Coalition Forces Report Progress In Libya Strikes
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is an NPR News Special. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
The commanders of the U.S.-led coalition claim military success as forces from half a dozen European countries and Canada enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. But the political goal remains unclear. Arab support comes into question, and while it's clear that the U.S. wants to hand off command of the operation, we don't yet know when or to whom.
In this hour, updates from Tripoli and Benghazi: what the airstrikes have accomplished thus far, why the Arab League appears lukewarm, and why much of Africa opposes the intervention.
And we'll talk with Steven Erlanger of the New York Times, in Paris; and Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times, in London, about how this could play out over time.
But first to NPR's David Greene in Tripoli, where it's night three of this conflict. Good evening, David.
DAVID GREENE: Good evening, Neal, how are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you. Earlier today, we heard news of another cease-fire. We also heard some very bellicose statements from Tripoli. What's the latest from the government of Moammar Gadhafi?
GREENE: Well, it's been interesting. They've remained bellicose. They've remained defiant. But it's an eerily quiet night. You know, the last two nights, Neal, the sky has just lit up here in Tripoli, with the anti-aircraft fire and the tracers flashing across the sky.
Tonight, thus far, things are very quiet, and that would seem to go along with what we've been hearing from the allied governments - suggesting that perhaps we're moving into a new phase of this military intervention.
They feel like they have taken out a lot of Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses, and we'll see what the next stage will bring. But of course, it was about this time last night when the noise started happening. So we're waiting.
CONAN: At least the fixed air defenses. There are some mobile defenses that are still available. But do we know where Colonel Gadhafi is? Has he appeared before his people?
GREENE: We don't. His voice came across on state television over the weekend. We know he did an interview in person with a Portuguese newspaper. And I spoke to the reporter and indeed, he was sitting down with Moammar Gadhafi. So we know he was in Tripoli before the airstrikes began.
Since then, we just don't know. You know, Neal, they brought a foreign journalist on to Gadhafi's compound, here in the center of Tripoli, last night, where a building, an administrative building, had been hit by a missile.
This morning, we asked a government spokesman: Where is Colonel Gadhafi right now? And the spokesman almost ran away from us and pointed to his heart and said: He's in my heart.
CONAN: Have we heard any estimate of the damage from Libyan authorities and particularly, have - anybody been able to verify their claims of civilian casualty?
GREENE: You know, it's been very difficult. I mean, Moammar Gadhafi is famous for playing the propaganda war. And we in Tripoli - the journalists - are very confined to a hotel. If we try to get out on our own, we can be stopped by police and detained. We have to go where government minders bring us.
They brought us to a cemetery along the Mediterranean Sea yesterday, and said that we were looking at some graves of civilians. One of them was, we were told, the grave of a 3-month-old baby. But you know, there was no way to independently confirm this.
It was a very difficult scene. I mean, it appeared to be grieving family members. Some of them had differing accounts of how this young girl may have been killed. The grave had already been dug, and we were told that her body was inside.
But just a very tense, strange atmosphere because the more questions you asked about the situation and whether, you know, she was killed and how, people just got more angry and said, you know, why are you asking so many questions? You Western journalists are accusing us of making this story up. It was just a very strange thing - and hard to get to the truth.
CONAN: Many leaders in the West appear to be pinning their hopes on internal dissention within the ranks of those previously loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. I realize it's really hard conditions for reporting there now, but is there any indication of that?
GREENE: You know, all we can say right now, Neal, is that over the weekend, we had this string of press conferences. I mean, we got used to hearing the announcement come over the hotel: Journalists, the justice minister is coming for a press conference. Journalists, the foreign minister is coming for a press conference. It was just one after another - government official coming in, defending the Gadhafi regime, and explaining their cause.
Today, it has been absolutely silent, no press conferences. And you know, whatever we can draw from that, I do think that's going to be one of the things to watch as we move into this new phase.
You know, if these military strikes have weakened Colonel Gadhafi, are there people who will defect? And it'll sort of become a political question. Also, a question of public support. You know, in Tripoli, Neal, this is a place where early on, last month, people did take to the streets in some neighborhoods.
There was a lot of anti-Gadhafi fervor. As he started racking up more military successes and pushing the rebels to the east, a lot of his critics here were very scared.
