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16th Apr 2024

US and EU states consider military option against Gaddafi

Fighter jets, aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, a no-fly zone over Libya and arming the rebels are all options being weighed up by the US and its EU allies, as a defiant Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is continuing to cling onto power and is ordering airstrikes on towns and arms depots.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday (28 February), British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK is "taking the lead" in isolating the "illegitimate" Gaddafi regime, including by military means.

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  • The UK's HMS Cumberland is already stationed in Libyan waters (Photo: UK Ministry of Defence)

"We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people. In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone," he said.

When pressed by a Conservative MP on whether the Libyan opposition could be supplied with weapons, Mr Cameron replied: "It's certainly something we should be considering."

In France, Prime Minister Francois Fillon confirmed that "all options are on the table," including a no-fly zone. A military option is being "evaluated by the French government," he said.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said a no-fly zone was being discussed among European allies and the US.

Her American counterpart, Hillary Clinton, said: "Nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyans."

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said US military planners are working on "various contingency plans" and "repositioning" military ships in the Mediterranean so that they are closer to the Libyan border so as to provide more "flexibility once decisions are made."

The US and a number of European countries, including Britain and Germany, have already flown military aircraft into the Libyan desert to help with evacuation efforts, with Mr Cameron unveiling that one of the C-130 Hercules planes suffered "minor damage from small arms fire" after a rescue operation.

As Russia and China seem unwilling to back the idea of a no-fly zone in the UN Security Council, the US and its European allies may go for a Nato decision instead, as was the case during the war in Yugoslavia, a spokesman for the US State Department suggested.

"The issue of a no-fly zone is something that is under active consideration. Obviously, we're talking to allies about that. How would you do it? Obviously, Nato would be one logical organisation that could undertake such a mission," spokesman Philip J Crowley said.

A British military air base in Cyprus could be used to enforce the no-fly zone, as well as Italy's base in Sicily.

Foreign intervention – as long as no troops are deployed within the country - seems a valid option for former Gaddafi regime members who have defected to the opposition as well.

"When push comes to shove, launching airstrikes could be an alternative solution. If we found that no solution was reached on Gaddafi's part or his aides to put an end to these massacres, then all our fellows here in Darna, Al Baida, Ghuba and Benghazi are firm and certain that air strikes must be launched, provided that no jetfighter will land on Libyan territories," former Libyan interior minister Abdel Fattah Younes, who stepped down last week, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

"They may land in the Italian Anderosa base or the aircraft carrier. Touching down in Libya is acceptable only in the case of an emergency, that's only natural. For example if any pilot was forced to eject, he will be hosted and protected by us," he explained.

A defiant Colonel Gaddafi on Monday told the BBC he is still "loved" by his people and denied any protests are taking place in Tripoli.

His view is strongly contradicted by independent reports, with the UN estimating that several thousand people have been killed in Tripoli and that the security situation in and around the Libyan capital has made it too dangerous for international aid agencies to assess the need for medicine, food and other supplies there.

"The major concerns are Tripoli and the west where access is extremely difficult because of the security situation," Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

As of Monday, an estimated 61,000 had fled into Egypt, 1,000 to Niger and 40,000 to Tunisia, according to the UN, which said there was concern about water and sanitation for the refugees.

Fewer than a couple of hundred Europeans are estimated to be in Libya still and awaiting evacuation in the coming days.

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