Military Campaign Against Gadhafi Sparks Heated Debate

American and European forces continue their campaign of attacks on military installations and troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Missile and air strikes have targeted Libyan air defenses as well as government forces pressing in on areas held by rebel fighters. The military operations have sparked heated debate within the international community. Guest host Farai Chideya discusses reactions to the attacks, with NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And from the Caribbean to North Africa now, where the United States continues to dramatically increase its role in Libya. With the endorsement of the League of Arab States, American and European forces have worked to impose a no-fly zone and then some. The allied militaries hit hard at Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses and ground troops, as Libyan rebels tried to regroup. What is the use of massive U.S. firepower supposed to achieve in Libya. And how is it being viewed elsewhere?

NPR's Tom Gjelten covers global security, diplomatic and economic issues and he's here with me in TELL ME MORE's Washington studio to talk about the no-fly zone. Welcome.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, the military strikes continued into today and they've included a hit very close to one of Gadhafi's residents' compound. What do you know about what President Obama and the Pentagon are trying to achieve?

GJELTEN: I'm glad you put the question that way, Farai, what they're trying to achieve. Because there's a difference between what the official goals of this operation are and what they really wanted to achieve.

The official goals are simply to protect Libyan civilians who are endangered by the attacks from the Gadhafi forces. And the alleged end state to be reached is that Gadhafi forces pull back and allow humanitarian aid to be distributed to these civilians so that they're once again safe. That they have food and water and electrical supplies restored. That's the official goal.

Unofficially, what the United States and other governments are hoping is that this operation will create the conditions on the ground such that the Gadhafi regime is so weakened that it will essentially crumble and Gadhafi will lose power. They really want Gadhafi out. They can't establish that as the military goal of this operation, but that's what they want to achieve.

CHIDEYA: Is that what the U.N. Security Council wanted when it authorized this no-fly zone?

GJELTEN: Well, the Arab League, as you know, the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, whose member governments endorsed a no-fly zone, came out yesterday and said the opposite. He said that this is not what the United Nations had in mind when they approved this no-fly zone resolution. He apparently thinks that there's been too much bombing, that there have been too many civilian casualties.

I know that people who are involved in the effort sort of are scratching their heads because it was crystal clear from the beginning what the establishment of a no-fly zone would require. It would require bombing in the first instance. And afterwards, Amr Moussa sort of backed off and said he did in fact support the establishment of a no-fly zone.

You know, when the United Nations passes a resolution, you've got (unintelligible) Security Council. You've got 15 governments that all have very different ideas of their own agendas and they have different things in mind and it sort of takes some very creative diplomacy to get them all to approve something. So they had different things in mind. This was kind of a common denominator resolution.

You got it passed without anybody opposing it. There were five countries that abstained. But, you know, you don't want to get too specific because the more specific you get, the more likely you are to lose support from some of those key governments.

CHIDEYA: Now, with the civil protest in Yemen, Bahrain, even Syria, how is this military intervention being seen elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East? Do we have any sense of that?

GJELTEN: Well, we mentioned the Arab League endorsement of this operation. Three of the governments that did not support it were Algeria, Syria and Yemen. And interestingly, Syria and Yemen, of those three, Syria and Yemen today face very serious challenges to the government.

There are - the president of Yemen, President Saleh, his government is on the verge of falling. He's got members of his - commanders of his own military have said that they're switching allegiances. Now they're calling on him to resign. He's lost the support of his most important tribal federation. He gave an order, apparently, last week, to shoot demonstrators who were demonstrating peaceful and more than 50 people were shot dead in the main square in Yemen. About 200 injured.

Syria today, you have very violent demonstrations. These governments obviously do not want the West or somebody else coming in and taking the side of the opposition. So that explains why they don't like what's going on in Libya, because they can imagine it being used against them. So I think, on the other hand, you've got more reformist governments that have supported this. It's a mixed bag.

CHIDEYA: And so, just a couple days ago, it seemed like the rebels were on their last stand trying to hold on to Benghazi. But now the rebels are ecstatic, vowing they will defeat Gadhafi. But even with the allies' help, is that going to happen? Is that likely to happen, rather?

GJELTEN: That's, I think, Farai, that's the big question we have right now. Now, and I think one of the things that it depends on is what attitude the United States and these other allied governments take toward the rebels from here on.

So let's say that Gadhafi's forces pull back. Now, if the rebels sort of move in where - to retake territory that the Gadhafi forces have withdrawn from, will that be seen as taking advantage of this situation unfairly? Will the United States and other governments implicitly support the rebels taking territory? Might they even give them some military advice? Do they want the rebels to win?

I think that we are going to be seeing here in the next few days signals from these governments about what they want to have happen, whether they want the rebels to really make progress. If they do, then I think you might see the rebels making progress. I think there's, you know, there's also Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that it's not necessarily an objective that Gadhafi leave power.

CHIDEYA: Well, Tom Gjelten covers global security, diplomatic and economic issues for NPR. Thank you so much for coming in.

GJELTEN: Always a pleasure, Farai.

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