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Libyan rebel mood changes after Nato bombing error

Mark Urban | 19:36 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

BENGHAZI - The Nato airstrike against a column of rebel tanks has caused shock here, but it also shows what a difficult stage the campaign has entered.

People on the streets say they are bewildered at what Nato has done, but they are also adamant that they do not want foreign troops here.

I understand that the aircraft responsible were either French or Canadian, although Nato refuses to specify the nationality.

The incident has changed the atmosphere here in many ways.

When General Abdul Fateh Younis, effectively the commander of the rebellion, said on Thursday at a press conference that it did not need or want soldiers from other countries to become involved, Libyan journalists burst into applause and started cheering.

It is also only fair to say that many Nato countries would have deep reservations about the possible "mission creep" involved in putting forward air controllers or training teams on the ground.

Although it is widely assumed that some British, US, and French intelligence and special forces personnel are here, it seems that their role is confined to maintaining high level communications with the rebel leadership.

If not, how could Thursday's mishap in which 20 armoured vehicles were sent south by Gen Younis without Nato knowing about it have happened?

The general and the alliance spokesmen flatly contradict each other over whether or not the rebels passed on information about their intended assault. But spotters on the ground would most likely have prevented yesterday's error.

Given the recriminations, and the reluctance of Nato to get drawn into acting directly as the rebel air force, it does not seem like any rapid change in this confused situation is possible.

There have already been three accidental Nato strikes on rebel columns, and it is quite possible there will be more.

As the casualties in these incidents multiply, it is bound to feed the doubts that some Nato members have harboured about this campaign since the outset.

In addition to the likelihood of accident, the current limited state of co-operation is also likely to slow down a military resolution of the conflict.

The sharp reduction to the number of missions being flown by US aircraft will have a significant effect on the damage being done to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

The initial "coalition of the willing" air assault on Libya (in which the great majority of the ordnance was delivered by America) hit air defence and command installations.

But knocking out anti-aircraft missiles, rusting migs, or bunkers has had a very limited effect in the Gaddafi forces' ability to harm the rebels.

Ground operations consist of fast moving attacks with pick up trucks, armoured vehicles and artillery. The number of individual targets of this kind belonging to regime forces probably runs to several thousand.

Perhaps a few hundred have been destroyed so far and the British, French and few other countries still attacking ground targets (as opposed to patrolling Libyan airspace) can add two or three dozen to that tally each day.

At this rate of attrition it could be a long time yet before Col Gaddafi's forces are broken.


  • Comment number 1.


    Have we not seen - and, indeed heard - the enthusiasm for zapping something (anything?) that comes over macho pilots, flying zap platforms?

    Would anyone dare do the 'Geneva Test' on pilots, from very different cultures, to rate their respect for alien life, of either side, way down there? Never lose sight of the fact that even the upright, noble British show a willingness to 'collateralise' Johnnie Foreigner in his own sand, on a whim or a lie.

    In passing: perhaps a modern ‘Milgram’ might test ease of heedless annihilation, when the target is VIRTUAL!

  • Comment number 2.

    'People on the streets say they are bewildered at what Nato has done'

    Fog of war not entered their lexicon then, as with most journalists over recent years? One is sure many of the latter are on hand to assist on how things need to be viewed.

    'I understand that the aircraft responsible were either French or Canadian, '

    Was it the accent?

  • Comment number 3.

    The rebels have tanks? When did that happen? And how do they expect fighter pilots to distinguish between bad tanks and good tanks?

  • Comment number 4.



  • Comment number 5.

    #3 - Scotch Git

    'And how do they expect fighter pilots to distinguish between bad tanks and good tanks?'

    With good communications and intelligence. You know, like the excellent intelligence about Sadam's WMDs that led to that unseemly episode. What is it about that region that seems to blow apart any semblance of good information?

    #4 - barriesingleton

    Yeah, yeah. We all know which is the front end of a plane. It's what it's point at that is the question. Doh?

  • Comment number 6.


    What if they're going for gas? What if they're going for pizza?


    T'anks very much!

  • Comment number 7.

    yeah, where did all dem tanks come from? Is there a Tesco out there where you can just buy a few? I thought they were all skint....just a few small trucks with a few guns on the back and now....tanks...!

  • Comment number 8.

    Why can't the western powers just leave the African countries in peace? Is the Nigerian oil, the Libyan sweet crude, the strategic location?
    Why can't the western powers get out of Iraq and Afghanistan?
    The people of these occupoed countries generally cry out for foreigners to leave so why don't the foreigners leave? I heard that the Iraq American presence is going to be extended indefinitely. Why? Oil?
    Western countries have got to stop killing, bombing and droning for what they do not have, and start paying for these commodities. Spilling blood for some commodity has just got to be EVIL.

