missile destroyers USS Stout and USS Barry, and submarines, USS Providence, USS Scranton and USS Florida. The U.S. has at least 11 ships in the Mediterranean Sea, the Pentagon said.

France today sent its super carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to join the battle, Reuters reports.

"I would say the no-fly zone is effectively in place," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told CNN this morning.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the allies may have to do more than just a no-fly zone, The Hill reports.

China says it "regrets" the action by the Western powers. Russia calls for a halt to allied action, as well.

A still defiant Gadhafi spoke today in an audio message, saying "the devil will be defeated."

Gadhafi also has been doing some letter-writing, The Hill reports.

The thinking inside the White House in the days and hours before the allies came to the aide of the rebels and anti-Gadhafi protesters, as told by National Journal.

A tick-tock of the Libya Revolution.

The rest from:

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, BBC.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ceasefire In Libya?

Updated 3:30 p.m. est

President Obama said today a no-fly zone over Libya is justified because of fears Moammar Gadhafi and his security forces will commit atrocities against the Libyan people and could destabilize the region.

"And there should be no doubt about his intentions, because he, himself, has made them clear. For decades, he's demonstrated a willingness to use brute force, through his sponsorship of terrorism against the American people as well as others, and through the killings that he has carried out within his own borders," Obama said.

"And just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people, he threatened, and I quote: 'We will have no mercy and no pity.' No mercy on his own citizens. Now, here's why this matters to us: Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow," Obama added.

The President demanded Gadhafi cease all attacks on civilians immediately, calling the United Nations Security Council ultimatum "non-negotiable."

"Now, once more, Moammar Gadhafi has a choice. The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya," Obama said.

"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," he added.

Obama contends Gadhafi lost confidence of Libyans, arguing that the despot's militant action against his people forfeited his right to lead.

"Instead of respecting the rights of his own people, Gadhafi chose the path of brutal suppression. Innocent civilians were beaten, imprisoned and in some cases killed. Peaceful protests were forcefully put down. Hospitals were attacked and patients disappeared. A campaign of intimidation and repression began," snapped a miffed Obama.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris this weekend to coordinate with allies to plot a course of action against Gadhafi. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, an early skeptic of a no-fly zone, will huddle with military commanders to formulate a Pentagon strategy. Obama spoke from East Room of the White House after briefing congressional leaders on Libya policy and early plans moving forward against Gadhafi.

Obama repeated that no US ground troops will be deployed as part of multinational force that will impose the UN-mandated no-fly zone. AWACs radar planes and unmanned drones could be deployed as part of a U.S. arsenal, a U.S. source said, emphasizing that the planning is "fluid."

"We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone. I have no doubt that the men and women of our military are capable of carrying out this mission. Once more, they have the thanks of a grateful nation, and the admiration of the world," Obama said.

"I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya. In the coming weeks, we will continue to help the Libyan people with humanitarian and economic assistance so that they can fulfill their aspirations peacefully. Now, the United States did not seek this outcome. Our decisions have been driven by Gadhafi's refusal to respect the rights of his people and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians," Obama added.

end update
Within hours of the United Nations approving a no-fly zone for Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi reportedly declared an apparent ceasefire in their push towards rebels in Misurata and Benghazi.

It was a major about-face for Gadhafi, who had threatened around the time of the UN vote to send forces door-to-door to execute rebels.

"It sent a strong message," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the UN action.

Clinton said she is aware of reports of a ceasefire, but added she wanted more than words from Gadhafi.

"We would have to see actions on the ground," Clinton said. "I want to take this one step at a time."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

U.S.: UN Must Consider New Options for Libya

The United Nations Security Council again failed to agree on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya as the U.S. conceded other options must be considered on the eve of what looks to be a final push by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi to recapture Misrata and the rebel capital Benghazi.

“We are moving as rapidly as we can in New York to see whether we can get additional authorization for the international community to look at a broad range of actions — not just a no-fly zone, but other actions as well,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters yesterday during her trip to Cairo.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice later acknowledged after Wednesday night's UN meeting adjourned that it may be too late for a no-fly zone to save the rebels. Other action may be needed, she suggested.

"We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the (Security) Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians. Those include discussion of a no-fly zone," Rice told reporters.

"But the U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk," Rice added.

Among the expanding options being considered at the UN are declaring and protecting "no-drive" and "no sail" zones to halt Gadhafi's ground-based counter-offensive and attacks from the dictator's navy. It may be late for even those options to work, some experts say.

