By C. J. Chivers, New York Times, April 15, 2011
MISURATA, Libya — Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have been firing into residential neighborhoods in this embattled city with heavy weapons, including cluster bombs that have been banned by much of the world and ground-to-ground rockets, according to witnesses and survivors, as well as physical evidence.
Both of these so-called indiscriminate weapons, which strike large areas with a dense succession of high-explosive munitions, by their nature cannot be fired precisely. When fired into populated areas, they place civilians at grave risk.
The dangers were evident beside one of the impact craters on Friday, where eight people had been killed while standing in a bread line. Where a crowd had assembled for food, bits of human flesh had been blasted against a cinder-block wall.
The use of such weapons in these ways could add urgency to the arguments by Britain and France that the alliance needs to step up attacks on the Qaddafi forces, to better fulfill the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
It could also apply conflicting pressures on the United States. President Obama has spoken strongly about how American air power helped avert a humanitarian crisis in Libya, but also insisted on pulling back that air power and ceding control of the campaign to NATO earlier this month, a handoff that seemed to embolden the Qaddafi forces.
At the same time, the United States has used cluster munitions itself, in battlefield situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in a strike on suspected militants in Yemen in 2009.
When asked about the munitions at a news conference in Berlin, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “not aware” of the specific use of cluster or other indiscriminate weapons in Misurata, but said, “I’m not surprised by anything that Colonel Qadaffi and his forces do.”
She added: “That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misurata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”
Cluster bombs in residential neighbourhoods, indiscriminate slaughter by an indiscriminate tyrant to preserve his own license to power....these are stories that may not make the headlines, but will certainly fire the debate among those nations currently committed to the "protection" of civilians in Libya.
In many ways, the west has grown tired and listless when news of the Libyan stalemate reached our eyes and ears several days ago. However, that is no excuse for our leaders to back away from the urgency of the conflict.
We can only hope that the leaders of Britain and France, Cameron and Sarkozy respectively, can convince the U.S. and other NATO countries to ramp up both air power and the professionals to fly them, in a military surge that will not only make the Libyan dictator's life miserable, but either drive him from power, or actually "accidentally" end his life, and thereby his control of the country.
And the sooner the better.