Benghazi, Libya — A rebel military leader lashed out at NATO Tuesday, saying it was falling short in its mission to protect Libyan civilians. The alliance said ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s forces position heavy weapons in populated areas, preventing some airstrikes.
Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel military and Gadhafi’s former interior minister, said he was asking the opposition’s leadership council to take their grievances to the U.N. Security Council, which authorized force in Libya to stop government troops from wiping out the anti-Gadhafi uprising that began Feb. 15.
NATO forces “don’t do anything” even though the United Nations gave them the right to act, Younis said. He said bureaucracy means that NATO strikes sometimes come eight hours after rebels’ have communicated targets.
“The people will die, and this crime will be on the face of the international community forever. What is NATO doing?” Younis said.
NATO last week took control over the international airstrikes that began March 19 as a U.S.-led mission. The airstrikes thwarted Gadhafi’s efforts to crush the rebellion in the North African nation he has ruled for more than four decades, but the rebels remain outnumbered and outgunned and have had difficulty pushing into government-held territory even with air support.
The government pushed back rebel forces in a strategic oil town to the east Tuesday, while rebels claimed they fended off an attack by Gadhafi’s forces in one of a string of opposition-controlled towns southwest of Tripoli, the capital. The rebels have maintained control of much of the eastern half of Libya since early in the uprising, while Gadhafi has clung to much of the west.
Gadhafi has been putting out feelers for a cease-fire, but refuses to step down as the opposition is demanding. On Tuesday his government announced a new foreign minister: Abdelati al-Obeidi, who has been in Europe seeking a diplomatic solution. He replaces Moussa Koussa, who defected last week.
Al-Obeidi’s deputy Khaled Kaim said the opposition council doesn’t represent most Libyans and that al-Qaida is exploiting the crisis. He accused nations supporting the airstrikes of supporting terrorism “by arming the militias, by providing them with materials, and the coalition’s decision to starve 85 percent of the Libyan population, while there was another course for solving this crisis, which was the political course.”
Kaim said “history will not forgive” Libyans who sought foreign help to change the regime. “People will reject them whether they are with or against Moammar Gadhafi,” he said.
Some nations, including the U.S., have considered arming the rebels but have not done so.
Brig. Gen. Mark Van Uhm of NATO said Tuesday that airstrikes have so far destroyed 30 percent of Gadhafi’s military capacity.