I mean, this is sort of a place where there's a police state. They couldn't speak out. They stayed in their homes. People have been picked up in their homes for, you know, voicing dissent and attending protests.
As time goes on, you know, I spoke to one gentleman at the cemetery yesterday. He pulled some journalists aside, and he said: Don't believe what you're watching here. This is just a show by the Gadhafi regime. As these military strikes go forward, as he's weakened, the people are going to rise against him again here in Tripoli. But we're just not there yet.
CONAN: NPR foreign correspondent David Greene, on the line with us from Tripoli. David, we hope you have a restful night.
GREENE: Thank you, Neal, good to be with you.
CONAN: NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins joins us here in Studio 3A. And Loren, as opposed to what people are saying on both sides about what's been accomplished, what do we know about what these airstrikes have actually accomplished thus far?
LOREN JENKINS: Well, the one thing they've accomplished is, they've taken the pressure off Benghazi. Sunday, despite a previously announced cease-fire by Gadhafi's foreign minister, his forces attacked Benghazi in a big way. They had tanks. They had Katyusha rockets. They infiltrated snipers, and there was a big battle going on there until the first French planes flew.
And what they did, immediately, was to hit the road between Benghazi - the road south to the town of Ajdabiya - and hit all the tanks and rocket launchers they could.
They've turned it in - now, they're calling it the highway of death. It's a highway full of bombed-out tanks. And it has taken the pressure off Benghazi.
It hasn't taken the pressure off Ajdabiya or the town of Misurata, which is another one that's besieged in the west. It's been fighting for a week against Gadhafi's forces. They're still being attacked.
CONAN: We heard yesterday from Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that after these attacks on that column outside Benghazi, the next -well, beyond establishing the no-fly zone itself, the next goal would be to cut lines of supply to pro-government forces, who are extended from Tripoli in the western part of the country toward Benghazi in the east. Any sign of that happening?
JENKINS: Not yet. We haven't heard any briefings of what's gone on today. There have been planes overhead on the same highways. The problem is, is you can stop the armor, the firepower - Gadhafi's firepower - if you find it in columns on the road that are easy to see, and you can strafe it and blow it up.
It's much more complicated in towns like Ajdabiya and Misurata, where they're fighting, where they're all - forces are all mixed up. They're in the city. You can't do anything against Gadhafi's forces once they're in a city because they're all mixed with the civilian population. They're not easy targets.
And that's going to be the real problem of this no-fly strategy.
CONAN: Carter Ham, the U.S. general who's in charge of this operation - at least, thus far - said indeed, if there was a situation like that today, that the coalition forces would not intervene for fear of causing casualties.
JENKINS: Exactly, and that's the problem because the rebels really don't have an army. It's - 90 percent of them are street demonstrators who started out demonstrating in the eastern cities against Gadhafi.
When he attacked, they all got armed and have AK-47s and a few RPGs, but no major firepower. And they're not organized as an army, and they're not - it's going to be very hard for them to organize themselves as a force - an infantry force, as it were, to go against Gadhafi's troops.
CONAN: And General Ham said today that even if they did, it's not the job of the coalition to provide them with close air support - in other words, to be effectively, their air force.
CONAN: So as we go ahead, do we expect that the Libyan, the pro-Gadhafi forces -those people, for example, who were in that convoy outside of Benghazi yesterday -they have to be moving back west, back towards their lines of supply, back towards food and water and ammunition.
JENKINS: Well, they're in Ajdabiya, which is just south of there. That was the road that connects up to Benghazi. And they're still fighting there. It's unclear whether they're in retreat elsewhere on the highways.
One of the big bastions of pro-Gadhafi forces is further down the coast, further west - the town of Sirte, which is Gadhafi's hometown, and where his tribe lives. And that's been a big bastion of his support.
Before this battle could change, the rebels would have to take Sirte, and that's going to be a really tough go.
CONAN: I want to ask you, also, about the composition of the coalition: half-a-dozen European countries led by Britain and France; of course, the United States and Canada. There was considerable talk of countries from the Gulf - the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - joining the coalition. Have they done so, so far? Have they sent aircraft?
JENKINS: I think the operative word is talk, although there was a promise that Qatar was going to send four planes and the United Arab Emirates, probably another four or so. But they haven't actually done anything yet, and they haven't come forward.
