The noose continues to tighten on Muammar Qaddafi. As he pounds rebels in Libya’s Western mountain range and hunkers down outside besieged Misrata, the Kinetic Military Action Coalition has met in Rome to discuss providing funds for the Libyan rebels. According to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, the “fund should be operational within weeks.”
Libyan civilians might be pardoned for wondering when the “protection” is going to start. Besides the hundreds recently evacuated from Misrata by sea, thousands are now fleeing the fighting in western Libya, joining the thousands already displaced and being sheltered at makeshift border camps. The destruction of infrastructure is colossal in the urban areas where fighting has raged – and, of course, civilians continue to be killed with each day of combat.
But they can take comfort in the fact that setting up the fund will, as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini puts it, “permit funds to be channeled effectively and transparently” to the rebels. I think we can all agree that ineffective and opaque fund channeling would be a flawed approach.
Meanwhile, a Canadian forces spokesman, Brigadier General Richard Blanchette, told Canadian media yesterday that “it will take time before NATO air forces can eliminate the Libyan despot’s capacity to strike at his own people.” NATO operations are being slowed by Qaddafi’s tactics: “pro-Gadhafi forces continue to use civilians as human shields, which slows down the speed at which NATO can launch airstrikes.” Canadian authorities will review their national participation in Operation Unified Protector at the 90-day mark, which falls in late June. Presumably, the operation will still be active then.
The Russians retain strong suspicions that NATO intends to put ground troops in Libya. According to state media outlet Russia Today, a NATO spokesman, Canadian James Appathurai, told Russian students during a videoconference this week that the coalition needed a new UN resolution authorizing ground forces. RT quotes him as follows: “The UN Security Council should adopt a new resolution on Libya. Resolution 1973 does not envisage land operations. We need a new resolution.”
Appathurai was not speaking in an official-policy capacity, of course, but assuming he really said this, it seems startlingly tin-eared to say it to a Russian audience if NATO is not seriously developing this option.
We have also known for weeks that Islamists were at work in Libya, some of them (notably Al Qaeda) with direct ties to the rebel forces. This interview by a Christian Science Monitor reporter with a Libyan rebel (identified only by a pseudonym) highlights an important downside of letting the conflict in Libya drag out: it gives jihadists time to flood the country. The rebel says it’s already happening:
“Al Qaeda [is] getting more and more organized and bringing people [to Libya] from abroad,” says the believer, adding that he has been contacted by militants wanting to fight in his homeland. He has not joined the frontline against forces loyal to Qaddafi because he says Muslims should not kill Muslims. “This is a great land for Al Qaeda. There are a lot of opportunities for them here. They are not far away in Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.”
And the death of Bin Laden won’t change that, he adds: “For Islamic organizations leadership doesn’t mean much, ideology does. Leadership is just a soul that comes and goes. Ideology stays.”
“Now that Bin Laden is dead, a lot of leaders in the shade will come out … and will be smarter than him and better than him,” says Naluti. “Al Qaeda will continue. The clash of civilizations will continue.”
Indeed. But at least the Kinetic Military Action Coalition will channel funds to the rebels effectively and transparently, starting in a few weeks.