While Obama said in his speech on Libya last Monday that “America’s role would be limited” and he “would not put ground troops” into the North African country, the British were contemplating doing just the opposite. Reports in British newspapers on Sunday state Great Britain is preparing to send 600 Royal Marines to the Libyan conflict, marking an escalation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) military intervention. According to reports, a Royal Navy fleet composed of six warships and marines will make up a mission to provide humanitarian aid to rebel-held towns.
In making this controversial move, the British government probably believes it has no choice, if NATO wants to accomplish its objectives of regime change, restarting the oil supply, and avoiding an open-ended and costly war.
NATO is currently operating in the Libyan conflict under a United Nations’ (UN) mandate that allowed the Western military alliance to establish a no-fly zone to save lives. But critics say NATO’s warplanes have already exceeded this humanitarian directive by continuing to fly missions directly supporting rebels on the ground after Gaddafi’s troops were driven back from rebel-held Benghazi and after threat of a massacre had subsided. One of those air strikes mistakenly killed 13 rebel fighters last Friday.
British politicians, naturally, are in full denial mode regarding a possible troop deployment to Libya. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said there is going to be a land invasion. The UN mandate, he recently told members of Parliament, did not allow for any foreign ground forces. His foreign secretary, William Hague, said the Royal Marines in question were preparing for a military exercise elsewhere and also emphasised there will be “no large-scale ground force placed in Libya.” As for the widely reported plan to arm the rebels, Hague said there presently is none, but that measure has not been ruled out.
While Cameron is insisting Britain will adhere to the terms of the mandate, he and other NATO leaders, almost from the start of the conflict, have said Gaddafi has to go. President Obama also numbers among those leaders who have stated Gaddafi must step down. In Obama’s judgement, the Libyan leader has lost all credibility with his people and must leave, although the UN mandate does not call for regime change.
“We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power,” Obama told Americans a week ago.
Unsurprisingly, Gaddafi is refusing to co-operate with NATO plans for his future. The main reason for this is that the fight in Libya is a mainly a tribal one. The Eastern Libyan tribes opposing Gaddafi want to kill him and his family for the wrongs and deaths he has inflicted in the past on their family and tribal members. It is fear of this gruesome fate that is behind Gaddafi’s fierce resistance and refusal to step aside.
Leaving the country is also not an attractive option for Gaddafi, and the Western allies are partially at fault for this. They may have blocked his exit from Libya by having him and several of his sons indicted by the International Criminal Court. The indictment’s timing was strange, since the world has known for forty years the Libyan dictator was a sadistic murderer, who brutally treated his own people and foreigners. The fact that it was handed down only in conjunction with the current crisis indicates it was politically and cynically motivated, probably for use as a propaganda tool. But worse, it was counterproductive. With death awaiting him and his clan inside the country and the International Criminal Court outside if he should flee, it is no wonder Gaddafi is choosing to remain at his post and fight to the death like a cornered rat.
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