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The rebel forces found themselves in retreat as the see-saw battle with Qaddafi continued. One rebel fighter in Brega attributed NATO’s weakness to a desire to seek a ceasefire. “Ever since Qaddafi started looking for a way out, negotiating for an end, NATO has backed off. Our question for NATO is this: are you with us or against us?”
The government of Turkey is being loudly blamed for NATO’s ineffectiveness by the rebels. The Turkish government initially opposed NATO intervention and once it began, complained that the operations went beyond what was authorized by the U.N. The Turks have been a leading player in trying to broker a ceasefire. Prime Minister Erdogan won a Human Rights Award from Qaddafi last year, which he accepted.
The rebels claim that Turkey is using its membership in NATO to impede operations. They have gone so far as to attack the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi and forced a Turkish ship delivering humanitarian aid to return home. The Transitional Council claims it has information that Turkey is selling fuel to Qaddafi’s forces in Tripoli and Az-Zawiyah. The Turks have also refused to seize the assets of the Qaddafi regime.
These problems have led Senator John McCain to demand that command over the war in Libya be returned to the U.S., U.K. and France as “our allies neither have the assets or the will.” Lt.-General James Dubik, who led the training of Iraqi forces from 2007 to 2008, also has similar concerns.
“In war, leadership is not exercised from the rear by those who seek to risk as little as possible. Washington must stop pretending that we’ve passed the leadership for the Libyan operation on to NATO,” he wrote in an editorial. Dubik noted that command over operations in Bosnia was handed over to NATO and the Srebrenica massacre followed.
NATO has had similar problems in Afghanistan with many countries placing burdensome restrictions on their military forces. Secretary of Defense Gates said in 2008, “I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect the people’s security and others who are not.” He used strong language again in February 2010, stating, “The demilitarization of Europe…has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”
NATO’s involvement is escalating. France has said it will increase its air strikes. The U.S. is now using armed Predator drones and is giving $25 million in non-lethal aid to the rebels. European military advisers are being deployed and the European Union is discussing sending in ground forces to protect shipment of humanitarian aid.
As the conflict grows and becomes more complex, the fissures in NATO will grow. The U.S. should not outsource command over a war it initiated to an alliance uncommitted to paying the price.
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