Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 2 April 2020

It's time for Nato to uphold its mandate in Libya

Nato has failed to embrace the mission it was tasked with, causing a lack of confidence and confusion on the ultimate objective in Libya.


Hanan Ghosheh

While President Obama and his coalition partners congratulate themselves on preventing a massacre in Benghazi, violence continues to rage in other parts of Libya, despite a Nato-led campaign to protect civilians.

Indeed, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Misurata, Zintan and other Libyan towns as the world and Nato watch from the sidelines.

From the outset, the United States' hand-over of its military leadership role to Nato was eyed with scepticism and unease by Libyans within the country and abroad. It was feared that the cumbersome command structure of the alliance would not be as efficient and effective as the coalition of the United States, Britain and France in halting Col Muammar Qaddafi's military operations against his people.

The fact that among Nato's members are Turkey and Germany, two countries staunchly opposed to military intervention in Libya, also seemed to betray a lingering loyalty to the Qaddafi regime, further weakening Nato's credibility with Libyans opposed to Col Qaddafi's leadership.

Because of these factors, many Libyans viewed the alliance's involvement with suspicion and concern from the beginning. Now, almost three weeks since Nato assumed command of the air campaign, these fears have deepened.

Since the alliance's assumption of command, opposition forces have been repelled 160 kilometres, losing control of Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf and Brega. The attacks on Misurata and nearby towns have resumed with savage fervour; hundreds have been killed.

In the first few days following the transition, observers on the ground questioned the slow pace of Nato air strikes. Nato initially attributed their decreased activity to bad weather, though journalists on the ground contradicted this claim. Then there was the excuse that the alliance was being conservative with its targets in order to avoid civilian casualties.

To add insult to injury, or perhaps in this case, injury to insult, on two separate occasions Nato air strikes were mistakenly launched against opposition forces, killing many rebel fighters and destroying their vehicles. Refusing to apologise, Nato said that they were unaware the rebels were in possession of tanks even though this had been well documented from the start of the uprising.

If true, this was a curious lapse in intelligence for the world's most renowned military alliance. These egregious errors and feeble excuses coupled with Col Qaddafi's renewed offensive serve to demonstrate that Nato is either incapable, ill prepared or reluctant to execute the mission of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

Underscoring the frustration on the ground with Nato's performance, Major General Abdul Fatah Younis, the head of Libya's opposition army, blasted the alliance on its tepid and slow responses to Col Qaddafi's advances. According to General Younis, Libyan opposition forces have provided Nato with specific coordinates to the locations of Col Qaddafi's tanks and fighting units, but the alliance has failed to act on them in time to make a difference.

Criticism of the Nato operation has not been limited to Libyan opposition leaders. Both France and Britain, two of the alliance's most powerful members, have expressed dissatisfaction with Nato's performance. The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, said efforts in Libya were "not enough", though talks in Doha and Berlin last week failed to address these and other concerns.

After finally meeting the required conditions for UN intervention, the passage of Resolution 1973 to impose and enforce a no fly zone and "use all means necessary" to protect civilians was heralded around the world. It was seen as the moment of salvation for the Libyan people who had been suffering weeks of violence at the hands of Col Qaddafi's army and mercenaries. But its promise has fallen flat.

Now, one month since its passage, civilians in Misurata, Zintan, Yefren and other parts of western Libya have yet to feel any reprieve from the daily shelling and attacks by regime forces.

It is true that if not for the United States' decisive action, Resolution 1973 may not have passed. However, President Obama's withdrawal of the United States' leadership from the military engagement has not had the positive effect hoped for. Administration calls for Col Qaddafi to step down ring hollow against the backdrop of his tanks, missiles, and artillery fire targeting civilians.

And for whatever reason, Nato has failed to embrace the mission it was tasked with and live up to its collective responsibilities, causing a lack of confidence and confusion on the ultimate objective in Libya. At best, Nato is presiding over and maintaining the status quo, one that threatens a bloody stalemate. Libya's people, increasingly under fire and on their own, deserve better.


Hanan Ghosheh is a Libyan-American who serves on the board of the Omar Foundation, an American Muslim outreach organisation. She has helped author a series of petitions calling on the US to increase support to Libya's opposition.

Updated: April 18, 2011 04:00 AM