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NATO agrees to lead airstrikes against Gadhafi
Rebels move toward Tripoli, taking some key coastal towns
NATO agreed Sunday to take command of the airstrikes over Libya from the U.S.-led coalition, as rebels advanced on the capital, Tripoli, seizing key coastal towns from forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
“Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gadhafi regime. NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. resolution. Nothing more, nothing less,” he added.
In addition to maintaining the no-fly zone approved by a U.N. Security Council resolution this month, the alliance will be in charge of airstrikes to protect civilians on the ground. These attacks have been carried out by U.S., British and French forces.
Rebels told The Washington Times in satellite phone interviews that they had recaptured key oil towns Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf and Brega over the weekend in a westward advance on Tripoli. They also claimed to control Uqayla and Bin Jawad on the Mediterranean coast in the eastern part of the country.
The rebels now face a significant battle in Sirte, Col. Gadhafi’s tribal stronghold that remains loyal to the regime and blocks their westward progress. The coalition began softening targets in Sirte and Tripoli on Sunday night. Both cities were hit by airstrikes.
In Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, Col. Gadhafi’s forces were still fighting for control of the largest rebel-held town in western Libya, despite being pounded by coalition airstrikes. The regime’s snipers also continued picking off targets from their rooftop vantage points, residents said.
The rebels say they need arms and military training from the international community if they are to be expected to build on the advantage created by coalition airstrikes and topple the regime.
In joint appearances on Sunday talk shows, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates held open the possibility of providing weapons. They said U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which allows all necessary steps to protect Libyan civilians, permits the international community to arm the rebels.
“The reason is because there is an arms embargo against the Gadhafi regime that was established in the first resolution, Resolution 1970, which applied to the entire country. In the follow-on resolution, 1973, there is an exception if countries or organizations were to choose to use that,” Mrs. Clinton told CBS‘ “Face the Nation.”
A Western diplomat, who spoke on background, said there is a legal debate over whether arms can be supplied to the rebels.
“It would be a big step to go down that route. I don’t think anyone has excluded it, but I don’t think anyone has taken any decisions on it,” he said.
According to some sources in Cairo, arms have been flowing from Egypt to rebel fighters across the border in Libya.
International pressure from sanctions, the no-fly zone and freeze of the regime’s assets is beginning to show results, Western officials said.
In recent days, some members of the Gadhafi regime have made overtures to the international community. The coalition has yet to determine whether to take these seriously.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.
Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.
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