Boots on the ground in Libya?

September 22, 2011 by Adam Day

It seems to me that the NATO mission in Libya — which has involved a great many Canadian bombs falling on the country — has been sort of slipping under the radar, which is no doubt how the politicians would prefer it. And it’s true that there has been quite a bit of official silence on the mission — gathering information about what’s happening in Libya has been, say, professionally difficult.

But with NATO extending the mission by another three months, it’s almost a sure bet that PM Stephen Harper is about to do the same. The exact nature of Canada’s future commitment seems to be still in dispute. Will it be necessary for NATO to put some boots on the ground to stabilize the situation? That’s unclear. It really depends on how volatile the country remains in the coming weeks — the whole mission was based on protecting civilians, so if there are violent tribal eruptions or any other indication of widespread bloodshed, you can expect to see NATO on the ground.

Which brings us back to the first point — what’s going on in Libya now? It’s been tough to find reporting that communicates any sense of what’s happening on the ground. Until today. In an truly astounding piece of reporting, Robert Worth of The New York Times manages to get behind the scenes in Tripoli and tell the story of a country fractured by civil war. It’s a very worthwhile read, and the reporter risked a great deal to get it.

Here’s a representative quote:

Later that morning, Omar offered to show me his old office. He was nervous about being detained by rebels and insisted that we take his car, a dusty Toyota sedan that he had parked across from my hotel. We got in and drove along the seafront, where huge container cranes loomed in the distance and the hot sea breeze mixed with the stench of raw sewage. We soon passed from central Tripoli into an area that had not been cleared by the rebels. There were still green flags on the road — the emblem of the Qaddafi forces — and the area was deserted, its houses pocked with bullet marks, its streets full of trash and burned-out cars. Omar turned up the volume on his car stereo, playing techno dance tunes, and seemed almost to relish my unease. When we drove up to the first building, inside a gated compound, there was a stench of rotting flesh in the air.

Predicting the future is not normally a useful game, but based on Worth’s article, it looks like the Libyans might need some help.


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