British Military Advisers To Help Libyan Rebels

In Libya, British military experts are on their way to the city of Benghazi to help rebel forces. Britain says the officers will not be involved in fighting, but the move raises the question of whether the international mission in Libya is expanding.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

In Libya, British military experts are on their way to the city of Benghazi to help rebel forces. Britain says the officers will not be involved in fighting, but the move raises the question of whether the international mission in Libya is expanding. Well, NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Benghazi. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON: Morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So bring us up to speed on this and other developments. If these British military advisors are not going to be involved in fighting, what are they going to be doing?

KENYON: Well, British Foreign Secretary William Hague says their mission is to help the rebels with their communications, logistics and organization. It's not clear exactly how many of them there are. Estimates are from 10 to 20 so far. Doesn't appear to be a large deployment, but it does represent a new phase in what's been a pretty ambiguous international mission.

Officially, it's about protecting civilians but it also features key heads of state, including President Obama, saying Colonel Gadhafi must go.

KELLY: How is this being received in Libya? Are rebel forces welcoming these British military advisors coming in?

KENYON: Well, officially they've been quiet on the subject. They had been calling for all kinds of help. So presumably, yes, this will be welcomed. In the West, we're hearing a different tone all together. Commentators have been talking about mission creep, reminding people that Britain's involvement in Afghanistan began with advisors, as did the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

There was one analyst who pointed out that these advisors will get probably the best picture yet of the true military state of the rebel army. It's been suffering from rivalries at the top as well as a lack of training and equipment in the ranks.

KELLY: Peter, I also want to check in on the situation we've been tracking this week, the besieged city of Misrata, where the humanitarian situation has been described as just dire. What is the latest you're able to hear from there?

KENYON: Still very bad by all accounts. Aged ships are continuing to carry foreign workers out of Misrata. Libyans are getting out too in smaller numbers. There's been journalists on the ground there for a few days. They're reporting desperate scenes of underequipped medical clinics, doctors and nurses swamped by wounded civilians and fighters.

The U.N. has not yet requested the EU to send troops in, which they're prepared to do. Libyan officials say that would be seen as a hostile military move, not a humanitarian mission.

KELLY: And just quickly, the big question hanging over all of this is what Gadhafi's strategy may be. Is there any sign that the Gadhafi regime is starting to look for a way out of this stalemate?

KENYON: Small signs but inconclusive, I think we'd have to say. Libya's foreign minister gave an interview to the BBC and he said if there was a genuine ceasefire, pretty much everything could be on the table. Now, presumably that should include the number one demand of the rebels, that Gadhafi and his family should leave.

However, past government promises from the regime have quickly evaporated. So it's really difficult to tell if this represents any kind of a breakthrough.

KELLY: All right. Small signs we'll keep watching. Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting from Benghazi. And joining Britain France and Italy this morning say they too will send a small number of military liaison officers to Libya to advise the rebels. The announcements come as NATO reassesses its military strategy there.

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