Libya: Latest news and analysis

Dominic Browne reports on the latest news and analysis on the Libyan conflict.

Libya

Sky News have reported that the Libyan conflict could prompt a re-think of the cuts to the Defence budget. This afternoon, Sky reported David Cameron as being “actively engaged” in reconsidering the controversial spending decisions made last Autumn in the strategic defence and security review. However Niall Paterson, defence correspondent for Sky, describes any changes to the budget as “highly improbable“.

Meanwhile, NATO refused to apologise for yesterday’s attack on rebel forces near the town of Brega in Libya – though secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen “expressed regret” over the lives lost.

Rear admiral Russ Harding said he would not apologise for the air assault, which killed several rebel fighters. The BBC reports:

“It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in the deaths of a number of [rebel] forces who were operating main battle tanks,” he said on Friday.

“I’m not apologising,” he told reporters.

“The situation on the ground, as I said, was extremely fluid and remains extremely fluid. Up until yesterday, we had no information that the… opposition forces were using tanks,” he added.

“Our role is to protect civilians. Tanks have been used in the past to directly target civilians.”

However the rear admiral’s comments contradict what the BBC was told last night by general Abdelfatah Yunis:

“He (gen. Yunis) said NATO had been informed that the rebels’ tanks would be on the road, and had even been given the necessary co-ordinates. He also said NATO had apologised to the rebels about the incident, although not directly to him.

“Gen Yunis had called on NATO to give a “rational and convincing explanation” about what had happened, but had stressed it would not lead to tensions with the allied force.”

This is the third such incident to take place since NATO took over air operations a week ago.

Left Foot Forward has previously reported on the “fluid” situation on the Libyan coast as Gaddafi loyalist forces use tactics to complicate and confuse NATO operations, while The International Herald Tribune wrote an editorial yesterday on these difficulties and the danger they present to civilians.

The paper proposed that American A-10 and AC-130 aircraft, already used in the conflict and still on stand-by, should be made available to NATO command:

“President Obama should authorise these planes to fly again under NATO command. Unlike the highflying supersonic French and British jets now carrying the main burden of the air war, these American planes can fly slow enough and low enough to let them see and target Colonel Qaddafi’s weapons without unduly endangering nearby populations.”

The BBC adds:

“Rear Adm Harding also refused to back the view of US General Carter Ham – who led the first stage of the coalition air campaign in Libya – that the conflict appeared to have reached a stalemate with rebel forces unlikely to oust Col Gaddafi’s troops.”

“If someone wants to define that as a stalemate that’s fine, all I’m saying is that yes, it’s fluid, but it’s fluid in a relatively small area,” he said.”

This comes after The Guardian reported yesterday that:

“Turkey has proposed a path to a peaceful resolution to the deadlocked conflict in Libya, involving a withdrawal by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from cities held by the rebels, and democratic reform.”

Meanwhile Gaddafi forces are said to be advancing on Misrata, with reports that Unicef has said it has “reliable and consistent” accounts children are being targeted by Gaddafi’s snipers.

If the situation continues to get closer to outright stalemate and deteriorates through these deliberate and horrific tactics by Gaddafi’s forces, pressure to seek some kind of political solution, through the intervention of Turkey or others, may become harder to resist.

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