David Blackburn

Rebel setbacks create an almighty headache for NATO

The Auk and the Desert Fox ride again. As in 1941-2, the military position along on Libya’s northern coastal road is extremely fluid. After the celebrated rebel gains over the weekend, Gaddafi has counter-attacked without remorse. Skirmishes escalated yesterday and now the rebels are in full retreat (£) from the strategically vital oil town of Ras Lanuf, running from Gaddafi’s superior onslaught.

It’s apparent that the rebels need heavy arms to secure their gains, let alone beat Gaddafi. As Pete noted yesterday, the west is (rightly) wary of such a move and there’s nothing to suggest that Arab states are any less reluctant. Besides, it is unclear if the UN embargo on importing arms to Libya can be lifted to accommodate the rebels, even though their cause is defensive at present.

And all the while, the suffering deepens. Reuters is reporting that there are ‘dire food and medical shortages’ in combat zones. There is an increasing humanitarian need to end this civil war; there are also commercial concerns because Libya is a major source of the high quality oil that is refined into gasoline.

There is now talk of obtaining another UN Resolution to encourage regime change by legitimately assisting the rebels. Former foreign minister Lord Malloch Brown raised the point on Sky News earlier this afternoon. However, a second resolution will be hard to gain, especially if it involves arming the rebels. Russia is volubly opposed, which is unsurprising given the Chechnya dimension. There is also clear political resistance to extending NATO’s operation; officials are careful to insist that current sorties meet the letter of the UN Resolution. It is now paramount to NATO to avert a protracted and costly stalemate without disturbing the diplomatic peace.    

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