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Britain sending 20 advisers to aid Libyan rebel forces

Allies seek ways to end stalemate with Khadafy

People lined up for bread yesterday in the opposition-held city of Misurata, Libya’s third-largest, despite a siege by mortars and rockets from Moammar Khadafy’s troops. People lined up for bread yesterday in the opposition-held city of Misurata, Libya’s third-largest, despite a siege by mortars and rockets from Moammar Khadafy’s troops. (Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Karin Laub
Associated Press / April 20, 2011

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Britain is sending up to 20 military advisers to help Libya’s ragtag rebel force break a military stalemate with Moammar Khadafy’s army, even as NATO acknowledges that airstrikes alone cannot stop the daily shelling of the besieged opposition-held city of Misurata.

Khadafy’s troops have been pounding Misurata indiscriminately with mortars and rockets, a NATO general said yesterday, and residents reported more explosions and firefights in the city, Libya’s third-largest.

Hospitals are overflowing, and 120 patients need to be evacuated from the city, which has been under siege for nearly two months, the World Health Organization said.

The plight of Misurata’s civilians and the battlefield deadlock are raising new questions about the international community’s strategy in Libya.

The leaders of the United States, Britain, and France have said Khadafy must go, but seem unwilling to commit to a more forceful military campaign. NATO’s mandate is restricted to protecting civilians.

Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of NATO’s military committee, said that even though the military alliance’s operations have done “quite significant damage’’ to the Libyan regime’s heavy weaponry, what Khadafy has left is still considerable.

Asked if more air power is needed, Di Paola said any significantly additional allied contribution would be welcome.

The rebels seized control of most of eastern Libya shortly after the uprising began in February, and Khadafy is entrenched in the west, but the front line has not changed dramatically since then.

“I am very optimistic. We will win,’’ Khadafy’s son Seif al-Islam said on state television, referring to the fighting.

“The balance changes every day in our favor,’’ he said in a joking but defiant manner during a televised town hall meeting that lasted two hours.

Frustration over the stalemate has spurred talk in the West of new tactics, including dispatching military personnel to Libya.

Britain took the lead yesterday, saying that it is sending up to 20 senior soldiers who will help organize the rebels, many of whom have had little military training or battle experience.

However, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said his nation would not arm the opposition or join military operations.

Britain has already sent nonlethal support, including 1,000 sets of body armor and 100 satellite phones.

“As the scale of the humanitarian crisis has grown, so has the urgency of increasing our efforts to defend civilians against the attack from Khadafy forces,’’ Hague said.

Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim said Britain’s attempt to help the rebels is futile.

“This is not in the interest of the UK,’’ Kaim said. “This is an impossible mission. To organize who? They [the rebels] are different groups. There is no leader. They are not well-organized, and I am sure it will be a failure.’’

Allies would also consider supplying Libya’s rebels with technical equipment such as radars or systems to intercept and block telecommunications, said Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini. He said this would be discussed at a meeting next month of the international contact group on Libya.

“We have condemned the regime’s violence, the presence of snipers on the rooftops of Tripoli’s houses and in the besieged cities,’’ Frattini said. “We cannot say this isn’t our problem.’’

However, both Italy and France remain opposed to sending ground troops. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France said yesterday that he is “totally hostile’’ to the idea.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a rebel leader touring Europe in search of more logistical support, said the Libyan opposition is not looking to other nations to remove Khadafy.

“We are not looking or inviting anybody to kill him, and we don’t have such a possibility, but we hope he and his regime can leave Libya as soon as possible,’’ Abdul-Jalil said in Italy.

The European Union, meanwhile, said it is ready, in principle, to provide armed escorts to secure UN aid convoys in Libya, but UN officials said they do not need such guards for the time being.

The proposal drew a warning from Kaim that sending armed escorts would be tantamount to a military operation.

The UN Security Council resolution bans the use of foreign troops in Libya. Russia — a veto-wielding member of the Council — already has complained that the NATO action in bombing Libya’s military has overstepped its mandate; Moscow is unlikely to approve any further extension of the alliance’s operations.

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