CONAN: We heard from the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, today that the Arab countries would be uncomfortable if command and control of this operation was turned over to NATO. The U.S. general today, Carter Ham, said again today: The United States hopes to hand off command and control of this operation to what he described as the designated headquarters. Any further clarity on that?
JENKINS: Not at all. I mean, how - who's going to command this after the initial phase - the initial phase was French command, the first day. They put the first planes up. By nightfall, the U.S. took command to direct, you know, the major attack on the anti-aircraft and radar stations, which has been going on with cruise missiles and B-2 bombers the last two nights.
But there's talk of the next phase as just leaving it to the planes in the air, in the no-fly zone. And there's going to be a real mix from these 22 nations, and it's not clear who's going to be in overall command.
CONAN: And it's where - it going to be difficult to sustain these operations politically. There may or may not have been civilian casualties as yet. In an operation like this, they seem to be inevitable.
JENKINS: Absolutely, absolutely. I'd be surprised if there weren't already civilian casualties. You can't bomb this much and not hit some innocents along the way.
CONAN: So at that point, the coalition may begin to fray. Might that be Mr. Gadhafi's game, to play this out and see what happens?
JENKINS: Well, I think he's playing the old Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope. That's the way he always operates. He hunkers down and prays for time - and for people to get tired of attacking him.
CONAN: Loren Jenkins, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it. NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins, with us here in Studio 3A.
Though Spain, Belgium and Denmark joined the anti-Gadhafi coalition over the weekend, outgoing Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa made confusing statements that seemed to distance his organization from support for the military action. More on the reaction from the Arab League, and from Africa, after a short break. Stay with us. This is special news from NPR.
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CONAN: This is an NPR News Special. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
Reaction to the bombings in Libya has been mixed in the Middle East and Africa. Yesterday, Amr Moussa, outgoing secretary general of the Arab League, told Egyptian state media he plans to call for an emergency meeting to discuss his concerns about civilian deaths reportedly due to coalition airstrikes.
But he stepped back from that a bit today, reiterating his support for the Security Council resolution. And the African Union has criticized the campaign, citing what they perceive as the indiscriminate use of force they believe exceeds the U.N. mandate.
Joining us now from Jordan is Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut. Good to speak with you this evening.
Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Director, Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut): Thank you, good to be with you.
CONAN: And is there a sense that the Arab League is backing away from its support of the no-fly zone it called for a couple of weeks ago in the U.N. Security Council resolution that Lebanon co-sponsored?
Mr. KHOURI: Well, there is a little bit of backing away. And at the same time, it's a little bit of normal hesitation. The Arab League tends not to take very forceful positions because it's a group that brings together Arab governments, and Arab governments rarely agree completely on major points like this.
And you have the double problem that the Arab governments that are now in power and are in the Arab League, many of them are being challenged, are being thrown out by their own people - the latest one being Yemen, where the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is on the verge of being thrown out by his own people, not by foreign intervention.
So you're dealing with a group of very mixed legitimacy and credibility. And I think Amr Moussa also has the extra issue, which is he's going to run for president of Egypt.
So there's a little bit of domestic politics in this, as well as the normal confusion that comes out of the collective work of the Arab League.
CONAN: Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, appeared with Amr Moussa - I think in Cairo - today. That's where the backtracking from the backtracking went on. And he was asked - Amr Moussa was asked, what about the Arab League's support for the operations? And he said that would be a decision for each Arab government to make.
Mr. KHOURI: Well, that's right. And this is the problem of the Arab League, which is that it's an organization of governments. And the Arab governments are notoriously fickle about these kinds of things.
They dont want to set precedents where foreign countries are attacking an Arab leader, as is happening in Libya to some extent, because many of them know that they may be the next target.
So I think we've got to take the work of the Arab League with a bit of a grain of salt. It does, sometimes, reflect Arab public opinion. In this case, ironically, it does very well reflect Arab public opinion because Arab public opinion wants to help the rebels, and stop the Gadhafi regime from carrying out its attacks.
And basically, I think most people in the Arab world would like to get rid of the Gadhafi regime. This regime is a great joke for most people, and a great shame on Arabism.
So this is a rare moment when the Arab League and Arab public opinion actually coincide - and even more rare that it coincides with Western military action. So this is a moment to savor.
