Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Libya: arming rebellion 'would turn tide'

The Libyan rebel movement could legally be supplied with weapons from abroad in a move that would rapidly bring the conflict to an end, defence experts have said.

The United Nations resolution that was made before that governing the no-fly zone prevented Col Muammar Gaddafi's government from obtaining arms but analysts say that it would still be possible to arm a provisional rebel government.

There are growing doubts that the rebels will be able to prevail over Col Gaddafi's forces without outside intervention, and there are worries too that a costly and dangerous stalemate will follow a lack of decisive military action.

Brig Ben Barry, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said however that if a provisional council was recognised by the United Nations, it would be able to accept arms, and could quickly overthrow Gaddafi loyalists or persuade the Libyan ruler's inner circle to oust him.

"If this went on for months and months then equipping the rebels would make a difference. The UN arms embargo only proscribes the current Libyan government so if another state recognised a provisional council as the new government it could then agree to requests for assistance including weapons and other military supplies.

"If significant parts of the Libyan military capability were destroyed it could change the minds of those within the regime who might then view Gaddafi as more part of the problem rather than the solution."

Lt Col Richard Williams, the former SAS commander, said that the first thing the rebels needed was a political leader "who can offer to pro-Gaddafi people something that will not terrify them".

Prof Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute, said: "If we get into a stalemate over the coming months then I think arms supply would make a real difference. Rebels will be better organised to provide a sustained and sufficient back bone."

However British defence chiefs admit they are struggling to understand the rebel groups. "We are trying to understand what they want and what they are doing," said a military planner in the Ministry of Defence. "There's no cohesion and there are factions from Benghazi to Misurata and those in Benghazi are not necessarily the right people to talk to. I think stalemate is distinct possibility."


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