Obama authorizes Predator drones in Libya
The involvement of the US in the Libyan conflict is reaching another stage as Barack Obama approves the use of missile-armed Predator drones to support the NATO campaign against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces. The decision comes in response to coalition commanders’ calls for US drone back-up. Despite the optimism expressed by military leaders, this move could easily bring an unexpectedly negative outcome. It is surprising to see coalition commanders ignoring the fact that precisely the use of drones turned out to be the main reason for the latest outburst of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. No one can guarantee that the same scenario won’t unfold the Libyan conflict.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that the use of Predator drones in Libya was authorized by President Barack Obama and would add “precision capability” to NATO’s military operation.
According to Mr. Gates, two missile-armed Predators were being offered to NATO as a “modest contribution” to the campaign. Gen. James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first mission had been scheduled for Thursday, but the drones had to be returned to the base because of poor weather. As Mr. Cartwright stated, Predator drones are to demonstrate high effectiveness in the conditions of the current conflict, as they can fly at a lower altitude than regular fighter jets and are “uniquely suited for urban areas”.
“President Obama has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Mr. Gates told a news conference, explaining the president’s decision.
“Unique capabilities” have been repeatedly demonstrated at recent CIA operations in Pakistani border areas, when several mistaken drone strikes took the lives of many civilians. The drone attacks have long since been a reason behind escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan, but the latest tragic incident, when a missile strike killed about 40 civilians attending a tribal meeting, became the last drop.
The use of Predator drones has led to a serious diplomatic scandal between the US and its vital ally in the war on terror. There is now every chance that the scenario will be repeated once again. Similar concerns are voiced by Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Khaim.
In his BBC interview Khaim said that “they [drones] will kill more civilians and this is very sad. It’s for the Libyans to choose their destiny – not by sending more weapons or more airstrikes, or more money and weapons to the rebels.”
“I hope they will reverse their decision”, added Khaim, describing US move as “undemocratic and illegitimate”.
Meanwhile it seems that NATO has no other options than to ask the USA for help. NATO’s own bombing campaign aimed at “helping civilians” completely failed. Thousands of civilians, including critically wounded ones, are trapped inside the town of Misrata under heavy shelling from Gaddafi artillery.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim has warned that if coalition troops enter Misrata, the government will “unleash hell”.
“We will be a ball of fire. We will make it 10 times as bad as Iraq,” said Ibrahim, adding that the government was arming people in preparation for the foreign invasion.
While Obama continues to oppose sending US ground forces to Libya, French, Italian and UK military experts have already started training rebel forces. Despite all promises made by coalition leaders, it is really hard to believe that in a couple of months, US and NATO forces will still remain out of Libya.
During the recent visit of the US Senator John McCain to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a crowd of locals greeted him, chanting “The nasty Gaddafi has left and McCain came”.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the latest decision of the White House the pro-American sentiments of the Libyan people could turn into bitter disappointment. While both US and NATO pledge the motivation of “liberating the civilians”, the same civilians are likely to end up having to pay a horrible price for this game of liberation.