CONAN: Yet it also comes on the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and it must be uncomfortable to watch Western air forces and naval vessels unleash military firepower on an Arab country.
Mr. KHOURI: Well, not really, no. I think there's a big difference between Iraq and Libya. In Libya today, the international forces that are attacking Libya are doing so because they have three critical sources of legitimacy.
First is the majority of Libyan people, which is clear. Second is the Arab League vote, which is reasonably clear. And third is the United Nations Security Council resolution.
I mean, you - if there's prizes for legitimate political and military action, then this move, you know, gets the gold prize because it's very legitimate. People support it.
Iraq was exactly the opposite. Very few people wanted the U.S. and Britain to go into it, and we can see the mess that has resulted from that invasion. So they're really very, very different things, and we shouldn't confuse them.
CONAN: There were no votes against the Arab League resolution to call for the no-fly zone a couple of weeks ago. There were, though, a couple of countries that did not vote in favor - among them Syria, which is having some problems of its own right now.
Mr. KHOURI: Yes, the Syrians historically are very worried about Western military intervention in the region. There's many reasons why they might vote against it. But clearly, they don't want this to be a precedent.
And the Syrians have started to experience a bit of their own troubles, with some demonstrations and a few people being shot, and who knows if this will go or not. We'll have to wait and see.
CONAN: As you've looked at opinion in newspapers and listening to Arab broadcasts through the region, do you detect overall support for this operation?
Mr. KHOURI: I think majority support for it, yes. I think overall, most people -and certainly, you know, more than half - support it. The ones who are not fully supportive are concerned that full motives of the Western governments may not be clear, that maybe there's a hidden agenda here, that they want to do something other than what is in the U.N. resolutions.
There's also concern about civilians being injured, and, you know, some people are just uncomfortable about starting a military action that is not clearly defined in terms of a political result.
Those are legitimate concerns, I think, but the overwhelming majority of people in the Arab world, and in Libya, want this military action to halt the Gadhafi regime's attacks against civilians. So I think this is a move that has legitimacy. It also has some problems.
There are no perfect, black-and-white situations in this case, but the cost of doing nothing would have been horrendous in terms of the damage that would've been done inside Libya, and the barbarism that would've been unleashed by the Gadhafi regime. So this is the - probably - course that has the least damage and problems.
CONAN: And finally, Rami Khouri, the Obama administration seems to put great stock in the idea that over time, this should not be seen to be led by the United States but rather by the coalition, and other countries should take the lead. Is that important, do you think, in the Arab world?
Mr. KHOURI: A little bit, not overwhelmingly. I think the more important issue is the legitimacy of the action. Whether the Americans lead it or the French, who have played a very strong role; or if there's minor, symbolic Arab involvement - these issues are secondary. They're interesting. They're not overwhelmingly important because of the legitimacy factor.
If the legitimacy factor were not there, if you didn't have the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council resolutions and the clear desire of the Libyan people, then there would be a major problem. But in this case, that's not - and it's really startling.
You know, I'm just kind of pinching myself because my whole adult life, I have never experienced a situation like this, where American and European military action, and American foreign policy, is actually coinciding with the wishes of the majority of Arab people. This is a rare and unusual and, I think, positive moment. And we have to harness this to keep moving along this line.
CONAN: Rami Khouri, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. KHOURI: Thank you.
CONAN: Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University of Beirut, and he joins us on the line from Amman in Jordan.
A panel formed by the African Union to deal with the crisis in Libya expressed opposition to foreign military intervention in Libya and on Sunday, called for an end to the attacks by French, British and U.S. forces on Libya.
Today, the U.N. Security Council rejected African Union requests to fly to Tripoli, to mediate between President Gadhafi and the rebels fighting to end his rule.
Joining us now is Adam Thiam, a columnist for Le Republican, a -independent newspaper in Mali. He's on the phone from his home in Bamako, Mali. Nice to have you with us.
Mr. ADAM THIAM (Columnist, Le Republican): (Technical difficulties).
CONAN: The African Union opposes the intervention in Libya. Can you give us a brief set of reasons why?
Mr. THIAM: Yes, it's true that we have heard that. I mean, the panel of five heads of states who were meeting in (unintelligible) before going to Tripoli, have condemned, I mean, the coalition.
