Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
By KAREEM FAHIM and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: March 1, 2011
BENGHAZI, Libya — In a sign of mounting frustration among rebel leaders over Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s diminished but unyielding grip on power, rebel leaders here are debating whether to ask for Western airstrikes under the United Nations banner, according to four people with knowledge of the deliberations.
By invoking the United Nations, a council of opposition leaders made up of lawyers, academics, judges and other prominent figures is seeking to draw a distinction between such airstrikes and foreign intervention, which the rebels said they emphatically opposed.
“He destroyed the army; we have two or three planes,” said a spokesman for the council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga. He refused to say if there would be any imminent announcement about such strikes, but he wanted to make it clear: “If it is with the United Nations, it is not a foreign intervention.”
That distinction is lost on many people, and any call for foreign military help carries great risks.
The antigovernment protesters in Libya, like those in Tunisia and Egypt, have drawn broad popular support — and great pride — from their status as homegrown movements that have defied autocrats without outside help.
Any intervention, even one with the imprimatur of the United Nations, could play into the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, who has called the uprising a foreign plot by Western powers that seek to occupy Libya.
“If he falls with no intervention, I’d be happy,” one rebel leader said. “But if he’s going to commit a massacre, my priority is to save my people.”
There was no indication that the United Nations Security Council’s members would approve such a request, or that most Libyans who are seeking to topple Colonel Qaddafi would welcome it. Among the Security Council’s members, Russia has dismissed talk of a no-fly zone to curb strikes by the Libyan Air Force still under Colonel Qaddafi’s control, and China usually votes against foreign intervention.
The discussions appeared to signal a rebel movement that is impatient with a military stalemate that has crippled the country. The airstrikes’ supporters hoped they might dislodge Colonel Qaddafi from crucial strongholds, including a fortified compound in the capital, Tripoli.
The council is considering strikes against only the compound and assets like radar stations, according to the people briefed on the discussions, who requested anonymity because no formal decision had been made.
The United States acknowledged the sensitivity concerning outside intervention.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Obama administration knew that the Libyan opposition was eager to be seen “as doing this by themselves on behalf of the Libyan people — that there not be outside intervention by any external force.”
Tensions were high in Benghazi on Tuesday, the day after government warplanes attacked sites south of the city and special forces retook a rebel-held oil refinery at Ras Lanuf in central Libya.
Rebel soldiers drove a convoy of pickup trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns through the streets of Benghazi, and officers welcomed journalists at a base near the airport, where volunteers were learning to how to operate the weapons.
The training was far from complete: while one of the antiaircraft weapons was being fired, a large metal chunk flew off the gun and landed in the street.
Despite bold stands against government forces, and tremendous gains in territory, the military commanders allied with the rebels seemed unsure about how the effort to topple Colonel Qaddafi would play out. The Libyan leader commands loyalty in his hometown, Surt, whose location on a road that links eastern and western Libya is strategically important.
But of particular concern to the rebels is the colonel’s reinforced bunker, which is known as Bab al-Aziziya and is said to contain tunnels for easy escape. “It is designed to resist an atomic attack,” said Ramdan Jarbou, a writer who is advising the rebel council.
Faced with those realities, the council in Benghazi began talking about help from abroad. A heated discussion pitted several people — including those who dismissed the idea out of hand as a point of honor — against others who saw no option but to call in the airstrikes to end the bloodshed.
Another member of the rebel leadership who supported the idea said: “It should have been done three days ago. But it’s a burden to take this responsibility. It’s like you’re a traitor.” The leader said the council had reached a consensus to request the airstrikes.
To the Libyans opposition and other Arabic/Muslim organizations send a humanitarian call to UN and USA to bomb the crazy Qaddafi and bring him down save all of these innocent lives ASAP.