So far, it doesn’t appear that Moammar Gaddafi feels that much pressure to end his push against the last major rebel stronghold of Benghazi, despite the threat of action from the UN. A new ground push against Libya’s second largest city has rebels falling back, and one of their planes falling from the skies — although it’s not clear whether the old MiG got hit by hostile forces or just blew up. The Washington Post reports that Gaddafi’s forces have entered the city now, and that their artillery is landing everywhere.
NBC reports from the scene, where Gaddafi says it’s the rebels that are, er, throwing themselves under his tanks, or something:
Government troops in tanks and trucks entered Benghazi from the west, in the university area, and began to shell the city, including civilian areas. Intense fighting broke out in some enclaves. The city of 1 million quickly became a ghost town, with residents fleeing or seeking cover in barricaded neighborhoods.
A warplane was shot down over Benghazi, and rebel leaders later claimed it as one of their own. While they said mechanical problems caused the crash, calls from mosques across the city suggested that friendly fire brought down the plane. “Don’t attack the airplanes because these are our planes,” a mosque preacher urged over loudspeakers.
France has begun leading talks to get the West into action:
President Obama is sending his secretary of state to Paris tomorrow for a key meeting of European and Arab leaders that will seek to define the terms of military engagement in Libya against Muammar Qaddafi’s military.
Secretary Hillary Clinton has been a strong advocate for a no-fly zone, and during a trip to Arab states this week she called for attacks on Libyan military sites and for Colonel Qaddafi’s departure.
The Paris meeting will come two days after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution allowing “all necessary measures” against Qaddafi’s forces, which have been making gains on the rebel fighters and approaching the de-facto opposition capital Benghazi. On Friday, Qaddafi’s government declared a cease-fire even as its attacks continued on rebel holdouts.
What exactly will this accomplish? Even if Gaddafi wanted to bomb Benghazi, he’d gain very little from it now, and it would put his own troops at risk. Thanks to the elimination of what appears to be one-third of the rebel air force, the ground forces won’t be hampered by a lack of air cover. Unless France and the West want to exceed the UN mandate and start sending troops to rescue Benghazi, the rebel position is untenable in the long run, and perhaps in the short run as well. By the time the West holds it meeting tomorrow, the point may well be moot, or will be shortly afterward.
Whether intervention in Libya was a wise decision or not is a fair question, and one can make reasoned arguments for principled decisions either way. The last of a decision, the weeks of vacillation, and the vacuum of leadership to make a decision one way or the other until the civil war was all but over is the worst outcome of all the scenarios.