Coalition forces leave Colonel Gaddafi’s air defense in tatters, but on the ground tensions remain high; according to reports, at least 114 people have been killed in the first four days of the operation while 300,000 have already fled the country.
The question of civilian deaths on the ground remains a major issue.
Libyan state television is continuously reporting that the number of
civilian deaths stands at more than a hundred, while people in the
capital city remain particularly worried.
In Tripoli people woke up to fresh explosions amid fears of more bloodshed on Saturday, as three explosions rocked the area in and around the suburbs. For the third straight night the suburb of Tajura was hit. Also, the town of Zliten which is 160 kilometers to the East of Tripoli was hit with air strikes, as well as the town of Ajdabia. The coalition air force insists that it is targeting important facilities of Gaddafi’s air force.
At a short overnight press conference, the Libyan government’s spokesperson announced that at least 114 people have been killed and 445 injured in the first 4 days of the coalition’s week long series of air strikes. It was unclear whether these deaths and injuries are actually civilians or fighters, and ascertaining exactly who is who on the casualty list remains a problem. The people are frightened of increasing death tolls among civilians and soldiers alike.
The American military has announced that the coalition has fired 16 Tomahawk missiles and flown 153 air sorties in the last 24 hours. The focal point has been the town of Ajdabiya which is just a short distance outside Benghazi.
This has helped rebel forces actually enter the town, which is a significant gain on their behalf, as they had been struggling for over a week to recapture some of the towns in the East that they had lost. But the road to Tripoli is lined with government forces, and the fight on the ground is intense.
NATO to take over coalition leadership
Meanwhile, NATO is gearing up to replace the US in leading the campaign aimed to protect civilians. The fundamental question as NATO moves forward to lead the coalition is whether or not it will increase the number of casualties on the ground.
Rebel fighters don’t care much who takes over the command and control of the coalition air-strikes; they want more air-strikes, more weapons, and more international community involvement. However, the rebel leaders understand that the wider the coalition is, the more countries will have a say in terms of how to move forward, resulting in the risk that decisiveness and the use of force could be compromised. As such, the opposition leaders would prefer to see a much smaller coalition in terms of the leadership structure.
It is assumed NATO will formally take over control and enforcement of the no-fly on Sunday night. NATO itself, particularly France, is very uneasy about the change, and has voiced concerns about taking over the leadership role.
Thousands of refugees flee the country every day
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the region has not improved much so far.
Tens of thousands of people are continuing to flee the country each day, looking for safety and better living conditions.
According to the UN, over 300,000 people have already left the country.
The main flow of refugees is occurring on Libya’s western border with Tunisia, however many people have also escaped to Egypt.
People want to stay in bordering countries to see what happens next, waiting for things to settle down.
Families fleeing from Benghazi say the humanitarian situation in the city is critical and claim they decided to leave not because their homes had been destroyed, but simply because they did not feel safe anymore.
Security has been strengthened in many Egyptian cities on the border with Libya, with soldiers and tanks patrolling the streets and providing law and order. It remains unclear whether the army’s presence is related to the military operation in Libya or the political unrest in Egypt itself.
Also, while several weeks ago the Libyan-Egyptian border was being enforced only by the Egyptian side, now it is being patrolled by both countries; there are representatives of the so-called National Police on the Libyan side.
Thus, it may seem that the opposition is gaining some control over the country and slowly implementing some discipline.
However, judging by the number of refugees, the situation within the country has not improved much and the goal of the military operation, which claimed making the lives of the civilians safer as its objective, has not yet been fulfilled.