The aim of Western strikes in Libya

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Meanwhile, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used their military equipment to launch a new offensive in eastern Libya today. They drove out rebels from the towns of Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf. There are also reports of further shelling in the western city of Misurata. Government forces are battling to seize the town back from the rebels and explosions were heard close to the Gaddafi residence in the capital of Tripoli. Countries are using these attacks on the rebels to justify the no-fly zone. Some in the coalition just want Gaddafi to go. David Hartwell is a military and political analyst with Janes's Intelligence Weekly in London.

David Hartwell: The UN resolution is being interpreted in a number of different ways by a number of different countries, but all of them are technically correct in their interpretation if you see what I mean. So it can be used or is being used by those who are suggesting that the coalition is perhaps pushing its war, its aims a little too far, whereas those who are pushing those war aims for example, the French, or the United States, or the United Kingdom as well, are suggesting they are acting within the jurisdiction of the UN resolution and using all necessary measures to protect living civilians.

Werman: I mean, some countries have said explicitly they want to see Gaddafi go. How can they square that with a mandate they have to take action?

Hartwell: We've heard a lot of comments from a lot of leaders saying that we're not pushing for regime change here, we want Gaddafi to go. I think the implication is from that is Gaddafi will go as a result of the military action that's taking place. I think the hope for the assumption I think of many, and this includes the U.S., is that if by virtue of that targeting and those coalition military operations, that weakens his hold on power, then as far as the coalition is concerned I think the so much the better.

Werman: There's also the propaganda war that coalition partners are conducting in Libya. Let's listen briefly to what that actually sounds like:

Male Voice: [speaking Arabic] Your family needs you to return home safely. Lay down your arms and refuse orders from your current illegitimate government. Any hostility against coalition forces will be met with deadly force.

Werman: Now, what we were hearing there were messages in English and Arabic that are being transmitted from coalition aircraft to Gaddafi loyalists. First, that doesn't sound like a weapon in the humanitarian arsenal, or is it, David Hartwell? I mean, can you make the argument that transmitting these messages doesn't go beyond the mandate of preventing a massacre of civilians in Benghazi?

Hartwell: I think you can. I think that's an argument the Americans and other NATO members will make. They will take the wording of the UN resolution, which says "all measures necessary" and they will use that to justify propaganda means. In fact, they may well suggest well, if some of Gaddafi's forces take heed of those propaganda messages and melt away if you like, then it's a much better way of imploring those forces rather than dropping a 500-pound bomb on top of them, for example.

Werman: As we've looked at various U.S. engagements in the past decade and we think Iraq, Afghanistan, this seems different. How big a game changer is this engagement in Libya?

Hartwell: I think it's different from a sense of diplomatically the Americans have played a much more inclusive game if we're looking purely from Washington's perspective, and that they've explicitly gone down the U.N. route whereas the Bush administration did not follow the philosophy of preemptive military action, particularly in Iraq. There is a much wider buy-in if you like from the international community to this type of action. And frankly, it may well be that if there is regime change in Libya at some point, you know, Obama can claim reasonably justifiably to have helped remove an Arab dictator at very little diplomatic military cost.

Werman: David Hartwell, a military and political analyst with Janes's Intelligence Weekly. He was speaking with us from London. David, thanks very much.

Hartwell: Thank you.