Libyan picture unclear as truth is first casualty
WITH a 'No-Fly Zone' in place, the fog of war is already swirling in Libya with claims and counter-claims about who is doing what to whom. And as is always the case in war, truth is the first casualty.
The U.N. Resolution authorises the coalition formed to counter Muammar Gaddafi's aggression to use all means to check attacks on and threats to civilians, as was evidenced by the swift French air assaults on tanks and other vehicles on the outskirts of rebel-held Benghazi on Saturday.
The rebels say around 100 people were killed in Gaddafi's attacks on the city before the intervention of the French, the Gaddafi camp say similar numbers of civilians were killed by the Cruise missiles and bombs of the coalition fired and dropped during the first day of air assaults, ostensibly on anti-aircraft defences and command and control units.
The head of the Arab League Amr Moussa implied that he didn't know that the resolution authorising the 'No Fly Zone' over Libya would mean that bombs would be dropped and civilians put at risk by the very thing intended to protect them.
But is he telling the truth, just misunderstood, or pandering to a domestic electorate in Egypt where he is to stand as president?
Whatever the truth, his unsettling remarks were not what the coalition needed to hear just as Arab states, including the UAE and Qatar, were sending fighter jets to bases in Italy as part of the mainly Western aerial armada. It is essential that the Arab states are kept on board.
In these days of 24/7 television news, you would think that we are fully in the picture about what is happening in Libya. But the movements of journalists based in Tripoli are tightly controlled by the Libyan government. They see what Gaddafi wants them to see and go where he wants them to go.
So how do you decide what is fact and what is propaganda? At the weekend, the Libyan government announced a ceasefire at the same time it was assaulting the west of Benghazi. You be the judge.
The coalition says regime change is not on its agenda and that it is authorised only to protect civilians.
So how do you deal with the larger problem of Gaddafi, who has clung to power for more than four decades and who, prior to his 'rehabilitation' in recent years, was a major sponsor of terrorism.
Those leading the coalition would like to see him toppled by his own people, but the future is very uncertain and despite the overwhelming fire power directed against the colonel there doesn't seem to be an end game in play at the moment.
The rebels, advancing under the allied air umbrella, have regained their momentum in the east of the country, but it's hard to see them pushing towards Gaddafi's power-base in Tripoli - so the likely result will be a stalemate with Libya effectively divided geographically and ideologically between East and West.
Critics of what is happening in Libya question why the way Gaddafi is being dealt is not being applied when it comes to other Arab states where there is unrest and repression, Bahrain and Yemen among them.
We are told the conditions are not the same as those in Libya, but then what is not the same is that their governments, however unpopular, are pro-Western, but then that would be a very cynical point of view, wouldn't it?