(Protestors in Bani Walid on October 7, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ismail Zitouny)
Written by Scott Taylor
On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council approved Resolution 1973, authorizing NATO to enforce a no-fly zone in the skies above Libya. As proof of the professionalism of the Royal Canadian Air Force, within a matter of only a few hours, CF-18 fighter jets were in the skies en route to a forward airbase in Sicily.
At that juncture in the Libyan uprising, the rebels had suffered a serious reversal at the hands of Gaddafi loyalists and were retreating to their last stronghold in the eastern city of Benghazi. The international community feared that Gaddafi would unleash his air force against Benghazi in a torrent of revenge against his disloyal subjects.
Given such a potential massacre, it is easy to understand why Canada rushed boldly into the fray, providing six front-line fighters, a navy frigate, maritime surveillance aircraft and, most importantly, the appointment of Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard to command the entire NATO air armada. This is when things became a little bit sticky. When the Libyan air force did not take to the skies as predicted, NATO liberally interpreted its UN mandate to “protect Libyan civilians.” For propaganda purposes, the various Libyan rebel factions were described as “armed civilians”. Thus NATO could use their full aerial arsenal to “protect” anti-Gaddafi forces. NATO’s target list included all Gaddafi loyalist forces, weapons, and equipment. Most of the bitter fighting took place at close quarters in urban centres and, despite NATO’s best efforts, innocent civilians were killed by errant bombings.
In a complete inversion of its original mandate, NATO was now killing Libyans with air strikes in order to protect them from air strikes. Despite the overwhelming might of the allied air force, the provision of weapons, training, and advisors to the “armed civilian” rebels and a restrictive arms embargo against Gaddafi loyalists, the conflict still bogged down into a bloody stalemate.
By June 2011, it had become quite clear that this was now a loosely-based tribal conflict rather than simply a popular uprising against a tyrant. There were even discussions at the time of a possible partitioning of the country, with Gaddafi retaining control of the western portion while the rebels would take control of the eastern Libyan oilfields. This is when Canada once again took a lead role in the Libyan conflict. Sensing the rebel factions were losing their will to continue, Foreign Minister John Baird flew into Benghazi on June 27, 2011, to bolster the rebels’ morale. As a result of Baird’s bloodthirsty rhetoric and promises of a brighter future in a post-Gaddafi Libya, the “armed civilians” charged once more into the breach.
With NATO airpower blasting the way forward, the armed civilians captured Tripoli on August 22, 2011, forcing Gaddafi to flee his capital and seek refuge in his tribal hometown of Site. After holding out for nearly two months against the combined might of NATO and the “armed civilians,” in the early hours of Oct. 20 some 250 Gaddafi loyalist fighters in a convoy of 50 vehicles broke through the besiegers’ lines and fled out of Sirte.
Spotted by NATO aircraft, the loyalist convoy was hit heavily with air strikes. A large force of “armed civilians” then quickly descended on the hapless survivors. Official word at the time was that, in the ensuing chaos and gunfire, Muammar Gaddafi had been killed in a crossfire. Western leaders, including Hillary Clinton and John Baird, heartily hailed Gaddafi’s death and toasted in triumph the victory of the “armed civilians.” However, just hours after his death was reported, videos were broadcast revealing the fact that Gaddafi was not accidentally shot, but was captured very much alive.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a detailed report on this incident, reporting that Gaddafi likely died of hemorrhaging after being sodomized with a bayonet. Gaddafi’s son, Mutassim, was also captured alive that day, along with an estimated 150 loyalist fighters. According to HRW, all of them were tortured prior to being executed.
Our complicity in such brutal war crimes would clearly taint NATO’s victory in Libya. However, despite the staging of a glorious parade on Parliament Hill last November and the awarding of the Order of Canada to Lt.- Gen. Bouchard, those wacky “armed civilians” keep demonstrating to the world that such victory celebrations were premature at best.
Last month’s Sept. 11 attack against the US consulate in Benghazi by Islamic extremists left the ambassador and three other Americans dead, and an American public shocked to discover the level of lawlessness that has prevailed since Gaddafi’s ouster. Almost unreported in the Western media is the fact that Gaddafi loyalists are still battling “armed civilian” militias in the city of Bani Walid. The current bloodshed and civilian casualties in Bani Walid are on a par with the current carnage in Syria, but Baird is no longer challenging the international community to protect Libyans. He’s too busy shouting out his office window that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad “must go!”