But normally, you have three sources of legitimacy in the African Union. It is the commission itself, based in Addis. It's assembly of the heads of state, and it is the peace and security council.
So the statement - the statement of issue was not issued by any of these three sources. It came from five heads of state. It's not normally a condemnation from the whole African Union. It's a statement from the five head of states who have commissioned, I mean, for mediation in Tripoli.
CONAN: Well, Colonel Gadhafi was the former head of the African Union, and has spent billions to support various projects in many parts of Africa. At this point, do most people there support his removal or support him?
Mr. THIAM: I mean, African people are really divided. Those who know that Gadhafi, who's a real dictator, who is the sole boss of Libya and who is opposing all modern concept of democracy governance, etc., are very happy to see the back of him.
Now, it's true that Libya is a very important client to many African countries, including West Saharan countries, among which my own country, Mali. Many -Libya has invested a lot - I mean, three of the main hotels in Bamako; 100,000 hectares in the irrigation area of Mali; many, many gifts to mosques, cultural centers, etc.
It's true that he's an important client for Mali, and that people who - people or institutions he helped are not very happy for what is happening in the Libya - in Libya.
CONAN: So as we look at the situation in Africa, these gifts, will they buy Colonel Gadhafi's support? There's also, of course, an instinctual aversion to what might be seen as colonial intervention.
Mr. THIAM: I think we should not overestimate, I mean, these statements. Yes, it's true that two or three countries - I mean - the feeling is very strong that this looks like colonial aggression. But many African countries also know that this is a U.N. resolution, and that you cannot, I mean, consider a U.N. resolution as a colonial act, even if it's implemented by such powers like France, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
But it's true, at the same time, that people are not very reassured because this is something which is quite new. I mean, we haven't seen - I mean - a U.N. resolution implemented by force since, I mean, the Congo affairs in the early '60s.
What African doesn't - do not accept is a double standard. They do think that in Ivory Coast, you have the same situation, and they don't under - they can't understand why you use force in Libya to protect the people and not in the -not in Ivory Coast.
CONAN: And not in Ivory Coast. And some might point out that the principal export of Ivory Coast is cocoa. The principal export of Libya is oil.
Mr. THIAM: Yes. That's true, and people have noticed it.
CONAN: And as you go ahead, if this drags out over time, might opinion begin to change?
Mr. THIAM: Excuse me?
CONAN: If this drags out, if there are substantial numbers of civilian casualties caused by coalition forces in Libya, might opinions change in Africa?
Mr. THIAM: Oh, of course. I mean, of course, it will change. But right now, when people heard a lot of figures of casualties made from the Libyan forces, I mean, they think, oh, my God, we didn't know all that because right now, what we have, I mean, that 8,000 people in Benghazi were killed.
CONAN: Well, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. THIAM: Thank you. Bye.
CONAN: Adam Thiam is a columnist for the independent newspaper Le Republican in Mali, and joined us by phone from his home in Bamako, the capital of that country.
Joining us now from Paris is Steven Erlanger of the New York Times. And Steven, good of you to be with us this evening.
Mr. STEVEN ERLANGER (Paris Bureau Chief, The New York Times): Hi. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you. As we look at this, the - it seems unusual to some that the - Britain and France, which have been highly critical - particularly the French - of U.S. activities in some parts of the world, that France, in particular, is taking a leading role in this. Why?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, there's a lot of reasons, and one is France sees itself as having an exceptional role in the world. And Nicolas Sarkozy is low in the polls. There is a moral case to be made, he felt, and the French were particularly worried that if the Gadhafi forces entered Benghazi, that the colonel and his sons would make good on their promises to be merciless.
So the French were pushing people for two weeks now, along with the British, to intervene, to try to create a no fly-zone - against great American reluctance, it should be said.
CONAN: Against great America reluctance. And it's interesting. Your coverage of the meeting in Paris last week suggested that it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who played a leading role in bringing the administration around.
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, she did, finally. I think a bigger role was probably played inside the White House by Samantha Power and by the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. Hillary Clinton's been very careful on this issue, but when she did meet the Libyan opposition here and - she felt that it was very important for the United States to support its allies, France and Britain, even if not leading from the front. But they didn't want to discourage the Europeans from actually taking action on their own, which we often want them to do.