  • Comment number 9.


    Fundamentally we humans are 'not nice'.* Jack Kennedy thought the was 'a Berliner' but most are more like Mau Mau. At the drop of a bomb we treat 'them' as rubbish.

    But being honourable - practising integrity - is very wearing; simpler to concoct a feeble lie, and behave abominably.
    *Westminster politicians - as a group - would seem to be some of the LEAST NICE.


  • Comment number 10.

    If there was ever any proof that African nations do not want to deal with the Americans or the EU or NATIO, it is the implementation of the mandate entrusted to it by the 265th meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU). The AU High-Level ad hoc Committee on the situation in Libya started today, 10 April 2011?
    Result = AU Roadmap for the resolution of the Libyan crisis.
    The Leader of the Revolution confirmed his acceptance of the AU Roadmap.
    Muammar Gaddafi confirmed his support for the efforts of the ad hoc Committee aimed at ensuring its urgent materialization on the ground, including the deployment of an effective and credible monitoring mechanism.
    Leader Muammar Gaddafi expressed his full confidence in the AU and in its ability to successfully carry out the peace efforts in his country.

  • Comment number 11.

    Correct me if i am wrong, but isn't NATO supposed to be protecting "Non- Combatants"? Not providing air cover for the rebels. The anti-Gaddafi forces should be told by NATO that their combat units are fair-game, the fact that they can deploy Main Battle Tanks suggests that they are no longer civilians fighting with AK-47's, you can't pick up how to operate Armoured vehicles on the web!.
    It show's that either professional soldiers or ex-military units are now fighting on the rebel side and are therefore no longer covered by UN Resolution 1973.

  • Comment number 12.

    The French and the UN seem to be busily engaged in supporting combatants in two regions of Africa, Libya and the Ivory Coast. Whilst we have considerable UK MSM coverage of Libya , the same can't be said for the civil war in the Ivory Coast. Coverage in the UK MSM seems to be perfunctory at best. Any chance of getting an 'Urban Treatment' of events and issues there. For example is this a case of two religiously, ethnically, and geographically divided communities struggling for economic and political control of the state or simply two war lords clashing. Fighting any war is costly so where is the money coming from. As the incumbent has control of the country's treasury where is the challenger's money coming from. Who is backing him and why.....As the challenger's military appear to be committing atrocities against tribes in the south what does that augur for how he intends to exercise power. What where the policies on which he fought election, did he receive a broad mandate or is it the case that the population numbers in his northern heartlands simply guarantee his majority support at the ballot box. Why is the incumbent so unpopular with the French ? I think a little Newsnight 'analysis' would be enlightening would it not !

  • Comment number 13.

    William Hague says that any cease fire re Libya must meet all conditions as set priginally by the United Nations. Since the United Nations went to great pains to spell out that Gaddafi removal (or regime change) was not the goal, or even a goal, then this condition cannot be inserted now by the rebel forces or the UN or the UK or France or anyone else.
    Gaddafi has every right to stay.

  • Comment number 14.

    "International Contact Group" meets Transitional National Council in step towards international recognition. What? Since when?
    An AU peace plan for Libya was rejected for one reason: Moamer Gathafi refused to step down. In London on March 29, the TNC was not permitted to attend. But French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the TNC "will appear before the contact group." Rebel spokesman Mahmud Shammam said "we want to move from the de facto recognition of the council to an internationally recognised legitimacy."
    "From the first day" the THC maintained "the demand of our people has been the ouster of Gathafi and the fall of his regime."
    British Foreign Secretary Hague urged NATO allies to intensify military operations in Libya. "We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO...Colonel Gathafi needs to leave."
    So, was it all about regime change all along, that and sweet crude?

  • Comment number 15.

    My sympathies go to the reporters who are looking ever more frustrated at what they know and what they are allowed to report.

    Misrata for instance where we are being told that civilians are being killed but why have they not been allowed out of the area and if not why not?

    They report that rebels have been killed but are not troops and their families not human beings too and worth reporting on? After all it is their land they are fighting for.

    It looks more and more like the old wild west but who are the real bandits and why do they think they can demand money and whatever they think fit when the Libyan people have not even been given a vote on whether they really want them there?

    True difference is in the wild west the law tried to protect the banks from the bandits but in Libya they are opening up the safes for them.

    The fog is getting thicker by the moment.


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