The crisis in Libya is quickly escalating. Rebel-pull backs continue in the east after Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces unleashed rockets and artillery on the light armed rebel forces today. The rebels, aided by Western air strikes, had made a two-day charge along more than 125 miles of barren coast (about 330 miles east of the capital of Tripoli) and seized strategic oil terminals near Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte. However, the rebels have now been forced to retreat, giving up valuable gains to Gadhafi’s better armed troops.
On Monday, March 28th, President Obama made his case for military intervention in Libya in a speech to the nation, saying the action he directed was in U.S. interests and had already succeeded in preventing a massacre of “horrific scale.” He said the U.S. would work to remove Gadhafi from power, but made clear that he would rely on political, financial, and other pressures—not military force—to drive him out.
Just one day after President Obama’s speech, 40 world leaders convened in London, insisting that Gadhafi steps down but offering no new suggestions for how to dislodge him from power. Although the leaders pledged humanitarian aid and continued air strikes to protect civilians in the region, they indicated that it would be up to the Libyans themselves to force Gadhafi out.
The question of whether to arm the rebels was not publicly discussed at the summit, nor was the question of how to release frozen Libyan assets to help fund them. But President Obama, in an interview with NBC on Tuesday, said that he would not preclude the possibility of arming the rebels. Obama said, “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in.” He added, “Operations to protect civilians continue to take out Gadhafi’s forces, his tanks, his artillery on the ground. And that will continue for some time.” While both the U.S. and Britain are not ruling out supplying arms to the rebels, China and Russia are stepping up complaints about the Western-led military intervention in Libya.
The UN, however, has openly pledged it’s support. In a statement released on Tuesday, March 29th, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “thousands of lives” were saved by the actions of the international community. The Secretary General pledged the ongoing support of the UN to resolve the crisis in Libya and noted that the world body was already engaged in “strong diplomatic efforts.” He reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire between the military and opposition forces, and said he and his Special Envoy for Libya, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, remain in close contact with both Libya’s authorities and the opposition.
In total, around 380,000 people are estimated to have left Libya since the unrest – part of wider protests across North Africa and the Middle East – began and another 13,000 are stranded at the country’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt.
Stay tuned with us as we continue to monitor the unfolding events!