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As Libya Descends Into Farce

Just in case you didn’t think the situation in Libya was sufficiently incoherent, we now learn this:

Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.

As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.

“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”

The warnings, and intense consultations within the NATO-led coalition over its rules for attacking anyone who endangers innocent civilians, come at a time when the civil war in Libya is becoming ever more chaotic, and the battle lines ever less distinct. They raise a fundamental question that the military is now grappling with: Who in Libya is a civilian?

Oana Lungescu, the senior NATO spokeswoman, said, “Our goal, as mandated by the UN, is to protect civilians against attacks or threats of attack, so those who target civilians will also be targets for our forces, because that resolution will be applied across the board.”

So the mystery deepens, from whether or not we should arm anti-Qaddafi rebels to whether we should bomb them. Or perhaps we’ll do both – arm them and then bomb them. Or maybe we’ll arm them on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but bomb them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have no idea what we might do on weekends.

This war is turning into a farce, one that would be funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.



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