But if - I think it's been a surprise to some people how big an operation it's been. Once the American military gets going, it doesn't do things halfway.
CONAN: And does it come to any surprise to Paris and to London, do you think, that the Chinese and Russians, who abstained when the vote came up before the Security Council - that they have since been highly critical of the operation?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, they have been and so, actually, has the Arab League because it just felt bigger than people thought it would be from the resolution.
Now, the resolution said the idea was to protect civilian population with all means necessary. But of course, what's happened is a major attack on Libya's air defenses, its command and control system in Tripoli - not just in Benghazi.
So I think some people were rather taken aback and wondered whether there was another motive, which was actually regime change, which was not covered in the U.N. resolution.
CONAN: And Steven Erlanger, we're going to ask you to hang on to the line and stay with us, as that's what we're going to be discussing when we come back after a short break.
What is the goal of this intervention? Is it, as the limited terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution lay out, to protect civilian lives? Or is the goal, ultimately, regime change in Tripoli? And would anything else be seen as a failure?
Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to an NPR News Special.
Since the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which authorized all necessary measures to prevent Gadhafi's forces from attacking civilians, British, U.S., French forces, and air forces from other countries as well, have fired on Libya from the air and from the sea. The question, though, rises as to what the ultimate goal of this operation is.
With us on the line from Paris is Steven Erlanger, who's the Paris bureau chief of the New York Times.
And Steven, it was commonplace until the U.N. Security Council resolution passed, for the leaders of Britain, France and, indeed, the United States to say Gadhafi must go. Has that goal been tempered?
Mr. ERLANGER: It hasn't been tempered, but it's not what the U.N. resolution calls for. And this is one of the big questions people are hoping - Alain Juppe, the foreign minister said, and Hillary Clinton said, that the intervention of the rest of the world against Gadhafi should open up the possibility of divisions within Libya, and that maybe he would go.
And the Turks have tried to keep lines out to Gadhafi in case there's some negotiation. But it's not clear that the coalition has a means to the end game that it wants, and whether it can do it without ground troops - which it says it's not going to use inside Libya.
Whether air power is enough to drive Gadhafi out is not clear. And it's also not clear, if the rebels gather themselves and march again on Tripoli, whether they're going to have the protection of the multilateral coalition in what is, in essence, a civil war.
CONAN: General Carter Ham, who's currently the military head of this coalition, the U.S. head of AFRICOM, based in Stuttgart, in Germany, said today: No, this coalition air force is not going to provide close air support for rebel forces. That's not its goal. It's not its purpose.
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, I think that's right. I think the Pentagon does not want to get involved in another ground war - or any other kind of war - in an Arab country. That's why it was so reluctant to do so. It's why the United States says it wants to step back from this initial stage, and let the multilateral NATO control the operation. But there's a lot of divisions there because the French don't want NATO to control the operation.
So you have, basically, three different forces at work - all with their own code names for the operation, and all with their own commands of control. The United States is coordinating everybody, but the United States wants to pull back from big involvement with this war. So things are in flux.
CONAN: The United States would like to see Gadhafi go. Yet to gain legitimacy for this operation led by France - as you mentioned earlier - and Britain, the United States and all those other countries had to abide by the Security Council resolution, the U.N. terms, which called for protection of civilians -certainly not for regime change. And the resolution specifically bars any use of ground forces. That's also what brought the Arab League along, another important banner of legitimacy. Are there strains within this coalition that are going to become more and more evident over time?
Mr. ERLANGER: I think you're seeing strain already, partly because of this confusion about the goal and confusion about the command. I mean, I think everyone is pleased that initial French overflights, and American bombing and cruise missiles, stopped the Gadhafi forces from wiping out the last stronghold of the opposition in Benghazi.
So lives were saved, and civilian lives were saved. That's fine. But this could go on a very long time. Gadhafi's been very good at waiting people out, and it's not clear that his support in Tripoli is fading, or that he and his sons are going to be leaving power. So the worry people also have is of a divided Libya, and that's not necessarily the best solution either, or a very long stalemate with a kind of involvement of the West that doesn't have a clear ending.
