Facing defeat and a possible massacre at the hands of a vengeful Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan rebel forces in the besieged city of Misrata have for the first time called for NATO or UN ground forces to intervene in the two-month old conflict. Up until now, the anti-Gaddafi insurgents have said it was important they alone depose the Libyan leader without the help of foreign troops. But the pounding the rebels are taking in Misrata from the Gaddafi forces’ heavy shelling, rockets and possibly cluster bombs, which NATO admits it is unable to stop, is causing the city’s battlefield and humanitarian situation to deteriorate daily.
“We are calling for foreign forces to protect our citizens immediately,” said a member of Misrata’s leadership committee on Tuesday. “We want the UN or NATO on the ground. This is not a Western occupation or colonialism. This is needed to protect our people.”
The Misrata leadership committee’s urgent plea, however, flies in the face of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which only allows NATO to set up a no-fly zone over Libya for saving civilian lives. It forbids intervention by foreign ground forces. President Barack Obama has stated on more than one occasion American soldiers will not land in Libya.
But the fact is, ground troops are now necessary if the civilian lives the UN said it wants to save are to be rescued. And if a reluctant NATO does acquiesce to the rebels’ urgent plea for help and send in “boots on the ground,” the Libyan ordeal shows the folly of attempting to wage war through UN mandates. Their rigid positions simply do not match a battlefield’s requirements and can lead to disaster, as may yet occur in Misrata.
Even before the Libyan rebels’ request, the United States and her NATO allies appeared to be preparing to circumvent Resolution 1973 and readying themselves for a ground force deployment. NATO labelled Misrata its “number one priority,” while Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, in a joint release last week, called Gaddafi’s assault on Misrata a “medieval siege…to strangle its population into submission.” The three leaders said it would be “an unconscionable betrayal” to leave Gaddafi in power to wreak “a fearful vengeance” on Misrata’s “brave citizens.” Such “an unconscionable betrayal,” as these three leaders well know, can now only be avoided by NATO arms.
Britain is taking the first steps towards sending in ground forces. While NATO and other countries already have Special Forces operatives in Libya, the British government was the first to announce it was sending a contingent of “experienced” officers to Benghazi as a military liaison team. The British were reported to have put a brigade of Royal Marines on standby a month ago for possible intervention in Libya, and these officers probably constitute an advance team. Naturally, the British government contends the officers’ presence in Libya is in accordance with UN Resolution 1973.