The United Na­tions res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing airstrikes and an arms em­bargo on Libya was clear. The in­ter­ven­tion was solely to pro­tect civil­ians, not aid the rebels, or top­ple Moam­mar Gad­hafi. But as DAVID PUGLIESE re­ports in the sec­ond of a three-part serie

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

The ra­dio on board HMCS Char­lot­te­town crack­led with the news. The Cana­dian war­ship’s board­ing party had struck pay dirt — a ves­sel in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters loaded with weapons and am­mu­ni­tion try­ing to sneak into Libya.

It was May 2011, three months into Libya’s civil war, and NATO had set up a ring of 20 war­ships to en­force a United Na­tions arms em­bargo. No weapons, mil­i­tary sup­plies or am­mu­ni­tion were to reach Libya, ei­ther for troops loyal to the coun­try’s leader, Moam­mar Gad­hafi, or for rebels now fight­ing to over­throw him.

“There are loads of weapons and mu­ni­tions, more than I thought,” the board­ing of­fi­cer ra­dioed back to Char­lot­te­town’s com­man­der, Craig Sk­jer­pen. “From small am­mu­ni­tion to 105 how­itzer rounds and lots of ex­plo­sives.”

The Libyan rebels op­er­at­ing the ship openly ac­knowl­edged they were de­liv­er­ing the weapons to their forces in Mis­rata.

Sk­jer­pen ra­dioed to NATO head­quar­ters for in­struc­tions. The re­sponse was swift: let the ship sail on so the crew could de­liver their deadly cargo.

A NATO se­nior of­fi­cer, Ital­ian Vice Ad­mi­ral Ri­naldo Veri had boasted just weeks ear­lier that the al­liance’s block­ade closed the door on the flow of arms into Libya.

Not quite. While the UN em­bargo was clearly aimed at pre­vent­ing the de­liv­ery of weapons both to Gad­hafi and those fight­ing him, NATO looked the other way when it came to the rebels. Hun­dreds of tonnes of am­mu­ni­tion and arms breezed through the block­ade, ex­pos­ing what crit­ics say was Canada and NATO’S real mo­tive dur­ing the Libyan war — regime change un­der the guise of pro­tect­ing civil­ians.

Qatar, one of two Arab na­tions to take part in the NATO-LED mis­sion, sup­plied rebels French-made Mi­lan anti-tank mis­siles, with de­liv­er­ies made by sea. The coun­try also gave them a va­ri­ety of trucks and com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear, while Qatari ad­vis­ers slipped into Libya to pro­vide train­ing.

Egypt shipped as­sault ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion, with U.S. sup­port.

Poland sup­plied anti-tank mis­siles and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles.

Canada also didn’t sit on the side­lines when it came to sup­ply­ing hard­ware to the rebels.

Five months into the war, Cana­dian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials set in mo­tion a plan to pro­vide sur­veil­lance drones to rebels so they could bet­ter at­tack Libyan troops, day or night.

The Aeryon Scout Mi­cro-un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cle, de­signed and built in Wa­ter­loo, was a small spy drone that fit in­side a suit­case.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment put Aeryon in con­tact with the rebel’s Na­tional Tran­si­tional Coun­cil, while Zariba Se­cu­rity Corp., a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm in Ot­tawa, was to make the de­liv­ery. In July, the $100,000 drone was de­liv­ered to the rebels by Charles Bar­low, pres­i­dent of Zariba and a for­mer Cana­dian Forces of­fi­cer. He took an 18-hour boat ride from Malta to the NTC train­ing fa­cil­ity in Mis­rata, sail­ing with­out prob­lems through NATO’S block­ade.

Bar­low showed the rebels how to fly the drone, us­ing it to iden­tify a Libyan mil­i­tary po­si­tion, and left shortly af­ter.

About a month be­fore Bar­low’s trip, French air­craft, un­chal­lenged by NATO fight­ers en­forc­ing a no-fly zone, had dropped an es­ti­mated 40 tonnes of am­mu­ni­tion and weapons, in­clud­ing anti-tank mis­siles, to rebels fight­ing south­west of Tripoli.

The French, like the other na­tions pump­ing weapons into the hands of op­po­si­tion forces, jus­ti­fied their ac­tions in a re­sponse that seemed straight from Ge­orge Or­well’s novel Nine­teen Eighty-four. There was in­deed an arms em­bargo in place, they ac­knowl­edged, but there was also an­other UN res­o­lu­tion al­low­ing for all nec­es­sary mea­sures to pro­tect civil­ians un­der threat of at­tack.

So the as­sault ri­fles and anti-tank mis­siles be­ing dropped to rebel troops weren’t for war. They were, French For­eign Min­is­ter Alain Juppé claimed, “weapons of self-de­fence” and be­cause of that they didn’t vi­o­late the UN res­o­lu­tion.