CONAN: And it's at this point that people remember the last coalition no-fly zone was conducted over northern and southern Iraq for 12 years, and only ended with the U.S. invasion of that country.
Mr. ERLANGER: That's exactly right. And I don't think anyone wants to invade Libya. I don't think Libya is that important to the United States. It's really not that important to anyone in Europe except Italy, which gets a lot of oil and gas from Libya, and has close relations there. And of course, it's close to Turkey as well.
But it becomes this question of, if the point is to protect civilian protesters - some will ask - why are we not doing a no-fly zone over Bahrain, or over Syria?
CONAN: Or as we heard in our previous segment with the newspaper columnist in Mali, why not over Ivory Coast? And indeed, some people would then answer, well, you can't make the perfect the enemy of the good. You do interventions where it is possible, where you can get the kind of legitimacy that you get with an Arab League resolution and the United Nations resolution.
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, I agree with that. I mean, I don't think the United States and the West should be intervening all over the world. It's just that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. But if you're going to take big moral stands, you need to be able to defend yourself against people who say, why here and not there?
CONAN: So far, how is political support for these operations in Britain, France, and then the four other European countries that are taking part in this?
Mr. ERLANGER: So far, it's been very good and very supportive. In France, President Sarkozy got a big round of applause from the socialist opposition as well. I mean, people here - many were reluctant when he took France back into NATO in a full way. That includes his current foreign minister, Alain Juppe, who opposed it.
People do think of France as having a special role, a kind of exceptionalism in the way that Americans often think of the United States - that it's a kind of city on the hill that stands for certain values and will, you know, exercise its will to spread those values, whether they're democracy or freedom. And the French feel that they've saved lives here, and that they've pushed the world -which they have done, with the British - to take a moral stand in the name of protecting democracy, but also protecting civilians against a Gadhafi offensive that he threatened would be merciless.
CONAN: Having started this operation, could there be any suggestion that Paris and London could allow the rebel forces to lose at any point?
Mr. ERLANGER: No one wants to get into that. I mean, everyone keeps saying this is Libya's fight, and they don't want to intervene on either side of a war. But we said that in Kosovo, too. But in the end, in a very cold way, NATO intervened on one side of the civil war in Kosovo. It was probably the right side, but it was intervention in domestic affairs, and Russia and China don't like that. A lot of people don't like that. The justification is the protection of civilians. It's the right to protect. But that's a fairly new concept, and no one's quite sure how far it extends.
CONAN: And finally, Steve Erlanger, there will be some - particularly here in Washington - who will be skeptical that Britain and France will have the stomach to sustain these operations for a long period of time after, inevitably, some of their bombs go astray and cause civilian casualties.
Mr. ERLANGER: That's always a risk. And if one of their planes happens to be shot down and a crew captured, it will create other problems. And at the moment, Gadhafi is lying low. They're not flying. The French said that since Saturday, even over Benghazi, they've found no civilians needing protection. They haven't fired a shot since Saturday. But we don't know how long Gadhafi will sit like that. And we don't know how this is going to end - or when.
CONAN: Steve Erlanger, thanks very much for your time.
Mr. ERLANGER: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Steven Erlanger of the New York Times, joining on the line from Paris.
As we've heard, the goals of this operation depend on who you ask, and when. Weeks ago, President Obama declared that Moammar Gadhafi had lost legitimacy and must go. Last Friday, though, he spoke strictly in terms of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, established to end violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.
Earlier that day, though, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the earlier goal still obtains.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): The overwhelming vote by the Security Council, I think, reflects a broad understanding that number one, stop the violence; and number two, we do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave.
CONAN: Colonel Gadhafi declared the Security Council resolution illegitimate, a cover for what he called naked aggression, and vowed to fight to the last.
Colonel MOAMMAR GADHAFI (Libyan Leader): (Through translator) This interference has no justification. But remember, we are stronger than you because of our will, because we're going to fight on our land and we're going to fight for every square, every part of our land. And we will die as martyrs. We're not going to go like that.
CONAN: Now let's turn to Marie Colvin, foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times, who joins us on the phone from her home in London. And good of you to be with us.
Ms. MARIE COLVIN (Sunday Times): Hi.
CONAN: And what are the options, at this point, for Colonel Gadhafi - especially after he's seen what must have been the cream of his armored forces obliterated south of Benghazi?
