Buoyed by strikes, Libya rebels try to advance
(AP) - Coalition forces bombarded Libya for athird straight night Monday, targeting the air defenses and forcesof Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handingsome momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeatjust last week.
But the rebellion's more organized military units were still notready, and the opposition disarray underscored U.S. warnings that along stalemate could emerge.
The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries hasunquestionably rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels fromthe immediate threat they faced only days ago of being crushedunder a powerful advance by Gadhafi's forces. The first round ofairstrikes smashed a column of regime tanks that had been moving onthe rebel capital of Benghazi in the east.
Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes hadbegun in the capital, Tripoli, marking the third night ofbombardment. But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi's troopsfrom attacking rebel cities - in line with the U.N. mandate toprotect civilians - the United States, at least, appeared deeplyreluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel causeto oust the Libyan leader.
President Barack Obama said Monday that "it is U.S. policy thatGadhafi has to go." But, he said, the international air campaignhas a more limited goal, to protect civilians.
"Our military action is in support of an international mandatefrom the Security Council that specifically focuses on thehumanitarian threat posed by Col. Gadhafi to his people. Not onlywas he carrying out murders of civilians but he threatened more,"the president said on a visit to Chile.
In Washington, the American general running the assault saidthere is no attempt to provide air cover for rebel operations. Gen.Carter Ham said Gadhafi might cling to power once the bombardmentfinishes, setting up a stalemate between his side and the rebels,with allied nations enforcing a no-fly zone to ensure he cannotattack civilians.
At the United Nations Monday, the Security Council turned down arequest by Libya for an emergency session. Libya wanted "anemergency meeting in order to halt this aggression."
Henri Guaino, a top adviser to the French president, said theallied effort would last "a while yet."
Among the rebels, as well, there was a realization that fightingcould be drawn out. Mohammed Abdul-Mullah, a 38-year-old civilengineer from Benghazi who was fighting with the rebel force, saidgovernment troops stopped all resistance after the internationalcampaign began.
"The balance has changed a lot," he said. "But pro-Gadhafiforces are still strong. They are a professional military and theyhave good equipment. Ninety percent of us rebels are civilians,while Gadhafi's people are professional fighters."
Disorganization among the rebels could also hamper theirattempts to exploit the turn of events. Since the uprising began,the opposition has been made up of disparate groups even as it tookcontrol of the entire east of the country.
Regular citizens - residents of the "liberated" areas - tookup arms and formed a ragtag, highly enthusiastic but highlyundisciplined force that in the past weeks has charged ahead tofight Gadhafi forces, only to be beaten back by superior firepower.Regular army units that joined the rebellion have proven stronger,more organized fighters, but only a few units have joined thebattles while many have stayed behind as officers struggle to gettogether often antiquated, limited equipment and form a coordinatedforce.
Discord also plagued the coalition. The U.S. was eager to passleadership off, but the allies were deeply divided on the issue.Turkey was adamantly against NATO taking charge, while Italy hintedMonday it would stop allowing use of its airfields if the veteranalliance is not given the leadership. Germany and Russia alsocriticized the way the mission is being carried out.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin railed against theU.N.-backed airstrikes as outside meddling "reminiscent of amedieval call for a Crusade."