As NATO takes over in Libya, what’s the endgame?

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, during a press briefing on Libya at the Pentagon Thursday. Photo: AP/Department of Defense, Cherie Cullen

Updated | March 25 When the United States and its allies began bombing Libya five days ago, there were plenty of easy marks to be had.

“Early on, we had many fixed sites which we knew we could target,” General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in a briefing at a naval air base in Italy Thursday. “There are not so many of those left.”

The allied bombing campaign, with its hundreds of Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets, has effectively wiped out the Libyans’ air defense systems and grounded the regime’s warplanes. What are left, experts say, are so-called “dynamic” targets, such as tanks and armed infantry that are moving from one city to the next.

And those are much harder to hit.

“It’s the most difficult target that we have because they are in and around the built-up areas of Libya,” Ham said. “Our concern for not causing civilian casualties makes that a particularly difficult target set for us.”

The challenge points up a broader concern for coalition forces as they transfer command of the allied mission in Libya from the U.S. to NATO: how to balance the narrow military objectives authorized by the United Nations Security Council with the more ambitious goal of ousting Moammar Gadhafi.

As military commanders have said repeatedly in recent days, their mission is not to target the Libyan autocrat. The U.N. Security Council resolution authorizes the use of force only to protect civilians. And Arab leaders, including NATO member Turkey, have expressed opposition to expanding the bombing campaign beyond its initial scope.

Now that NATO has agreed to take full command not only of the no-fly zone but of the overall mission in Libya, a more aggressive military campaign seems unlikely. As a senior administration put it Thursday, France, Britain and the U.S. — which have all called for the Gadhafi regime to go — are no longer calling the shots. “When it comes to deciding on what will or will not happen within a NATO operation, that gets done in Brussels,” the administration official said.

Those constraints present a political dilemma for President Obama and his European allies. If recent developments on the ground are any indication, air power alone may not be enough to fundamentally shift the balance of power in Libya. By their own admission, rebel forces remain disorganized and poorly trained, and Gadhafi’s loyalists have been relentless in their attacks on opposition strongholds such as Misrata and Ajdabiya.

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Egypt’s ‘lines of freedom’

Egyptians show off their pink-stained fingers. Photo: Hoda Osman

You vote. The votes are counted. The results are announced. This is what happens in elections in many countries. Not in Egypt. That is, not until March 19, 2011 — Egypt’s first real day of democracy.

Until Saturday’s constitutional referendum in Egypt, election and referendum results were always known in advance. Hosni Mubarak had been the country’s ruler for 30 years. Voting made little difference as widespread rigging assured he remained in power. As a result, voter turnout was usually slim.

The January 25 revolution, which toppled Mubarak’s regime, changed all of that.
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Amid Bahrain crackdown, prominent opposition leader is arrested, accused of foreign ties

Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, leader of the National Democratic Action Society, an opposition party in Bahrain, at a campaign event in 2006. Photo: Soman.

Bahrain’s monarchy has executed a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in recent weeks, delivering a final blow Friday by dismantling the opposition movement’s most powerful symbol, a pearl at the center of Pearl Square in Manama. The state-controlled Bahrain News Agency called the change a “facelift” designed to “boost the flow of traffic.”

The destruction of the monument is not the only tactic being used to suppress dissent in Bahrain, a collection of islands off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula with just over a million inhabitants. In an early morning raid Thursday, government security forces swept up seven prominent opposition activists and whisked them to a secret detention facility, refusing to tell their families where they would be held or why they were being detained.

The son of one of those opposition leaders — Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, head of the secular National Democratic Action Society — described the circumstances of his father’s arrest in an interview Friday with Need to Know. Sharif Al Sayed, a 19-year-old student at the University of Michigan, said his father had been taken away in a car at about 2 a.m. Thursday morning, after a band of government loyalists surrounded his house and pointed a gun in his face.

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Women in the new Egypt: A cyber-activist’s perspective

Perhaps one of the most memorable facets of Egypt’s pro-democracy uprisings earlier this year was the strong presence of women in the (largely peaceful) demonstrations that took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other Egyptian public arenas. The revolutionary images broadcast around the world showed Egyptian women from all walks of life joining their male counterparts in the often dangerous rallies leading up the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
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Freeing of CIA contractor ends standoff with Pakistan but fuels protests

Pakistani security officials escorted Raymond Davis to a local court in Lahore, Pakistan, on Jan. 28, 2011. Photo: AP/Hamza Ahmed

Ending a diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Pakistan, an American CIA contractor accused of murdering two Pakistanis was freed Wednesday, apparently in exchange for a payment of more than $2 million to the victims’ families.

