NATO’s bombing of Tripoli on Saturday, which reportedly killed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s son and three grandchildren definitely went beyond the U.N. Security Council mandate. However the alliance may try to stretch the mission given under UNSC resolution 1973 on Libya, which was to establish a no-fly zone over the country to protect civilians from military attacks, NATO commanders cannot justify the airstrikes on the homes of Gadhafi’s relatives.
If Western powers want regime change in Libya through the ouster of Gadhafi, they could stage an incursion into the territory as they did in Iraq in 2003. But the apparent assassination attempt on the dictator by airstrikes, in the fashion of the U.S. bombing on Gadhafi’s residential compound in 1986, cannot win international support.
NATO denied its fighters targeted any individuals. Its spokespeople claimed that all targets it chose were military and linked to Gadhafi’s systematic attacks on civilians. Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who commands NATO’s operation in Libya, said the strike was part of NATO’s strategy to disrupt and destroy the command and control of Gadhafi’s forces.
News dispatches from Tripoli indicated that NATO warplanes have shifted their focus from direct support for rebel forces on the front lines to attacking the regime’s communications centers. Destroyed in Saturday’s airstrikes was Gadhafi’s family compound in a residential section of Tripoli, where reporters who were given a guided tour saw no trace of military activities.
Seif al-Arab Gadhafi, 29, the second youngest of Gadhafi’s eight children who had survived the 1986 U.S. bombing, was among the dead, according to Libyan officials who said he had no political or military position and had studied economics in Germany. The ages of Gadhafi’s three grandchildren who were reportedly killed in the airstrikes were not known. Neither were their occupations.
Washington made no comment on the results of Saturday’s bombing but condemned Libyan protesters’ attacks on Western embassies on Sunday. The State Department spokesman referred to the Vienna Convention on the protection of diplomatic missions. The burning and ransacking of British, Italian and U.S. Embassies in Tripoli by angry mobs fortunately left no casualties.
There is a stalemate in the Libyan uprising and the NATO airstrikes in Tripoli risking the loss of civilian lives suggest desperation on the part of alliance commanders. Yet, it is bad tactics if they seek Gadhafi’s capitulation with threats on the lives of his relatives and himself.