Saturday, June 25, 2011

NATO Strikes and Defecting Soccer Stars Pump Up Rebels

NATO bombed a military staging area in Brega and some of the country's top soccer stars joined the opposition overnight, giving Libyan rebels a much much-needed boost in morale.

Alliance warplanes targeted one of Moammar Gadhafi's depots for vehicles and equipment in Brega used to launch attacks on the admittedly stalled rebel army in Eastern Libya, Reuters reported.

"What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Gaddafi forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya," a NATO official said.

The Gadhafi regime claimed 15 civilians were killed in the attack, but the NATO source said there was no evidence of that. Insisting that civilians are being killed is almost a daily routine for the regime. The allies regretfully admitted civilians were collateral damage in a strike in Tripoli last week, and the Gadhafi propaganda machine knows how unpopular those errant hits have become.

"Unlike the pro-Gadhafi forces, we go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of any civilian casualties," the NATO official said.

But it was news of members of the Libyan national soccer team defecting over to the rebel side that was the talk in the opposition camp.

Adel bin Issa, the coach of Tripoli's top club al-Ahly, national team star goalie Juma Gtat and 17 other soccer players -- some of the biggest Libyan sports heroes in the top sport in the world -- jumped over to the rebel side and quickly called for an end to the Gadhafi regime.

"I am telling (Gadhafi) leave us alone and allow us to create a free Libya," Gtat told the BBC. "In fact I wish he would leave this life altogether."

The rebels are not the only folks who are in need of good news: The fracturing NATO alliance is also looking for something to cheer about. Military analysts attribute an increase in reports from Britain, France the U.S. that Gadhafi's days are numbered to a concerted effort to keep the alliance of NATO and Arab states intact.

Norway is bailing out on the Libya campaign in a little more than a month and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini shook up the alliance when he called for a suspension of air strikes after the accidental bombing of civilians when the missile malfunctioned last week in Tripoli. Many other countries, including Canada, whose combat planes are essential to operation, have committed until Sept. 1.

Well-equipped Germany remains on the sidelines and Turkey refuses to join the combat missions (in fairness the Turks now have their hands full with its former ally Syria and is moving an army to the border where refugees are massing).

In one report, The Wall Street Journal claimed yesterday that Gadhafi is scared and wants to leave Tripoli. If true, that would be welcomed by NATO. The alliance would love to get Gadhafi out in the open, but as my colleague Geoff Holtzman at Talk Radio News Service reported experts are skeptical.

"The Americans are trying to create the perception that the mission is almost accomplished, and that if people can just hang on a little bit longer, then they will successfully accomplish their goal of regime change by assassinating Gadhafi," said Bayless Parsley, North African analyst for the global intelligence service, STRATFOR.

"If someone put out an International Criminal Court warrant for your arrest, would you leave the country?" Parsley said. "Would you trust that any foreign government wouldn’t simply hand you over to The Hague at some point down the line?"

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