In the case of the or­der to HMCS Char­lot­te­town to al­low the rebel arms ship to pro­ceed, NATO would later jus­tify that ac­tion in a sim­i­larly con­vo­luted fash­ion. Tech­ni­cally the rebel ship the Cana­dian frigate stopped was vi­o­lat­ing the arms em­bargo since it was in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters and was sail­ing into Libya. But NATO claimed that since the ship was trav­el­ling from one lo­ca­tion in Libya to an­other in the coun­try, there was no vi­o­la­tion. The weapons had come from Libya and were just be­ing moved through in­ter­na­tional wa­ters.

To this day, the of­fi­cial line from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers is that nei­ther NATO nor Canada took sides in the war, although some oc­ca­sion­ally let down their guard to out­line what ac­tu­ally took place.

Af­ter the war ended with Gad­hafi’s death in Oc­to­ber, Vice Ad­mi­ral Paul Mad­di­son, the head of Canada’s navy, would tell a meet­ing of Ot­tawa de­fence con­trac­tors that HMCS Char­lot­te­town “played a key role in keep­ing the Port of Mis­rata open as a crit­i­cal en­abler of the an­tiGad­hafi forces.”

As with the arms em­bargo, NATO’S public re­la­tions strat­egy on the on­go­ing airstrikes also claimed such at­tacks were not done in sup­port of the rebels’ war aims. But like the HMCS Char­lot­te­town, NATO’S air­craft were, in re­al­ity, “crit­i­cal en­ablers” for the anti-gad­hafi forces.

Op­po­si­tion forces freely ad­mit­ted to jour­nal­ists that from the be­gin­ning they were in con­tact with the coali­tion to iden­tify tar­gets, which would then be de­stroyed by NATO air­craft. “We work on let­ting them know what ar­eas need to be bom­barded,” spokesman Ahmed Khal­ifa ac­knowl­edged in March.

An­other rebel by the name of Jur­bran de­tailed for re­porters how the sys­tem worked: “I called in the strike on this tank just af­ter 4 a.m., re­lay­ing word of its po­si­tion to our head­quar­ters in Ben­ina air­field, who passed on its lo­ca­tion to the French,” he ex­plained. “They dealt with it quickly.”

The NATO strikes were highly ef­fec­tive and al­most ev­ery time Gad­hafi ar­moured forces moved, even in re­treat, they were de­stroyed. The rebels read­ily ac­knowl­edged the co-or­di­nated NATO at­tacks on Gad­hafi’s tanks and other ar­moured ve­hi­cles paved the way for them to cap­ture a num­ber of cities and towns.

But NATO’S stated goal to pro­tect Libyan civil­ians was seen by crit­ics as a one-way street, with the fo­cus be­ing on pro­tect­ing only those al­lied with the rebels. It would later emerge that rebel forces hunted down black Libyans they be­lieved sup­ported Gad­hafi, as well as African guest work­ers.

The BBC in­ter­viewed one Turk­ish con­struc­tion contractor who told the news ser­vice he wit­nessed the mas­sacre of 70 Cha­di­ans who had been work­ing for his com­pany.

There were also re­ports the rebels eth­i­cally cleansed the town of Taw­ergha, south of Beng­hazi, as well as other lo­ca­tions. Taw­ergha orig­i­nally had more than 30,000 peo­ple, most the de­scen­dants of black slaves brought to Libya in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, but the town, which sup­ported Gad­hafi and pro­vided sol­diers for his cause, had been emp­tied. Some of its in­hab­i­tants had been killed, oth­ers fled.

Peo­ple from Taw­ergha who sought safety in refugee camps have been chased down by rebel groups, taken away and dis­ap­peared, warned Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. Women from the town have been raped. “Oth­ers have sim­ply van­ished af­ter be­ing ar­rested at check­points or taken from hos­pi­tals by armed rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies,” Amnesty re­ported.

Cana­dian Lt.-gen. Charles Bouchard, who di­rected the coali­tion’s war ef­fort, did not respond to a Cit­i­zen re­quest for an in­ter­view.

But he re­cently told a Se­nate de­fence com­mit­tee he warned rebel forces about vi­o­lence against civil­ians, in­form­ing them they too could be sub­ject to NATO airstrikes. Bouchard also told the sen­a­tors he was aware that the “fate of the in­di­vid­u­als of Taw­ergha con­tin­ues” to this day.

But he added: “Many of these in­di­vid­u­als are still rem­nants of mer­ce­nar­ies who need to move out of the coun­try and need to go home be­cause there is no value in keep­ing them.”

Ex­actly where these Libyans should go, Bouchard did not say.

