Libyan Rebels Take New Ground in Western Mountains

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nick Carey

2011-06-15T224232Z_1848250202_GM1E76G0IRF01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Rebel fighters prepare to make their way to the frontline near the town of Riyayna, June 15, 2011.   

REUTERS/Anis Mili

GHARYAN, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan rebels pushed deeper into government-held territory south of the capital on Wednesday, but their advance came as strains began to emerge in the Western alliance trying to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Fighters in the Western Mountains, a rebel stronghold about 150 km (90 miles) south-west of Tripoli, built on gains made in the past few days by taking two villages from which pro-Gaddafi forces had for months been shelling rebel-held towns.

The rebels are still a considerable way from Gaddafi’s main stronghold in Tripoli, while their fellow fighters on the other two fronts — in Misrata and in eastern Libya — have made only halting progress against better-armed government troops.

“The revolutionaries (rebels) now control Zawiyat al-Babour and al-Awiniyah after pro-Gaddafi forces retreated this morning from the two villages,” Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman in the nearby town of Zintan, told Reuters.

In Gharyan, a Gaddafi-held town that forms the gateway from Tripoli to the mountains, there was an undercurrent of tension as the frontline moves closer to the capital.
Libyan government minders brought a group of reporters to the town, which lies about 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli and about 20 kilometers east of Kikla, which rebels seized from Gaddafi loyalists on Tuesday.

Despite an outward appearance of normality, numerous walls around town on Wednesday had recently painted over graffiti. The windows of one government building were smashed, the sign for another was riddled with holes.

While many traders and people on the streets were reluctant to talk to reporters, one shop owner said the calm in the area during the day was replaced by fighting every night.
“Two thirds of the people here are for the rebels,” he told Reuters, giving his name as Mohammed.

Those willing to talk in front of the minders were strongly pro-Gaddafi.

“Sarkozy is stupid, he is fighting this war for petrol,” a man called Yunis said in French, referring to the French president, villified by Gaddafi supporters as the driving force behind NATO bombing. “This is colonialism all over again.”

The NATO military alliance, which has been pounding Gaddafi’s military and command-and-control structures for nearly three months, has failed to dislodge him.

Libyan TV said on Wednesday a NATO bombardment had killed 12 people in a convoy in Kikla. A NATO official denied it.

Ties are becoming strained in the alliance, with some NATO members complaining that others have been reluctant to commit additional resources needed to sustain the bombing mission in the coming months.

Adding to the pressure, Republicans in the U.S. Congress are pressing President Barack Obama to explain the legal grounds on which he was keeping U.S. forces involved in Libya without the authorisation of Congress.

Speaking in London after meeting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated that time was running out for Gaddafi and that the alliance was as determined as ever.

“I think there is a very clear pattern emerging which is time is on our side, because we have the support of NATO, the United Nations, the Arab League, a huge number of countries in our coalition and in our contact group,” he said.

Rasmussen echoed those comments despite senior NATO commander General Stephane Abrial on Tuesday raising questions about the alliance’s ability to handle a long-term intervention.

“Allies and partners are committed to provide the necessary resources and assets to continue this operation and see it through to a successful conclusion,” Rasmussen said.

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the alliance was “sliding down and being dragged more into the eventuality of a land-based operation in Libya.”

In a theatrical show of defiance, Gaddafi was shown at the weekend playing a game of chess with a Russian official, but after weeks of ambivalence, Moscow has joined Western countries this month in calling for Gaddafi to step down.

Saad Djebbar, a former legal adviser to the Libyan government, told Reuters Gaddafi would continue to play for time and seek to demoralise and split the coalition.

“Gaddafi’s mentality is that as long as my enemies haven’t triumphed, I haven’t lost,” he said.

“The U.S. stance, that the major outside role should be played by the Europeans and Arabs, sends the wrong signal. Gaddafi will be very encouraged by it. His line is ‘We are steadfast. We can wait it out.’”

Gaddafi has said he has no intention of leaving the country — an outcome which, with the military intervention so far failing to produce results, many Western policymakers see as the most realistic way out of the conflict.

The Libyan leader has described the rebels as criminals and al Qaeda militants, and called the NATO intervention an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya’s oil.

Potent Force

Though under attack from NATO warplanes and rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s troops have showed they are still a potent force.

A rebel spokesman in Nalut, at the other end of the Western Mountains range from Zintan, said Gaddafi’s forces had been shelling Nalut and the nearby border crossing into Tunisia. The rebels depend on that crossing to bring in supplies.

On Tuesday, the rebels tried to advance in the east of Libya, setting their sights on the oil town of Brega, but they were unable to break through.

In Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city about 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, rebels have been inching slowly west toward the neighbouring town of Zlitan along the coast road to Tripoli, but have repeatedly had to fall back under fire.

The rebels there have expressed frustration that NATO is not more active at taking out Gaddafi’s forces there, and is not doing more to coordinate with fighters on the ground.

A Reuters correspondent in Misrata said there were no further advances toward Zlitan on Wednesday.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger will visit the rebels in Benghazi on Sunday to offer “concrete support,” his office said, the latest in a series of such visitors.

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NATO Seeks Russian Help in Afghanistan

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Brunnstrom

2009-10-07T135141Z_148940011_GM1E5A71OQP01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man heads home at the end of a day’s work in Kabul October 7, 2009.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO urged Russia on Wednesday to expand its role in Afghanistan, including by equipping and training Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban.

While reiterating a call on European allies to step up their commitments in the country as the United States weighs a further boost in forces, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was also in Russia’s interests to do more.

He said agreements allowing transit of military supplies to Afghanistan via Russia could be expanded.

“Next, Russia could provide equipment for the Afghan security forces. Thirdly, Russia could provide training. These are just some examples. I think we should explore in a joint effort how we could further Russian engagement,” Rasmussen said.

“I know from the Russians that they are interested in a stronger engagement and we have to find ways and means because basically Afghanistan is one of the areas in which we share interests with Russia,” he told a monthly news conference.

Russia has said it fully backs U.S.-led efforts against the Taliban although it would not send its own soldiers to fight in the country where Moscow lost a 10-year war in the 1980s.

Rasmussen said he was pleased by the improvement in relations between NATO and Russia since a freeze imposed by the alliance after last year’s war between Georgia and Russia, even if there were still “fundamental areas on which we disagree.”

“But we can create a web of cooperation that is strong enough to survive these differences. We have to make NATO-Russia cooperation too good to lose,” he said.

EU CHIDED ON POLICE TRAINING

Rasmussen again called on European NATO allies to step up commitments in Afghanistan, chiding them for failing to provide all the 400 police trainers they had promised. “It is a bit embarrassing,” he said. “I would encourage all members of the European Union to do their utmost to ensure full deployment.”

Rasmussen urged the Netherlands to reconsider plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, asking them to stay and help train Afghan forces.

“I would regret a Dutch withdrawal,” he said. “We are at a critical juncture, where there should be no doubt about our firm commitment. Any such doubts will simply play into the hands of those who want us to fail … we need all allies contributing.”

Rasmussen said it was essential there was a fair balance between the contributions of the United States and its partners, and for that non-U.S. allies needed to do more. He said this was important not just for Afghanistan but for the future of NATO.

“I am afraid many in the U.S. will wonder about Europe as a real partner in security,” he said. “That would be damaging over the long term for NATO and the transatlantic relationship.”

NATO is looking to an expanded effort to beef up the Afghan police and army as the route to eventual withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, where they have been since toppling the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

There are more than 100,000 foreign troops in the country, but they have struggled to contain a widening Islamist insurgency while mounting casualties have made the mission increasingly unpopular with Western public opinion.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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