Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi shelled Libya’s rebel-held coastal city of Misrata as U.S. President Barack Obama said the conflict has become a “stalemate on the ground militarily.”
Qaddafi is “getting squeezed” in many ways, Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I think over the long term, Qaddafi will go and we will be successful.”
The attacks on Misrata, the main rebel-held city in the west, have made Libya’s third-largest city a symbol of the limitations of NATO’s air campaign to protect civilians. Qaddafi’s forces have fired ground-to-ground Grad rockets and cluster bombs, a type of anti-personnel munition that scatters small bomblets over a wide area, into residential areas, the New York Times and Human Rights Watch reported.
Cluster bombs “pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.
Obama acknowledged the limits to what air power can do in situations such as Misrata. “The fact of the matter is that, in the absence of actual soldiers on the ground, Qaddafi’s forces are still going to be able to at least defend their current positions, particularly when we’re concerned about collateral damage, civilian casualties,” he said in the interview.
Rebels have struggled for weeks to take and hold cities in central Libya, which have been the focus of most of the fighting since the uprising began in February. Opposition forces today advanced once again on the strategic oil town of Brega after four days of NATO airstrikes there, Al Jazeera television reported.
Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition Transitional National Council, said he disagreed with Obama’s comments about a stalemate. “The revolution is continuing all over Libya, in Misrata, in Zentan and the Amazeegh area, even in Tripoli,” he said today in an interview in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Berlin, where NATO foreign ministers met to try to resolve differences over Libya, that the alliance has a “solid and sustainable” consensus on objectives and that “we all need to be a bit patient.”
Clinton said that while she wasn’t aware of the use of cluster bombs over Misrata, “I am not surprised by anything that Colonel Qaddafi and his forces do.”
Fighting in Misrata at close quarters makes things “difficult,” she added.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders “are now realizing that this is not a very short mission,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said in an interview yesterday. “It takes much longer, it’s much more complicated, it’s much more demanding than some had expected.” Germany is one of the NATO members opposed to the military action, although it backs economic and political measures to force Qaddafi from power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, challenging the extent of the military operations, said NATO must move “urgently” toward a political solution. “Using excessive military force will lead to additional casualties among civilians,” he said in Berlin where he joined talks with NATO foreign ministers.
Oil rebounded as U.S. consumer sentiment and industrial output increased, signaling higher fuel demand in the world’s biggest crude-consuming country. Crude oil for May delivery increased $1.55, or 1.4 percent, to settle at $109.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday.
Elsewhere in the region, activists said Syrian security forces blocked roads to thwart protesters whose defiance of President Bashar al-Assad persisted for a fifth Friday after the announcement of Cabinet changes two days ago. Routes to the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Harasta were blocked by vans and concrete blocks as thousands of people took to the streets, Damascus-based human-rights activist Razan Zaitouneh said on her Facebook page. There were rallies in Homs, Aleppo, Qamishli, the port city of Latakia and Daraa, a flash point for dissent last month, she said.
Clashes between protesters and authorities in Jordan left 83 security officers and eight civilians injured, Al Arabiya television said, citing the country’s head of general security.
In Yemen, protesters around the country rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to end political turmoil because it doesn’t insist on President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s immediate departure.
Foreign ministers from NATO’s 28 member states and leaders from other allied nations took part in the talks in Berlin.
“We are also searching for ways to provide funding for the opposition so that that they can take care of some of these needs themselves,” including helping the rebels sell oil, Clinton said. The rebels are seeking to borrow $2 billion secured by Libyan government assets abroad that have been frozen.
The opposition has drafted a constitution that calls for full equality regardless of race or religion and freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, the Wall Street Journal reported on its website, citing Abdel Moneim Bendardf, a senior adviser to the movement’s leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil. The document was drafted by a group of intellectuals for the interim Transitional National Council, the newspaper said.
Only 14 NATO members -- plus Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- are participating in some aspect of the military operation known as “Unified Protector,” most under rules preventing them from attacking Qaddafi’s forces except in self-defense. About five NATO nations, led by France and the U.K., are known to be targeting Qaddafi’s ground forces.
Obama said the international intervention, under a UN Security Council mandate, has averted an assault on rebel-held Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.
“Some civilians may be still getting killed, but we don’t have wholesale slaughter in places like Benghazi, a city of 700,000” and Qaddafi “is getting squeezed in all different kinds of ways,” Obama said in the AP interview.
“He’s running out of money. He is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening, and he is becoming more and more isolated,” Obama said. “And my expectation is, is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think over the long term, Qaddafi will go and we will be successful.”
Obama said he sees no need to increase the U.S. military role “at this point.”
“We’ve gotten good participation from our coalition partners. They are doing exactly what they promised they would do,” he said. “They are still striking at targets, Qaddafi targets, particularly those that start moving on the offensive against opposition areas. And what we’re doing is we’re still providing jamming capacity, intelligence, refueling.
“So we’ve still got a lot of planes in the air up there,” he said. “We’re just not the ones who are involved in the direct strikes on the ground for the most part.”
NATO said in a statement April 14 that allies taking part in the conflict set three conditions for ending air strikes on Qaddafi’s forces: an end to all attacks by Qaddafi loyalists on civilians, withdrawing soldiers to bases, and allowing aid into the country.