Asked by the Cit­i­zen whether airstrikes were launched against rebel po­si­tions to pro­tect civil­ians, Brig.Gen. Derek Joyce, who over­saw Canada’s air task force fight­ing in Libya, replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”

An equally con­tro­ver­sial as­pect of NATO’S Libyan war cen­tred on al­le­ga­tions it was try­ing to as­sas­si­nate Gad­hafi by killing him in an airstrike.

At first, U.S. and Bri­tish politi­cians and gen­er­als claimed they didn’t have a man­date to re­move the Libyan leader from power. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron told his MPS the UN res­o­lu­tion did not pro­vide any le­gal au­thor­ity for such ac­tion. But that soon changed. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced on March 25 that, “It is U.S. pol­icy that Gad­hafi has to go.” De­fence Min­is­ter Peter Mackay also re­it­er­ated the point, adding that the war’s aims will “ei­ther in­clude the de­par­ture or im­mi­nent demise of Gad­hafi.”

The U.S. and later NATO worked dili­gently to bring about that im­mi­nent demise. The first at­tacks on March 19 lev­elled one of Gad­hafi’s homes but he es­caped the bomb­ing.

Bouchard, who took over com­mand of the war af­ter the ini­tial at­tacks led by the U.S., claims no at­tempt was ever made to kill the Libyan leader. NATO bombs were only dropped on “com­mand and con­trol cen­tres” that helped di­rect Libyan forces, he added.

But such rea­son­ing al­lowed for much flex­i­bil­ity, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers pri­vately ac­knowl­edge. Gad­hafi, his sons, and key gov­ern­ment min­is­ters could them­selves be con­sid­ered key parts of the com­mand and con­trol ap­pa­ra­tus. If they were in a par­tic­u­lar build­ing, then that struc­ture could be claimed to be a com­mand and con­trol cen­tre and open to at­tack.

On April 30, a NATO airstrike killed Gad­hafi’s 29-year-old son Saif Al-arab and three of Gad­hafi’s grand­chil­dren. Gad­hafi re­port­edly had left the res­i­dence just a few hours be­fore mis­siles hit the struc­ture. NATO said the build­ing it at­tacked was a com­mand and con­trol bunker.

Two weeks later, NATO jets bombed a build­ing re­served for host­ing VIP guests. Again, it was deemed to be a com­mand and con­trol cen­tre.

“We’re pick­ing up at­tacks on these com­mand-and-con­trol fa­cil­i­ties,” one of­fi­cer told a Bri­tish news­pa­per. “If he (Gad­hafi) hap­pens to be in one of those build­ings, all the bet­ter.”

In June, NATO jets bombed the com­pound be­long­ing to Khoweildi al-hamidi, a close Gad­hafi con­fi­dant. Hamidi, whose daugh­ter was mar­ried to one of the Libyan leader’s sons, es­caped un­harmed. His two grand­chil­dren weren’t as lucky. They were among the 15 peo­ple

The French, like the other na­tions pump­ing weapons into the hands of op­po­si­tion forces, jus­ti­fied their ac­tions in a re­sponse that seemed straight from Ge­orge Or­well’s novel Nine­teen Eighty-four. The as­sault ri­fles and anti-tank mis­siles be­ing dropped to rebel troops weren’t for war. They were, French For­eign Min­is­ter Alain Juppé claimed, ‘weapons of self-de­fence.’


A few days af­ter that airstrike, U.S. House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­ber Mike Turner ac­knowl­edged that U.S. Ad­mi­ral Sa­muel Lock­lear, com­man­der of the NATO Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, told him the al­liance was ac­tively tar­get­ing and try­ing to kill the Libyan leader.

Be­cause of NATO’S re­lent­less airstrikes, the days were in­deed num­bered for Gad­hafi. Tripoli fell in Au­gust and NATO in­creased its bomb­ing of Bani Walid and Sirte, Gad­hafi’s home­town.

NATO air­craft ham­mered the once pros­per­ous Sirte into the ground. Rebel forces also bom­barded the city with ar­tillery and rock­ets, spark­ing crit­i­cism about in­dis­crim­i­nate shelling. But those among the rebel forces had lit­tle sym­pa­thy; they saw the civil­ians in Sirte as Gad­hafi sup­port­ers.

Sirte soon took on an ap­pear­ance sim­i­lar to the bombed cities of the Sec­ond World War.

Brig.-gen. Joyce told the Cit­i­zen the air at­tacks on Bani Walid and Sirte were nec­es­sary since pro-gad­hafi snipers were hid­ing in the rub­ble, tar­get­ing civil­ians.

By early Oc­to­ber, the 69-year-old Gad­hafi was trapped in Sirte, mov­ing house to house with a force of about 150 men.

