Rabu, 30 Mac 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Obama authorises covert support as Libyan rebels retreat

Posted: 30 Mar 2011 06:23 PM PDT

Rebel fighters beat a hasty retreat after encountering a Libyan Army ambush on the road between Bin Jawad and Nawfiliyah, March 29, 2011. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, March 31 — As Libyan rebels fled in headlong retreat from the superior arms and tactics of Muammar Gaddafi's troops yesterday, US officials said President Barack Obama had signed a secret order authorising covert support for the rebels.

While the United States, France and Britain have raised the possibility of arming the rebels, they have all stressed that no decision had yet been taken.

As Gaddafi's army pushed back the rebels, their lack of heavy weapons and feeble fighting capabilities exposed the vulnerability of their forces in the absence of Western air strikes to tip the scales in their favour.

Despite some dissent within the Western military coalition attacking Gaddafi's forces, news that Obama had given the covert authorisation surfaced as he and other US and allied officials began speaking openly about the possibility of sending arms to the rebels.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the past two or three weeks, according to four US government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorise secret operations by the CIA. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.

"As is common practice for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"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." The CIA declined to comment.

Under attack near Bin Jawad, March 29, 2011, rebels beat a hasty retreat. — Reuters pic

It took more than five days of allied bombardment to destroy Libyan government tanks and artillery in the strategic town of Ajdabiyah before rebels rushed in and chased Gaddafi's troops 300km west in a two-day dash along the coast. Two days later the rebels have been pushed back to close to where they started.

While Gaddafi's forces were on the offensive, the international face of his government, foreign minister Moussa Koussa, suddenly arrived in London yesterday to seek refuge after quitting the government in protest against the attacks by Gaddafi's forces on civilians.

"Koussa is one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's government and his role was to represent the regime internationally — something that he is no longer willing to do," a British government spokesman said.

The Libyan army first ambushed the chaotic caravan of volunteers and supporters outside Gaddafi's home town of Sirte, then outflanked them through the desert, a manoeuvre requiring the sort of discipline the rag-tag rebels lack.

The towns of Nawfaliyah, Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf fell in quick succession to the lightning government counter-strike.

Rebel spokesman Colonel Ahmad Bani said fighting was going on at Brega, the next town east along the narrow coastal strip that has been the theatre of most of the fighting. But many rebels had pulled back further to the strategic town of Ajdabiyah and regrouped.

Air strikes

"We thought it better to make a tactical withdrawal until we can think of better tactics and a strategy to face this force," said Bani, adding: "One of the defence points will be Ajdabiyah, not the only one."

He appealed for more allied air strikes and heavier weapons. "We are seeking weapons that will be able to destroy the heavy weapons they are using against us such as tanks and artillery."

In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration had made no decision yet on whether to arm the Libyan rebels, and some lawmakers questioned the wisdom of such a move.

The chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, Republican Mike Rogers, said he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels "at this time".

"We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them," Rogers said in a statement.

In town after town along the Libyan coast, Gaddafi forces have unleashed a bombardment from tanks, artillery and truck-launched Grad rockets that has forced rebels to flee.

"These are our weapons," said rebel fighter Mohammed, pointing to his assault rifle. "We can't fight Grads with them."

Without Western air strikes, the rebels seem unable to make advances or hold their positions against Gaddafi's armour. Western airplanes flew over the battlefield yesterday, but there was no evidence of any bombardment of government forces.

Rebel forces lack training, discipline and leadership. There are many different groups of volunteers, and decisions are often made only after heated arguments.

"Whether we advance 50km, or retreat 50km . . . it's a big country," rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told reporters in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. "They will go back the next day.

"This revolution really is only five weeks old. On the political front it is very organised," he said. "Normally it takes six months to train a soldier . . . We are talking about citizens who picked up guns to protect their homes."

Libya's official Jana news agency said air strikes by forces of "the crusader colonial aggression" hit residential areas in the town of Garyan, about 100km south of Tripoli, on Tuesday. It said several civilian buildings were destroyed and some people wounded.

Russian warning

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 sanctions air power to protect Libyan civilians, not to provide close air support to rebel forces. That would also require troops on the ground to guide in the bombs. Without forward air controllers, intervening from the air in such a fluid battle space is fraught with risks.

Russia has already accused the allies of overstepping their UN remit by carrying out strikes on Gaddafi's ground forces, and yesterday warned the West against arming the rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was obvious Libya was "ripe for reforms", but Libyans themselves must decide without influence from outside.

"I find it hard to see how the coalition can agree politically to arming the rebels, but without arms I can't see how the rebels can win," said Daniel Keohane of the Institute for Security Studies in Washington.

Aid agencies are increasingly worried about a lack of food and medicines, especially in towns such as Misrata, where a siege by Gaddafi's forces deprives them of access.

But a blockade of Misrata's Mediterranean port by pro-Gaddafi forces has now ended, allowing two ships to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate people wounded in the fighting.

Oil shipments from Africa's third-largest producer have been blocked for weeks due to heavy fighting and Western sanctions. A source at Qatar Petroleum said it was struggling to work out how to market Libyan oil on behalf of the rebels. — Reuters

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Libya’s foreign minister defects, arrives in Britain

Posted: 30 Mar 2011 04:46 PM PDT

Moussa Koussa holding court at a news conference in Tripoli in this March 18, 2011, file photo. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 31 — Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, one of Muammar Gaddafi's closest advisers and a former spy chief, flew to Britain yesterday, and a close friend said he defected because of attacks by Gaddafi forces on civilians.

The move was "a significant blow" to Gaddafi, a British government source told Reuters.

Koussa is one of the most senior members of Gaddafi's inner circle to defect — a major setback for the Libyan leader who faces a revolt against his 41-year rule in the North African oil-producing desert state as well as Western air strikes.

Koussa, who was involved in talks that led to the freeing by the British government of the man convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, is resigning his post and the British government said it hoped more senior figures would join him.

"He travelled here under his own free will," a Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement. "He has told us he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him and we will release further detail in due course."

He was reported to be being debriefed by British intelligence and foreign ministry officials.

"Koussa is one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's government, and his role was to represent the regime internationally — something that he is no longer willing to do," the spokesman said.

The Foreign Office said: "We encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people."

Koussa arrived at Farnborough airport in southern England on a flight from Tunisia, Britain's Foreign Office said.

Significant blow

Koussa is the highest profile of a number of Libyan ministers and ambassadors who have resigned in recent weeks, some of them joining the opposition to Gaddafi.

The British government source described the decision by Koussa as "clearly a significant blow to the Gaddafi regime".

Noman Benotman, a friend and senior analyst at Britain's Quilliam think tank, said Koussa had defected.

"He wasn't happy at all. He doesn't support the government attacks on civilians," he said. "He's seeking refuge in Britain and hopes he will be treated well."

The Libyan government had said Koussa was travelling on a diplomatic mission and denied he had defected after Tunisia's news agency reported he had flown to London from Tunisia.

Tunisia's TAP news agency had reported on Monday that Koussa had crossed into Tunisia from Libya. TAP said yesterday that he took off from the Tunisian airport of Djerba, bound for Britain.

Koussa was the architect of a dramatic shift in Libya's foreign policy that brought the country back to the international community after years of sanctions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has kept in contact with Koussa during the mounting crisis in Libya.

Hague told the BBC last month he had called the Libyan foreign minister the previous day "because you still have to communicate to them directly, personally: this situation is unacceptable".

Earlier yesterday, Britain said it was expelling five Libyan diplomats to protest at the Libyan government's actions, and because they could pose a threat to national security. — Reuters

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