NATO has defended its decision to bomb eight docked Libyan warships following fears over Gadhafi’s increasing reliance on the navy. NATO asserted that its ongoing airstrikes have successfully weakened Gadhafi’s regime.
NATO has defended its airstrikes on eight docked warships belonging to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s navy after the vessels were bombed in the night to Friday.
In a statement released Friday, NATO said the bombings were part of a series of coordinated precision airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi regime forces in the ports of Tripoli, Al-Khums and Sirte. This included strikes against eight warships stationed in these ports.
NATO also reported that it had intercepted an oil tanker that the alliance had reason to believe was delivering fuel to Gadhafi’s military forces.
Defending the action, military spokesman Mike Bracken told reporters in Brussels that NATO’s command in the western port of Misrata had intercepted boats laying land mines and found an inflatable boat carrying a ton of explosives, capable of sinking another ship.
“Should we have waited until somebody else had been killed or should we have taken action? I suggest we took action to enable us to stop and reduce that risk to the civilian population,” Bracken said.
“Our aim was not to destroy those ships, but to remove their ability to turn their military weapons on the civilian population, humanitarian assistance or NATO vessels,” he added.
NATO had ‘no choice’
Rear-Admiral Russell Harding, deputy commander of the NATO-led air offensive, also asserted the importance of the ongoing airstrikes.
“Given the escalating use of naval assets, NATO had no choice but to take decisive action to protect the civilian population of Libya and NATO forces at sea,” he said.
Harding insisted that all the vessels hit were legitimate military targets with “no civilian utility,” but the Libyan government disputed this, with spokesman Mussa Ibrahim suggesting NATO was trying to scare international shipping firms into avoiding ports held by Gadhafi’s forces. “Whatever the ship that has been hit, it is clearly a message sent by NATO to the international maritime companies not to send any more vessels to Libya,” Ibrahim said.
Libyan officials also took selected journalists to the port in Tripoli where they said six boats – five belonging to the coastguard and a larger naval vessel – had been struck by NATO aircraft. The general manager of the port, Mohammad Ahmad Rashed, said all the vessels had been undergoing maintenance and had been out of commission since the conflict began.
Inevitable collapse of Libyan regime
Western governments say their bombardment of Libyan military targets is beginning to tip the balance in favor of the rebels in the conflict.
“We have significantly degraded Gadhafi’s war machine. And now we see results, the opposition has gained ground,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference in Bratislava on Thursday.
“I am confident that a combination of strong military pressure and increased political pressure and support for the opposition will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime.”
Meanwhile, speaking in a major address about the Middle East on Thursday, US President Barack Obama said it was inevitable that Gadhafi would be forced from power.
“Time is working against Gadhafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council,” Obama said in Washington.
“When Gadhafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed,” he added.
But Libyan government spokesman Ibrahim refuted Obama’s claims. “He believes the lies that his own government and media spread around the world,” he said.
“It’s not Obama who decides whether Moammar Gadhafi leaves Libya or not. It’s the Libyan people.”