U.S. Won’t Take Part in Post-Gadhafi Peacekeeping

WASHINGTON—U.S. military planners say they believe a post-Gadhafi Libya may require an international force to keep the peace, but the Obama administration has made clear to its allies that they shouldn’t expect American troops to participate.

With rebel fighters backed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization air power apparently on the verge of toppling Col. Moammar Gadhafi, talks are under way about winding down the NATO mission and putting international efforts under a United Nations umbrella, U.S. officials said.

“I don’t see much of a role for the U.S. military in postconflict Libya,” said a senior U.S. military official.

The U.S. and its allies want to avoid any appearance that NATO would be responsible for Libya should Col. Gadhafi’s regime fall. And they want any postconflict stabilization presence to be backed by the Transitional National Council, which represents opposition groups fighting to overthrow the colonel.

The Obama administration hopes the rebel council will be able to provide sufficient security in Tripoli and other areas, but military officials believe a peacekeeping presence may be unavoidable, depending on how the security situation evolves in the coming days and weeks.

Already engaged in two costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. believes the U.N. or another multinational coalition could take the lead in any post-Gadhafi stabilization efforts, said senior U.S. military officials and a senior Western diplomat working closely with the Americans.

From the start of the conflict in Libya, President Barack Obama has ruled out putting American troops on Libyan soil, and he pressured European allies to spearhead attacks from the air. Since leading the initial strikes against Col. Gadhafi’s loyalists, the U.S. has largely played a back-seat role, providing intelligence, unmanned aircraft and other logistical support for an air campaign dominated by the French, British and other NATO members.

After a weekend of fast-moving events in Libya, Obama administration officials stressed on Monday that the president still intends to keep the U.S. military role at a minimum. “We aren’t going to put boots on the ground,” an Obama administration official said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. will continue to fly surveillance and refueling missions in the days ahead.

A senior U.S. military officer said “a multinational coalition led by someone else” may well be “prudent.”

Washington’s reluctance to play an on-the-ground military role reflects domestic concerns about high war costs and a weak economy, as well as U.S. worries that the security situation could deteriorate, drawing an already-stretched American military into another protracted conflict.

Obama administration officials say post-Gadhafi planning is picking up pace and, other than saying they have no intention to participate in a peacekeeping force, they have made no final decisions about the way forward. “It is time to start thinking about next steps,” said another senior U.S. defense official.

Mr. Obama has recognized the rebel council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya, and officials want the group to lead any stabilization effort. “This is a Libya-led operation; they will be calling the shots,” a senior Obama administration official said of the rebel leaders. “We’re obviously in close contact with them at various levels on an ongoing basis, but this is their mission.”

The rebel council has so far resisted the idea of an international stabilization force, and officials say one might not be needed depending on how the conflict plays out.

Despite U.S. rejection of an overt military presence inside Libya, officials said the U.S. would support any stabilization effort by supplying equipment, as well as by rushing aid to the transitional Libyan authorities.

The U.S. military would like to establish a security-assistance presence in a new Libya. This could include military-liaison officers, as well as American trainers who would work with Libyan security forces, officials said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Libyan rebels still have to address outstanding legal issues before the Obama administration will release billions of dollars in frozen Gadhafi regime assets to the fledgling government, a Treasury official said Monday.

“All property and interests in property of the Gadhafi regime and others sanctioned by Treasury remain blocked, and all transactions involving the Gadhafi regime and persons who are included on the [Specially Designated Nationals] List continue to be prohibited,” the official said.

“We will continue to consult with the TNC and our international partners on the most effective and appropriate method of making additional significant financial assistance available to the TNC,” the official said.

The Treasury Department has frozen $37 billion in Libyan assets since February.

—Jeffrey Sparshott and Nathan Hodge contributed to this article.

Libyan Rebels Gain Control of Oil Refinery as Qaddafi Forces Flee

By By KAREEM FAHIM
ZAWIYAH, Libya — Rebel fighters gained complete control on Thursday of the oil refinery in Zawiyah — just a half hour’s drive from Tripoli, the country’s capital — routing government soldiers after days of battle and advancing into other parts of this strategic port city still controlled by loyalists of Libya’s increasingly isolated leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Employees at the large refinery complex here, which appeared to be undamaged by the fighting, said the remaining pockets of Qaddafi soldiers who had been defending the refinery were driven out overnight. A rebel commander said 5,000 rebel fighters were deployed around the refinery. Rebel sentries manning checkpoints could be seen on a drive around the complex on Thursday, and the discarded green uniforms of Libyan national army soldiers littered the grounds — signs of desertion by the Qaddafi defenders.