The U.S. remains opposed to ground action against Gadhafi's forces.

U.S. Warns Americans in Japan to Take Action

The U.S. announced overnight it will provide extra charter flights to get American workers, their families and other citizens out of Japan as fears of a nuclear catastrophe loom.

The U.S. also recommended that, amid the fluctuating radiation levels, Americans (and others) should move at least 50 miles away from the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant located about 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Japanese authorities are using water canons and helicopters to dump loads of water on the stricken reactors.

"Despite the best efforts of responders, the situation remains very serious. Given the situation, we recommended the evacuation of American citizens to at least 50 miles, in keeping with the guidelines applied in the United States," said Under Secretary for Management at the State Department Pat Kennedy.

"The Department of State urges American residents in Japan to take prudent precautions against the risk of sustained exposure, including relocating for potentially affected areas in northeastern Japan," Kennedy said. 

"The Department of State has authorized the voluntary departure, including relocation to safe areas within Japan, for family members and dependents of U.S. Government officials who wish to leave northeast Japan," he added. "The U.S. Government is also working to facilitate the departure of private American citizens from the affected areas – that is a 50-mile radius of the reactor – and a Travel Warning containing detailed information has been issued at"

All Embassy, consulate, and other U.S. Government operations and  U.S. military services and operations continue without interruption. U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian assistance teams also continue to assist the Japanese authorities, Kennedy said.

The U.S. earlier announced it had provided detectors that fly around the area and can pick up possible radioactive contamination on the ground.

"We’re doing everything in our power to support the Japanese and their efforts to get water to those reactors, to get water to the spent fuel ponds, and get those fuel elements cooled down. The more success we have at that, the lower the long-term effect is going to be," said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Moment of Shame for Arab League & West

An armored column of tanks and artillery and a few thousand troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi formed today at a staging ground in Eastern Libya, poised to launch what may be a final push to wipe out a dwindling rebel army, CNN reports.

Western and Arab nations for days ignored appeals from Libyan rebels to take swift action to clear the skies of Gadhafi's air force. Now it may be a waste of time to impose an effective no-fly zone over Libya since the air campaign has already succeeded, experts complain.

"It  be too late," warned former President George H.W. Bush's ex-chief of staff Andy Card. He is part of a growing chorus of critics who say the world has a blown a chance to get on the right side of history by helping to take out Gadhafi.

The Arab League, NATO, the G-8 and the United Nations all failed to take immediate steps to ground Libyan jets and it has allowed Gadhafi's forces to systematically recapture cities and territory that had been taken over by the rebels, as Saif Gadhafi vowed this week.

In Washington, a noncommittal President Obama played it safe and stuck to a policy of not interfering with the Libyan revolution. The French and British governments tried but failed to build a coalition in favor of taking fast action. "When there is a state of emergency ... We cannot wait for a mandate," French commentator and writer Bernard-Henri Levy told MSNBC.

But Obama carefully weighed his options, deciding that he could survive facing potential criticism that his inaction helped Gadhafi remain in power. However, the worst case scenario of Americans getting killed or captured while imposing a no-fly zone was unacceptable going into next year's election, Obama and his advisers concluded.

The ex-top Bush aide Card told MSNBC Tuesday that he would have preferred to see Obama opt for a "more clandestine" way to remove Gadhafi.

Most observers do not see Obama as the biggest do-nothing culprit on the Libyan front. Many foreign policy experts believe the 22 nations of the Arab League needed to take the lead with decisive military action on the side of the rebels, but the organization missed its opportunity to rise above being a lobbying group for Middle Eastern dictators.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) slammed the Arab League during remarks at a Washington think tank this week.

"I'd argue we should have had a no-fly zone earlier but we should have invited in the Arab League. They've got some planes to put in the game. They should have been involved in the game," Rogers said. "If they believe a no-fly zone is a good idea, they should have participated with us early on in the process. It may be too late now."

Arab leaders obviously do not sit out all the revolutions in their neighborhood. A clear example is the  unfortunate insertion of about 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to prop up Bahrain's Sunni royals against a lively Shiite middle class revolt over their demands for equal rights.

Middle Eastern scholars are already warning the Saudi/UAE expedition into Bahrain demonstrates that those countries are not only forgoing an effort to find a political solution with the mostly peaceful protesters, but they may be giving the meddlesome Iranians an opening to possibly hijack the democratic movement and turn it into a proxy war with the Sunni oil sheiks.