Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NATO isn't doing enough for Libya

 Oil town of Brega

Libyan rebels retreating from their positions outside the oil town of Brega and facing heavy fighting elsewhere in the country have accused NATO forces of not providing enough air support and failing to protect civilians.

The complaint comes as international players involved in Libya increase their efforts to resolve the situation through diplomatic means. Many rebels say the coalition's shift to negotiations has led to a decline in NATO’s military campaign, a move that rebels say is costing lives.

NATO troops relaxing

Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis
 Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis, Libya’s rebel commander and Col. Muammar Qaddafi's former interior minister, said NATO forces were “not doing anything.” He complained that an overly bureaucratic process has created a system that keeps NATO jets from responding to developing situations for hours. He also faulted NATO for limited actions in Misratah, the only large city in western Libya still under the control of antigovernment forces, which he said were at risk for "extermination."

“If NATO should wait another week, there will be no more Misratah,” said General Younis in an article by BBC. “You will not find anyone.”

Younis's sentiments run deep amid the rank and file of the Libyan rebels. After suffering their first major territorial loss to government forces in almost a week, many rebels say they felt let down by NATO, reports The Wall Street Journal. Rebels had held their lines in Brega for three days when government forces began shelling their position and they had to retreat.

“Ever since Qaddafi started looking for a way out, negotiating for an end, NATO has backed off,” said Abdallah Daboob, a rebel fighter who retreated from Brega. “Our question for NATO is this: are you with us or against us?”

NATO has insisted that it is in Libya not to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi, but to prevent further loss of civilian life. 
Curt Weldon

Former US Congressman Curt Weldon is scheduled to meet with Qaddafi today in Tripoli. The embattled Libyan ruler invited Mr. Weldon, whom he first met in 2004 when he visited Libya on a congressional delegation.

CNN reports that Weldon will try to talk Qaddafi into peacefully stepping down. Weldon has said it is unlikely anyone can “simply bomb him into submission.” The US also sent Chris Stevens as their special envoy to meet with the Libyan opposition on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, rebel forces can expect a tough fight. Army veterans who’ve volunteered to train the rebel fighters say that many people had never even held a weapon before joining opposition forces, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It appears that Qaddafi’s forces also vastly outgun the rebels.

Even though NATO forces say they have eliminated roughly a third of government troops, rebels say they still require much more help if they are to succeed. BBC reported that NATO is having trouble staging airstrikes on Qaddafi's forces because they are hiding weaponry in civilian areas, where NATO will not strike out of concern about causing civilian casualties.

Despite the setbacks, rebel forces are optimistic. They say that loss of territory is to be expected in a war like this one and does not constitute defeat.

“There is no revolution without setbacks,” said Mustafa Gheriani, the rebel government’s spokesman, in an article by The Telegraph. “But the people will win. ... We are committed to fighting this tyrant, and either we will drive him out or he will rule a country with no people in it.”

While the fighting has been seen as a back and forth battle, oil futures have edged up sharply. Brent crude futures hit a fresh two-and-a-half-year high today, supported by a weaker dollar and fierce fighting around Libya's key oil towns, with some analysts saying that $125 a barrel was now in sight.

The International Energy Agency's announcement earlier Wednesday that some oil exports had resumed from Libya did little to dampen the rally that took Brent crude up to an intraday high of $123 a barrel, as the majority of Libyan crude production remains shut in.

At 1157 GMT, the front-month May Brent contract on London's ICE futures exchange was 15 cents higher at $122.37 a barrel.

The front-month May contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange lagged behind Brent and moved into negative territory, trading 13 cents lower at $108.21 a barrel at 1157 GMT.

Supply disruptions of Libyan crude have had more of an impact on the Brent benchmark than the U.S. benchmark, as Libya mostly supplied refineries in Southern Europe before the war.

Andrey Kryuchenkov, vice president of commodities research at VTB Capital, said any small indication of supply-side disruptions will overshadow everything else and send the market even higher.

"It looks like we're heading to $125 a barrel--the momentum is there," he said.

Torbjorn Kjus, an oil market analyst at DnB NOR, said it would be hard to see a catalyst that could take prices lower.

The weak dollar also helped oil climb Wednesday, as the euro soared against the greenback on expectations that the European Central Bank will hike rates at its meeting Thursday. The widely-anticipated hike is thought to be the first in a series as the ECB engages in even more monetary tightening.

A weak dollar typically pushes oil prices up as market participants pile into dollar-priced commodities such as oil.

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