Green Room

Is a “humanitarian crisis” developing in Libya?

posted at 11:41 am on March 24, 2011 by

One of the stated goals of this war on Libya has been to “avert a humanitarian crisis”.  But the Washington Post seems to believe such a crisis is now being precipitated there:

Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.

International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as government tanks retreated from the city center.

But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.

Patients were being treated on the floor, medical supplies were falling short, fuel for the generator was running low, and water had been cut off, said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation by Libyan forces.

What I’d guess the coalition will learn eventually is you can’t stop what is going on in Libya from 30,000 feet, no matter how many coalition members and aircraft you use.  He who is on the ground, and controls it, determines who can be on the ground with him.

Trying to sort “white from red” as one of the DoD briefers termed it (civilians = white/Gadhafi troops = red) is exceedingly hard, especially in an urban area.  While it may be clear that the red guys are shooting up the place, they’re mixed in with the white meaning any strike against them has a very great possibility of killing a whole bunch of civilians.

U.S. and allied warplanes on Wednesday aimed their attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces in Misurata and other key cities but were constrained by fears that strikes in heavily built-up areas could cause civilian deaths.

“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the coalition.

So that speaks to the limits of what the present plan (pure “no-fly zone”) can accomplish, especially considering the “no boots on the ground” promise by most of the coalition members, to include the US.  Or so we’ve been told numerous times.

International aid organizations have been unable to deliver relief goods to Misurata and other contested towns. Asked whether the U.S. military might play a role in distributing emergency relief, one American official said, “All options are on the table.” He declined to comment further.

Oh. Wait.  I thought that option was definitely off the table.  Mission creep?  Or maybe not, since no one has yet to be able to define the mission in any clear and understandable way.  Not the goals of the UN resolution – the mission of the US military committed to the war in Libya.


Bruce McQuain blogs at Questions and Observations (QandO), Blackfive, the Washington Examiner and the Green Room.  Follow him on Twitter: @McQandO

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Just pay the Egyptian army to take out Gaddafi. It’ll be cheaper and the Egyptians don’t want instability on their border.

rbj on March 24, 2011 at 12:03 PM

The no-fly zone policy is limited but there are more than a few press reports suggesting a range of covert activities going on much like they did in Kurdish controlled Iraq.

lexhamfox on March 24, 2011 at 2:10 PM

I wonder if the Duck has mine-laying assets?

Mining Benghazi’s port is an obvious way to keep the rebels from being re-supplied.

LarryD on March 24, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Mining Benghazi’s port is an obvious way to keep the rebels from being re-supplied.

LarryD on March 24, 2011 at 2:44 PM

He might have such assets but the navy isn’t allowed to leave port since the campaign began.

lexhamfox on March 24, 2011 at 7:15 PM