Ms. COLVIN: Yes. He has very few options. But one of the options - and probably one that's most disturbing to the allied forces against him - is he can just decide to sit tight. He has lost tremendous amounts of armament. He's lost, also, his air defense forces. His planes are inoperable. But to get him out without him going voluntarily or an internal coup, there would have to be a land force, and that is just not going to happen. So he could just decide to sit tight, and that would probably be the worst option all around.
CONAN: The forces, at the moment - the pro-Gadhafi forces - control the big oil ports in sort of the middle of the country. Of course, the rebels still have Benghazi and a few other areas. And of course, then Colonel Gadhafi has his bases in Sirte and in Tripoli, in the western part of the country. The oil ports are sort of in the middle. Right now, the - Gadhafi's forces still control those.
Ms. COLVIN: Yes. He's got - and that's access to income because of course, his army is not going to keep fighting unless they're paid. He's got to - he still needs to, you know, feed his population to keep them happy. But he has both that oil income - he also has - when I was in Tripoli, I found out that he's got hundreds of millions, if not billions, in cash and gold at the central bank, and hidden. So he will have access, for quite a while, to funds.
The other outcome that would be - could be that we have a divided Libya, where the rebels keep their eastern (unintelligible); Gadhafi keeps the west and central. And it ticks along - Libya ticks along very, you know, wounded on both sides because, of course, the rebels will be in trouble if they don't have access to funds. We could have a partitioned Libya, which would make no one happy.
CONAN: And yet the Security Council resolution also calls for a sea and air interdiction. They are entitled to board any aircraft - to either force it down and board it, obviously - or any vessel, naval vessel, headed towards Libyan territory, to inspect, to make sure that prohibited arms are not provided. The family and other officials are all under various kinds of sanctions. Might there be, as the foreign minister of France, Alain Juppe, said today, might there be an unraveling from the inside, an understanding by some currently supporting Colonel Gadhafi that maybe their interests lie on the other side?
Ms. COLVIN: Yes, that's - I think that was the outcome that is being hoped for by those who want to see Gadhafi gone. Because as you said, under the U.N. Resolution 1973 - it is to protect civilians. Of course, that's what it states. Unstated is regime change. Everyone wants Gadhafi - well, I will not say everyone. The West - you know, America, Obama - has stated it; so have the European leaders. They want Gadhafi out. An internal coup is not - I don't see it happening now. There's still enough support around him. And remember, the people around him know that once he goes, they're in danger as well. So that support for Gadhafi will continue.
When it gets and very hard to see what the tipping point is, but the tipping point, if it comes, will be when those around him decide that he's had it, it's over, their only chance for their own survival is to get rid of Gadhafi. Will that be acceptable to the rebels? That's another question. I certainly heard the name Mussa Kussa - the foreign minister, formerly head of security, was Libya's liaison both with the CIA and the MI6 - under that rapprochement. Would he be acceptable to the West? Would he be acceptable to the rebels? Is Gadhafi looking at that as well? And he has a history of getting rid of his opponents, so there's a lot to play for here. But an internal coup would probably be the smoothest way ahead, in terms of regime change and Libya getting back to a functioning state.
CONAN: And finally, right now, both sides in Libya, their aims are maximalist. No negotiations with those traitors - and the traitors, of course, depends which side you're on. Might there be some middle ground? You mentioned Omer(ph) Kussa - Mussa Kussa. Might there be some form of negotiation?
Ms. COLVIN: There isn't now. And as you say - and it's always early on that the absolute maximalist positions are taken. Now, as both sides start to tire a bit, Gadhafi starts losing more and more of his - and remember, of - as he loses his equipment, both vehicles and planes, well, that's what keeps him in power. So if he loses more of that, as the rebels simply get tired; how are they getting food? As it drags on, I think that's when you will have a chance for negotiations. But we're not even near that yet. The two sides are both hoping to win everything.
CONAN: Marie Colvin, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.
Ms. COLVIN: Good to talk to you.
CONAN: Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times, on a phone with us from London. She's just back from Libya - and on her way back there again. Stay tuned to NPR News for the latest on the crisis as the no-fly zone continues to expand in Libya. More later today, on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
I'm Neal Conan. You've been listening to an NPR News Special. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.