The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, even as Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s warplanes bombed Benghazi, the eastern city at the heart of the rebellion.
Residents of Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya, said warplanes had bombed the outskirts of the city, including the airport. Phone service was disrupted and residents could only be reached on their satellite phones.
One resident, who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity citing security concerns, said pro-Gadhafi forces were still some miles from the city.
In an address carried on state TV on Thursday, Col. Gadhafi warned residents of Benghazi that his troops were coming “tonight” and there would be “no mercy or compassion” for those who resist.
Multiple sources said opposition forces had shot down two pro-Gadhafi aircraft in Benghazi. Heavy fighting also was reported from the cities of Adjabiya and Misurata.
In New York, the Security Council approved a resolution “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in [Libya], including Benghazi.”
The resolution, however, ruled out “an occupation force,”a reference to a ground offensive.
The Security Council adopted the resolution by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions, including those of veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia. India, Germany and Brazil also abstained.
Britain, France and Lebanon proposed the resolution with U.S. support.
In an interview broadcast just before the Security Council voted, Col. Gadhafi dismissed its actions. “The U.N. Security Council has no mandate. We don’t acknowledge their resolutions,” he told the Portuguese public Radiotelevisao Portuguesa. He pledged to respond harshly to U.N.-sponsored attacks. “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
The Arab League was among the first to back a no-fly zone over Libya, but analysts said it was unrealistic to expect it to impose one unilaterally. One option would be for the League to send planes to participate in a U.S.-led effort.
William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told senators on Thursday that the Obama administration is interested in Arab partnership — material as well as financial — and that discussions with some Arab states already have started along those lines.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Burns said a no-fly zone could have “an important, positive, practical effect,” but added that it was important to look at other measures as well.
The top two senators on the committee were split over the practicality of imposing a no-fly zone.
Speaking before the U.N. vote, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman, warned that time was running out for the Libyan people and urged the Security Council to immediately approve the resolution.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee’s ranking Republican, expressed concern that U.S. policy options in Libya only have focused on a no-fly zone and military intervention.
“Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risk that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab streets of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military and other factors, I am doubtful the United States’ interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone on Libya,” Mr. Lugar said.
He said the Arab League and other governments advocating military action should pledge resources needed for such an operation.
Mr. Lugar said such a payment would not be unprecedented, adding that more than $50 billion in foreign contributions were received to offset American costs in association with the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s center in Doha, Qatar, said in a phone interview with The Times that while imposing a no-fly zone at this stage “may be too little too late, it’s better late than never.”
“At this point, the international community has to choose the least bad of what are all very bad options,” Mr. Hamid said, blaming a lack of U.S. leadership for the predicament.
“What we have realized in the past couple of weeks is that if the U.S. does not lead, it is very hard to get much done from the military standpoint. The impotence of the international community became abundantly clear,” he said.
The U.S. appeared to make an about-face on its position late Wednesday, hinting that it would support not only a no-fly zone over Libya but other measures as well.
Some experts say it will now take more than just a no-fly zone to stop the advance of pro-Gadhafi forces.
James Lacey, director of the war policy and strategy program at the Marine Corps University, advocates setting up a “no-tank line” that Libyan armored units would be forbidden from crossing.
Mr. Lacey said that, besides imposing a no-fly zone, the international community should prepare special operations forces teams to join the rebels to help reverse the tide of the conflict. “If the world is not willing to do this bare minimum, then it is best to do nothing,” he added.
Mr. Lacey said if NATO lends active support, a no-fly zone could start almost immediately and be progressively more effective over the course of a week.
Meanwhile, in a sign that the Obama administration may be preparing to officially recognize the Libyan opposition, Mr. Burns said the U.S. has authorized the Interim Transitional National Council to open an office in Washington.
He said the Obama administration is still trying to develop a clearer picture of the opposition’s goals.
“I don’t want to pretend that we have a full picture in which we have total confidence,” Mr. Burns told senators.
U.S. officials have had extensive meetings with some members of the opposition Interim Transitional National Council and “those with whom we’ve met have struck us as being positive and serious,” Mr. Burns said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Libyan opposition envoy Mahmood Jibril in Paris on Monday. Mr. Burns said Mrs. Clinton “came away impressed with his seriousness.”
France is the only country that has officially recognized the council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
In response to a question from Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, Mr. Burns said there is a “very real danger” that if Col. Gadhafi prevails, Libya will resume its support for terrorism.
“There’s a great deal at stake here, and that’s what creates a real sense of urgency on our part,” Mr. Burns said.
For Mr. Hamid and most Libyans, it is the fate of Benghazi’s residents that is a more pressing concern.
“The only way Gadhafi will be able to retake Benghazi is if he were to kill a lot of people,” Mr. Hamid said, adding, “If we are concerned about crimes against humanity, then we should certainly prepare ourselves for another one in Benghazi.”