March 25, 2011: A Qatari fighter jet flew the country’s first sortie alongside a French jet on to enforce the no-fly zone operation.Arab and African nations raised the international pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with Qatar flying the Arab world’s first combat missions over Libya and the African Union imploring Gadhafi to move toward democratic elections. The Qatar military operation against Gadhafi, included airstrikes by British and French jets. Qatar has been a great ally from Day One,” stated Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for opposition Benghazi city council. “It’s an Arab country to be proud of.”
Aside from the United Arab Emirates, which has pledged 12 warplanes, the international effort to protect Gadhafi’s opponents has no other countries from the Arab League, a 22-member group that was among the driving forces behind the U.N. Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The United States has provided millions of dollars in equipment to many of the league’s countries, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
A Libyan delegation met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with five African heads of state to discuss a solution to the crisis. A Libyan government delegation meeting in Ethiopia with African leaders stated Gadhafi is ready to talk with his opponents and accept political reform, possibly including elections. But the delegation also stated Libya is committed to a cease-fire that Gadhafi’s forces have flouted since the government announced it, and blamed the current violence on “extremists” and foreign intervention.
African Union commission chairman Jean Ping stated the AU favours a transition period in Libya that would lead to democratic elections. The statement is the strongest to come out of the AU since the Libya crisis began, and could be seen as a strong rebuke to Gadhafi, who has long been well regarded by the continental body.
Libyan negotiator Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi blamed the violence in Libya on “extremists” but stated the government was willing to consider talks. “We are ready to discuss what the Libyan people want,” he stated. “What kind of reform do they want? If it is elections we are willing to discuss about the details. We are willing to negotiate with anyone. These are our people. There is no division between the Libyan people; there is a division between extremists and the Libyan people.”
The U.N. Security Council authorized the operation to protect Libyan civilians after Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who demanded that he step down after 42 years in power. The airstrikes have sapped the strength of Gadhafi’s forces, but rebel advances have also foundered, and the two sides have been at stalemate in key cities.
The UN sanctioned operation remains a U.S.-led operation, though NATO was preparing to assume some command and control responsibility within days. NATO named Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard to lead its Libyan operation, finalizing what it hopes will be a unified command to oversee military action against the North African nation.
Envoys from NATO’s 28 member countries agreed to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. The alliance expects to start doing so, as well as co-ordinating naval patrols in the Mediterranean to enforce the U.N. arms embargo against Gadhafi’s forces. With further approval expected, NATO will take over the responsibility for bombing Gadhafi’s military to protect civilians from attack.