Libyan rebel says strikes too little, late
Khadafy tactics hinder mission, NATO responds
BENGHAZI, Libya — A rebel military leader lashed out at NATO yesterday, saying that it was falling short in its mission to protect Libyan civilians. But the alliance said ruler Moammar Khadafy’s forces position heavy weapons in populated areas, preventing some airstrikes.
Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel military and Khadafy’s former interior minister, said he was asking the opposition’s leadership council to take their grievances to the UN Security Council, which authorized force in Libya to stop government troops from wiping out the anti-Khadafy uprising that began Feb. 15.
NATO forces “don’t do anything’’ even though the United Nations gave them the right to act, Younis said. He said bureaucracy means that NATO strikes sometimes come eight hours after rebels have communicated targets.
“The people will die and this crime will be on the face of the international community forever. What is NATO doing?’’ Younis said.
Last week, NATO took control over the international airstrikes that began March 19 as a US-led mission. The airstrikes thwarted Khadafy’s efforts to crush the rebellion in the North African nation he has ruled for more than four decades, but the rebels remain outnumbered and outgunned and have had difficulty pushing into government-held territory even with air support.
The government pushed back rebel forces in a strategic oil town to the east yesterday, while rebels said they fended off an attack by Khadafy’s forces in one of a string of opposition-controlled towns southwest of Tripoli, the capital. The rebels have maintained control of much of the eastern half of Libya since early in the uprising, while Khadafy has clung to much of the west.
Khadafy has been floating tentative proposals for a cease-fire, but refuses to step down as the opposition is demanding. Yesterday his government announced a new foreign minister: Abdelati al-Obeidi, who has been in Europe seeking a diplomatic solution. He replaces Moussa Koussa, who defected last week.
Obeidi’s deputy, Khaled Kaim, said the opposition council does not represent most Libyans and that Al Qaeda is exploiting the crisis. He accused nations supporting the airstrikes of supporting terrorism “by arming the militias, by providing them with materials, and the coalition’s decision to starve 85 percent of the Libyan population, while there was another course for solving this crisis, which was the political course.’’
Kaim said “history will not forgive’’ Libyans who sought foreign help to change the regime. “People will reject them whether they are with or against Moammar Khadafy,’’ he said.
Some nations, including the United States, have considered arming the rebels but have not done so.
Brigadier General Mark Van Uhm of NATO said yesterday that airstrikes have so far destroyed 30 percent of Khadafy’s military capacity.
On Monday, the alliance said it carried out 14 attacks on ground targets across the country, destroying radars, munitions dumps, armored vehicles, and a rocket launcher.
Three-quarters of Monday’s scheduled strike missions, however, had to return without dropping their bombs or launching their missiles because Khadafy loyalists made it more difficult for pilots to distinguish between civilians and regime troops, Van Uhm said.
The general and a doctor in the besieged western city of Misurata said Khadafy’s forces had recently changed tactics there by moving tanks and other heavy equipment to civilian areas.
“They snuck their antiaircraft weapons and tanks into the city. They are between the apartment buildings and the trees,’’ said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Younis, however, said civilians have cleared out of areas of Misurata occupied by Khadafy’s forces and that NATO “would have lifted the siege days ago’’ if it wanted to.
“Children are dying every day and women and men are dying every day from shelling,’’ he said. “If NATO waited another week, that will be the end of Misurata. There won’t be anyone left.’’
In response, a NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, said: “The facts speak for themselves. The tempo of operations has continued unabated.’’
Younis’s press conference — a rare public appearance by the top commander — was a sharp break in diplomatic protocol as the opposition seeks more airstrikes and other support, including arms, from the international community.
The rebels’ political leadership also seeks recognition of its council as the only legitimate government in Libya.
The rebels were holding talks with a White House envoy, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi, their de facto capital in eastern Libya. Stevens was trying to get a better idea of who the rebels are, what they want, and what their capabilities are, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity pending an announcement of the visit by the White House.