The payments that freed the contractor, Raymond Davis, were “blood money” sanctioned under Islamic law, according to a U.S. official who spoke to the Associated Press. Under the sharia laws Qisas and Diyat, if victims’ families agree to take money as compensation, a defendant can be pardoned.

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An American citizen is killed ‘fighting for freedom’ in Libya

American Mohannad Bensadik was interviewed by CNN on March 6. Though offered a chance to evacuate when fighting began, he remained in Libya to fight Gadhafi forces and was killed north of Brega.

When the pro-democracy uprising broke out in Egypt in late January, Suzi Elarabi, a Libyan-American who settled in Martinsville, Virginia, three years ago to provide a better life for her children, knew two things: that the protests would spread to Libya, and that her son, Mohannad, would be involved.

Mohannad Bensadik, a 21-year-old American citizen born in Eden, North Carolina, was living in Benghazi at the time. He and his 18-year-old brother had been raised in Libya but often spent summers in the United States. “I was working on bringing them here to the United States to live with me and their two sisters,” Elarabi said in an interview Monday. Mohannad’s hope, she said, was to study technical engineering at an American college.

Events, however, preempted those plans. Mass protests broke out, and Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the family’s hometown, became the staging ground for a revolution.

When a ship evacuating U.S. citizens from Benghazi offered the chance to escape the brewing conflict, Mohannad and his brother refused. “I knew before even asking that they wouldn’t do that, especially Mohannad,” Elarabi said. “Because one time I asked him, I was scared for him if he went out protesting. And he said, ‘If we didn’t do this, who would?’”

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The view from Okinawa, where the U.S. is on shaky ground

Airman 1st Class Michael Bagley and Staff Sgt. Ryan Miller from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron go over a checklist to ensure they have all of their equipment on March 12 at Kadena Air Base. More than 50 members of the 18th CES deployed to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan to help restore power and basic services there. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Lakisha Croley

OKINAWA, Japan – This is my first trip to Japan; what a time to visit.

Everywhere, televisions are tuned to local news stations broadcasting endless images of toppled buildings, submerged cars and now, a seriously damaged nuclear power plant. At the bottom of each screen is a map of Japan, much of its coastline an urgent red, indicating places still at risk of a tsunami. Phone lines are down in the waterlogged north, so people here in the south have been unable to reach family and friends there. The Okinawa airport is clogged with tired travelers waiting to get out.

It’s a scenario I could not have imagined when I arrived six days ago for a journalism fellowship with the East-West Center to learn about the U.S.-Japan alliance — an increasingly significant relationship as China transforms itself into the dominant regional power, roaring past Japan to become the world’s second largest economy.

But yesterday, the tectonic plates shifted and so did everyone’s focus. We were in Okinawa, home to the largest U.S. military installation in the Asia-Pacific region, when the quake hit. Officers at Kadena Air Base continued with their planned briefing on military strategy in the region but we could hear staff just outside the room making calls to put a state of emergency plan in place: Tsunami warnings meant all beaches needed to be cleared.

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Digital tools to track the aftermath of Japan’s tsunami

The tsunami caused by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of northern Japan this morning has washed over farmland, swept away homes and roads and engulfed entire cities. Officials have already identified as many as 300 dead in the city of Sendai, with thousands of others missing.

The most immediate concern in the aftermath of the crisis is coordinating rescue efforts and identifying missing persons. Two digital tools launched by Google and crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi allow people in Japan and elsewhere to do that, using an Internet connection or SMS.

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Live blog: Libya revolts

Anti-Gadhafi protesters display the old Libyan flag in Benghazi. AP/Hussein Malla

The Daily Need is collecting updates from bloggers and activists in Libya as the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi unfolds. We’ll be offering original reporting and interviews with experts, as well as photos and videos from the ground.

8:22 p.m.

Libyans defy crackdown as fighting intensifies across country

A brutal crackdown intended to quash protests has quieted Libya’s capital and instilled fear in its residents. In the eastern city of Zawiya, intense clashes have broken out, leaving protesters there on edge as forces loyal to autocrat Moammar Gadhafi surround the city with vehicles and heavy artillery. In Benghazi, the seat of opposition power, an explosion has killed possibly dozens of people, though the cause remains unclear.

And yet, Libyans have continued to protest in large numbers. A video we posted earlier showed thousands of Libyans taking to the streets in Misurata, a city in northwest Libya, in defiance of the regime’s bloody crackdown. Another video uploaded today to an opposition YouTube channel (posted above) shows thousands more in the town of Zintan, in what bloggers described as a show of solidarity with protesters in Tripoli. An eyewitness said residents from “all of the mountain cities” surrounding Zintan had poured into the city to hold demonstrations.

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