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NATO 24-Hour Surveillance Of Libya Begins

Kevin Douglas Grant, Mary Slosson |
March 7, 2011 | 8:50 a.m. PST

Executive Editor, Executive Producer

Courtesy Americanistadechiapas.
Courtesy Americanistadechiapas.

NATO has begun 24-hour air surveillance of Libya in order to keep tabs on the fighting between anti-regime protesters and the violence that leader Muammar Gaddafi has used against them in the weeks since opposition members began calling for his resignation.

"The decision was made to indeed increase the surveillance of the NATO AWACS capability, make it 24/7. We'll have a better picture of what is really going on in this part of the world," said U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder.

The Obama administration is considering all options to assist the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya, including troops on the ground and providing arms to the opposition movement. 

Troops on the ground is a far-removed possibility; such a move "is not at the top of the list at this point," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney.

"The option of providing military assistance to the rebels is on the table," Carney said, but "it would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya."

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ) are among the Congressional voices pushing President Obama to consider a military operation in Libya.

Even if he were interested in teaming with international allies including the U.N. and NATO, the question at hand is: what kind?

The establishment of a no-fly zone has been batted around since the early days of the Libyan uprising, as some demonstrators invoked the first Gulf War in their appeals to former President George H. W. Bush. 

The U.S., U.K and France created two zones to prevent attacks by Saddam Hussein on Kurds and Shiites following the Gulf War in 1991. These were then expanded and maintained until 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq again.

Obama's Chief of Staff William Daley said: "Lots of people throw around phrases like no-fly zone. They talk about it as though it's just a video game."

The pressure to act comes as anti-Gaddafi rebels find themselves in a protracted fight for territory with government forces.  Every day, scores of new civilians are killed and wounded in the crossfire.  Gaddafi's forces have reportedly targeted homes, hospitals and mosques.

Rebels are using light weaponry including knives, handguns and molotov cocktails to maintain control of Zawiya and Misurata, but some have expressed concern about their ability to sustain the effort without outside intervention:

"'We are absolutely against foreign intervention except we would like the no-fly zone implemented immediately,' said Mohammed Ali, a rebel spokesman in Misurata. 'Kadafi uses the air force to suppress his people and the human cost will be huge.'"

An analyst at Popular Mechanics wrote that maintaining a no-fly zone is an extremely difficult proposition, requiring hundreds of aircraft and thousands of flights:

"If the world insists on preventing Libyan military aircraft from flying, it's not logical or efficient to maintain endless 24-hour sorties, waiting for the Libyans to launch aircraft and hoping to shoot them down before they target civilians. It would be simpler and more effective to destroy the country's air force on the ground—and much safer for our fliers."

Kerry had also raised the possibility of destroying Gaddafi's airfields, effectively grounding his military. Any foreign intervention will be treated as an act of war by the longtime dictator, and could also be unwelcome with rebel forces.

Britain discovered that danger Monday when a team of SAS and MI6 operatives were captured by rebels (and later released):

"Seven of the group had been inserted by helicopter into farmland near the rebel capital Benghazi on a mission to establish contact with anti-regime forces. The eight Britons had been detained and questioned since Thursday by rebel leaders who had suspected they were mercenaries."

Robert Fisk reported for the Independent that the U.S. has asked Saudi Arabia to provide weaponry for the rebel forces.



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