Rather than taking the lead in combat operations, as it did during the opening weeks, Washington since early April has focused on air surveillance, flying 25 percent of all missions. U.S. aerial drones are flying over Libya, including armed drones unleashing Hellfire missiles. French foreign minister Alain Juppé is pressing Washington to once again play a bigger role.
Since February, the Gadhafi regime has responded to a popular uprising against its 41-year rule with bloody assaults against working people and others. Imperialist capitals, led by London, Paris, and Washington, took advantage of the ensuing civil war to militarily intervene with the goal of putting in place a government more to their liking.
Since airstrikes began in mid-March, under the rubric of a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone, there have been more than 2,600 sorties.
Most recently the heaviest airstrikes have been unleashed in Tripoli. According to NATO officials, 28 bunker-busting bombs were dropped on Gadhafis compound May 24, with further bombardment the next few nights. NATO attacked eight Libyan ships in the port of Tripoli and other coastal locations May 19. Britains top military commander, Gen. Sir David Richards, has called for expanding bombings of electrical grids and fuel depots. The civil war will remain stalemated if NATO forces do not up the ante, Richards warned U.S. and other imperialist governments. London and Paris have approved deploying British Apaches and French Tiger attack helicopters, most often used to target and kill individuals in urban areas.
President Obama in a state visit to the United Kingdom told both houses of Parliament that imperialist military operations in Libya could be a long slog, as a Wall Street Journal headline put it. This is a shift from Obamas initial stance that military intervention in Libya would be short and limited in scope.
Sections of the U.S. ruling class are criticizing the Obama administrations pullback, arguing it runs counter to Washingtons long-term strategic interests. We are denying NATO the aircraft that will tip the balance on the battlefield, wrote Leon Wieseltier in the May 26 New Republic. We are neither recognizing the rebel government nor releasing the funds with which they may adequately arm themselves.
The Gadhafi regimes disregard for the conditions facing working people, combined with the imperialist assaults, have resulted in thousands of migrant workers, many from sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing in rickety boats for Europe. Hundreds have drowned along the way.
Although 21 NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, they have hardly lifted a finger to help out. Some 250 refugees drowned off the Italian coast April 6. Another ship carrying 600 sank near Tripoli May 6. Nearly 500 people on two boats were never heard from again after leaving the Libyan coast in early May.
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