He hadn’t come to grips with the fact he had lost power. Gad­hafi still be­lieved Libyans would rise up against the rebels and NATO forces.

On Oct. 18, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­knowl­edged the Libyan leader’s where­abouts were un­known. But Amer­i­can and other NATO sur­veil­lance air­craft were con­duct­ing mis­sions through­out the coun­try, try­ing to pick up snippets of satel­lite or cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions that might in­di­cate where Gad­hafi was hid­ing.

Clin­ton was strangely pre­dic­tive when in Tripoli, she told univer­sity stu­dents “we hope he can be cap­tured or killed soon.” Two days later, her wish came true.

On the morn­ing of Oct. 20 a NATO air­craft spot­ted a con­voy of ve­hi­cles trav­el­ling at high speed and at- tempt­ing to break through the rebel gaunt­let around Sirte.

A NATO air­craft opened fire on a num­ber of ve­hi­cles, while a U.S. Preda­tor drone un­leashed a Hell­fire mis­sile. Dozens of Gad­hafi sup­port­ers in the con­voy died in­stantly.

Ac­cord­ing to NATO spokesman Cana­dian Col. Roland Lavoie, the flee­ing con­voy was at­tacked be­cause it was “con­duct­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and pre­sented a clear threat to civil­ians.”

Bouchard would later claim the al­liance had no idea Gad­hafi was in one of the ve­hi­cles.

But Bri­tish re­ports in­di­cate coali­tion forces did in­deed know the Libyan leader was in the con­voy af­ter a sur­veil­lance air­craft in­ter­cepted a satel­lite phone call he made.

Gad­hafi sur­vived the at­tacks and was soon a cap­tive of rebel forces. Those fight­ers would later say he ap­peared dazed and had asked, “What’s go­ing on? What did I do?”

Videos taken of his cap­ture show the Libyan leader’s face cov­ered in blood as rebels jos­tle him. An­other video ap­pears to show one of the men sodom­iz­ing him with a bay­o­net.

Shortly af­ter, the colonel would be dead.

Libya’s new prime min­is­ter, Mah­moud Jib­ril said Gad­hafi had been “caught in the cross­fire” as he was be­ing taken to hospi­tal. He had been shot in the head and chest.

Some, how­ever, be­lieved the killing was noth­ing more than an ex­e­cu­tion. Wil­liam Hague, Bri­tain’s for­eign sec­re­tary, ac­knowl­edged the videos and pho­tos sug­gested Gad­hafi had been mur­dered.

Still, western lead­ers and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers re­joiced.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter John Baird brushed aside con­cerns Gad­hafi had been ex­e­cuted.

Bri­tain’s de­fence chief, Gen. Sir David Richards, said the Libyan strong­man’s death brought to a close “one of the most suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tions NATO has con­ducted in its 62-year his­tory.” Gad­hafi, Richards warned, had been a “la­tent threat to the U.K. and our cit­i­zens,” not­ing he was re­spon­si­ble for arm­ing the IRA and killing hun­dreds in ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Richards, how­ever, didn’t ex­plain why, if Gad­hafi had been such as threat, the Bri­tish mil­i­tary sent its spe­cial forces to train his com­man­dos in 2009.

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper noted the ap­par­ent ex­e­cu­tion was not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing Libya was “emerg­ing from 42 years of psy­chotic dic­ta­tor­ship with killing and im­pris­on­ment on a mas­sive scale.”

But Harper didn’t delve into why his gov­ern­ment had, in 2009, sought closer eco­nomic times with the same man he now branded a psy­chotic dic­ta­tor.

NATO and the rebels had suc­ceeded in killing Gad­hafi and two of his sons. An­other son, Saif al-is­lam was in cus­tody and is to be tried by the new Libyan gov­ern­ment. The rest of Gad­hafi’s fam­ily has es­caped into ex­ile.

NATO’S job was done. “Let there be no doubt that the in­ter­ven­tion in Libya was just and war­ranted,” Bouchard would later say.


Anti-gad­hafi fight­ers look on as smoke is seen from an ex­plo­sion dur­ing heavy shelling and clashes with Gad­hafi forces in Sirte on Oct. 7, 2011.


Anti-gad­hafi fight­ers cel­e­brate the fall of Sirte in the town on Oct. 20, 2011. NATO air­craft had ham­mered the once pros­per­ous city into the ground. Rebel forces also bom­barded the city with ar­tillery and rock­ets, spark­ing crit­i­cism about...


Moam­mar Gad­hafi, cov­ered in blood, is held on the ground in Sirte in this still im­age taken from video Oct. 20, 2011. He died shortly af­ter. Some be­lieve his killing was noth­ing more than an ex­e­cu­tion.

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