The fight for Zawiyah represents a possibly decisive moment in the six-month-old rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi, the quixotic leader whose four-decade-old rule in Libya has been challenged by the tide of antigovernment uprisings that have spread through the Arab world, upending the autocrats of Tunisia and Egypt and threatening regimes elsewhere, including Syria and Yemen.

A rebel was carried into a clinic near Zawiyah, where government forces are fighting for control.

Colonel Qaddafi has rejected calls to step down and defied defections by subordinates, increased economic and political isolation and NATO air assaults. The rebels themselves have suffered from internal dissension and lack of training. But there have been increasing signs that Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli stronghold is fracturing. People fleeing the capital said Wednesday that there was no electricity, and that prices of basic goods have soared amid shortages.

Rebel fighters interviewed at the Zawiyah complex said some Qaddafi loyalists had tried to escape in two boats docked at the refinery port, and that NATO fighter jets had bombed the boats. There was no immediate corroboration of their account from NATO.

Parts of the refinery grounds showed clear signs of battle, with destroyed vehicles and buildings hit by rocket and machine gun fire. Some squads of rebel fighters were seen building defensive berms in anticipation of a counterattack by the Qaddafi forces.

The rebel seizure of the refinery followed a mass departure of civilian refugees from Zawiyah, where sniper and artillery fire from the pro-Qaddafi forces made the escape especially hazardous.

About 2,000 families from Zawiyah, Tripoli and other cities near the fighting on the Libyan coast passed through one rebel checkpoint on Wednesday, according to rebel officials registering the names. Cars and trucks, piled high with refrigerators and other household items, filled a road to the Nafusah Mountains.

For the past week, Libya’s rebels have undertaken a broad offensive with local fighters to seize strategic towns in a bid to shift the course of the stalled war. Their gains have been hard to tally: reports of towns falling to the rebels are frequently amended hours later.

An American official said Wednesday that the United States had deployed two more Predator drones for surveillance operations over Libya, further increasing the pressure on Qaddafi’s forces, according to Reuters. The drones arrived earlier this week, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear how many American drones had been deployed for the NATO mission so far.

As rebel officials chased rumors of high-level defections from Colonel Qaddafi’s inner circle, his government confirmed on Tuesday that a senior security official had left. The Libyan government’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said that the official, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, who flew to Cairo on a private plane on Monday, had suffered “social and emotional pressures” before his defection.

The fighting on Wednesday continued in cities that dot the western mountains, including Gheryan in the east and Tiji in the west. Heavy fighting was also reported in Sabratha, on the coast, and doctors who worked in Surman said that city was under rebel control.

By the early afternoon, doctors at a clinic in Bir Muammar, about six miles from the front lines, said three rebels had been killed in the day’s fighting.

Source: New York Times

Libya: the importance of Zawiya to the rebels

By Martin Chulov
The road to Tripoli runs straight through Zawiya.

Control of the town and its lifeline to the Tunisian border gives the rebels a formidable launching pad for an assault on the capital, 30 miles to the east. Access to the oil produced by the refinery on the outskirts of town is more a bonus than the main prize.

Even without the black gold the rebel leadership covets, it has clearly established other means of keeping its ramshackle military moving. For the past five months the key goal has been to control the road and the supply line that matters – the one that runs 100 miles west to the Tunisian border.

This flat desert highway has kept Gaddafi’s Libya viable since February. His envoys have used it to travel to meet would-be peacemakers and to ask allies for money and guns. His wife and daughter crossed the border in May to sit the war out in Belarus.

Libyan rebels tear down Gaddafi regime bunting at the Zawiya oil refinery. Photograph: Bob Strong/Reuters

With the border now effectively closed to Gaddafi and his loyalists, he has nowhere left to run. The rebels, meanwhile, will sharply ramp up orders for things that matter to their campaign — providing the Tunisians are on board.

They could also, presumably, take charge of the Libyan side of the border crossing, as their counterparts in the east did when they ousted Gaddafi’s army in February. All of this would allow rebel leaders to prepare for the main game – an eventual assault on Tripoli. Short of a last-minute climbdown from Gaddafi – something he has vowed never to do – such a move seems inevitable.

After many months of stumbles and miscalculation and billions of dollars of European and US ordnance being dropped from the sky, the capital is now within range. The rebel armies are configured in a classic pincer movement; in the west in Zawiya, and in central Libya outside Misrata, where they appear to have finally won the upper hand against a resilient foe.

The rebels in the east, where it all began, may also take heart from the breakthrough in Zawiya and push west from Libya’s second oil town of Brega, where Gaddafi’s troops have had them pinned down all summer.

Zawiya will have done wonders for morale. The fact that the breakthrough took place during Ramadan will probably give it extra impetus. For an exhausted, beleaguered and out-manoeuvred Gaddafi, it will have had the opposite effect.

Source: The Guardian