Thursday, June 30, 2011

France Armed Western Army in Libya

The mystery of the rebel army that emerged in western Libya and successfully has made a push to within about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli appears to have been solved: France secretly armed the rebel force with airdrops in the Nafusa Mountains.

"Large amounts" of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, along with food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, were parachuted to the force earlier this month, according to multiple reports that cited the French newspaper Le Figaro.

"There were humanitarian drops because the humanitarian situation was worsening and at one point it seemed the security situation was threatening civilians who could not defend themselves," French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard told Reuters.

"France therefore also sent equipment allowing them to defend themselves, comprising light weapons and munitions," he said, adding that the drop in early June had included medicine and food.

The newly formed rebel army out of western Libya is the only opposition force that is currently on the march. The main rebel army in eastern Libya remains hung up near Ajdabiya, while the rebel brigades that pushed Gadhafi loyalists out of Misurata have not had much success moving east toward Triploli.

Rebel Transitional National Council Chairman Mahmoud Jibril said at a news conference in Vienna today that arming the opposition force would help avoid casualties against the better-equipped forces still loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

"Giving them weapons we will be able decide the battle more quickly, so that we can shed as little blood as possible. Because the less blood we shed the faster we can think of the future and the more we can protect the Libyan people," Jibril said.

But a rebel military commander claimed to not know anything of the French arms being airdropped.

"Whoever gave us these arms should come here and tell us where he put them," Col. Mokhtar Milad Fernana,  commander of the rebel fighting forces, told The Los Angeles Times.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated today in Vienna that France was acting alone and not as part of the air campaign. The alliance will determine whether France violated any NATO or United Nations rules by arming the rebels.

The French are not apologizing.

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