Socialist Worker

Libyan suspicion grows at role of Nato

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2248

The euphoria that greeted Western intervention in Libya has given way to deep suspicion as the fighting drags on.

Libyan revolutionaries find themselves not only confronting Colonel Gaddafi’s dictatorship, but also struggling for national self-determination.

During a key battle outside the regime stronghold of Sirte, rebels suddenly found themselves abandoned by Nato. The “air cover” they had grown to rely on stopped, leaving them exposed to counter-attack by regime forces.

The cover disappeared because of a change in who was commanding the planes. It was not down to any consideration of how people on the ground might be affected.

As they retreated from Sirte, one rebel fighter declared, “We put our faith in god and we were winning. We put our faith in Nato and we are losing.”

In the early stages of the revolution, the rebels had gone into battle with a gun and a megaphone. Their victories came when they got sections of Gaddafi’s army to crumble and defect.

But once the Nato bombing started, the defections stopped cold. The nature of the conflict shifted to a balance of military strength.

Although the revolution is deeply compromised by Western intervention, in some areas it is still making advances—and they haven’t come from Nato warplanes.

Revolutionaries in Tripoli, based mainly in working class districts of the capital, are staging small attacks on regime checkpoints.

The Guardian interviewed a rebel operating underground in the capital. He said that his group has attacked checkpoints across the city, killing the pro-Gaddafi militia and stealing their guns.

The government claims that the shooting that can be heard at night is celebratory—but the rebel said, “Every night there are attacks.”

The rebels say the “boys” on the checkpoints can often be persuaded to abandon their posts.

The rebel explained, “They are only getting 40 dinars (£20) a night, and they are saying we don’t want to do this dirty work any more.”


The revolution has also gained a vital lifeline via a link to the Tunisian revolution through the Western Mountains.

Rebels have repelled attacks from Gaddafi’s forces in the predominantly Berber cities of Zintan and Nalut, the biggest in the Western Mountains.

Berbers have long faced discrimination from the regime. Libyan Berbers have received support from Berbers in Tunisia.

The battle in the mountains is difficult for the regime, as they face organised army troops who have rebelled.

The mountain routes into Tunisia also avoid regime checkpoints.

Several European Union countries are considering whether to put some kind of military forces into Misrata, a key industrial city in western Libya, to help them move in “aid”.

All are very keen to say their forces would not be operating in a combat role.

But accepting the deployment of Western ground forces remains a line that no rebels are yet prepared to cross.

Revolutionaries have resorted to renovating rusting old equipment, including tanks that have been out of commission for more than a decade.

They have established workshops to weld captured rocket launchers and other disparate weapons together and onto

flatbed trucks.

The rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) is now polarised between those who rose out of the insurrection and those who defected from the regime.

The insurrectionary leaders have been marginalised as the small amounts of military aid are directed to those with close ties to the West.

Many rebels feel that the delays in allowing in arms and access to funds will result in Nato opting for a ceasefire, as the first steps to partition—or creating conditions for the arrival of foreign troops.

Either would be a disaster for Libya, and a defeat for the revolution.

Libyans now find themselves having to continue their uprising against the regime while they shake themselves free from Western control.

The future of their revolution is tied with those others sweeping the region. The intervention of the West has proved to be a dangerous illusion.

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Tue 19 Apr 2011, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2248
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