The United States and its allies have entered a new stage of involvement in Libya, sending assistance and advisers directly to opposition military forces, which have been unable to break Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s stranglehold over much of the country despite help from NATO airstrikes.
France and Italy said Wednesday that they would join Britain in dispatching military advisers to assist the inexperienced and disorganized rebel army, primarily in tactics and logistics. President Obama authorized sending $25 million worth of nonlethal equipment, including body armor, tents, uniforms and vehicles.
European nations like France and Italy are vowing to give Libyan rebels more help, sending military advisers to repel the ongoing assault by the Libyan military. (April 20)
Support for the no-fly zone in Libya is unchanged, but more disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation.
The assistance appeared to stretch the definition of the “civilian protection” mandate contained in last month’s U.N. resolution authorizing foreign intervention in Libya. The allies said their efforts were indirectly achieving that objective, because the rebel force was best-positioned on the ground to protect Libyans from attacks — or the threat of attacks — by Gaddafi loyalists.
The rebel-held western Libyan city of Misurata continued to be the focus of the fighting. Among those killed in the violence were photographers Tim Hetherington, a British American, and American Chris Hondros, reportedly from an attack by Gaddafi forces, and two other Western journalists were wounded. NATO said its warplanes struck government targets on the outskirts of the besieged city, as well as around Tripoli, the capital.
The arrival of European military advisers and U.S. uniforms is unlikely to rapidly change the trajectory of the conflict, however, and NATO and its Arab partners in the Libya operation continue to count on their economic and diplomatic war of attrition against Gaddafi paying off in the end.
“We are dealing with a set of imperfect options,” a senior administration official said, noting that the measure of success is not “where things stand” but “where they would have stood had we done nothing.” The NATO airstrikes and a no-fly zone enforced by NATO and Arab countries “have essentially frozen the battle space in terms of the advance of Gaddafi’s forces,” he said, and “if you work all the other levers, you can make time work against Gaddafi.”
The official emphasized that Obama has no intention of sending U.S. ground forces — including noncombat military advisers — to Libya. But the administration’s attempts to firmly limit its involvement have also contributed to an image of disarray within NATO.
A senior European official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the Americans, said that Obama’s eagerness to turn over command of the Libyan air operation to NATO late last month, and the withdrawal of U.S. fighter planes from ground-strike missions, had undermined the strength of their united front against Gaddafi.
Although U.S. military officials have said that American strike aircraft remain “available” to NATO commanders should they request it, the senior administration official indicated that agreement would not be automatic.
“We would assess any requests,” the official said.