“When it was the US and France, their fire was accurate, they were supporting us,” says Omar Mussa, who’s been with the disorganized rebel militia since late February, standing at the western gate of Ajdabiya. “Since NATO took over, there have been lots of mistakes like yesterday, and no support for us. Obviously, something is going on.”
Signs from the rebel front indicate that more such mishaps could be in the rebels' future. The young militiamen continue to fire weapons into the air for no apparent reason – and continue to deploy antiaircraft guns to the front, even though the only likely targets are now NATO planes. This afternoon, one bored militiaman fired two long bursts from his antiaircraft gun – something that runs the risk of drawing a NATO attack, if a plane happens to be overhead.
Few Libyans read the full text of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and if they did they assumed that its call to protect Libyan civilians from violence would be interpreted as a mandate to remove Qaddafi from power.
But what’s emerged since the resolution was passed is an international community that appears willing to protect eastern cities that are clearly in rebel hands like Ajdabiya or Benghazi, but that is unwilling to bend its mandate to the point of breaking by coordinating attacks with rebel offensives pushing west.
“This is the bind NATO finds itself in,” writes Peter Bouckaert, a Human Rights Watch researcher who has spent extensive amounts of time on the rebel side of the Libyan front in the past six weeks, in an e-mail.