According to an article in the Wednesday edition of the French daily Le Figaro, France is arming rebel forces to the south of Tripoli in the hope of facilitating a rebel assault on the Libyan capital and the fall of the Gaddafi regime. The armaments, which are being parachuted into the Nafusa mountain region, reportedly include rocket-launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles.
According to the Le Figaro report, French authorities decided to undertake direct arms shipments to rebellious Berber tribes to the south of Tripoli due to concerns about a looming “military stalemate.” With rebel forces having thus far proven incapable of advancing on Tripoli from the east, French military planners are now counting on a southern front as “one of the best hopes of the western coalition” to hasten the rebellion’s arrival in Tripoli.
Hitherto, according to Le Figaro,
…the arms transported to the rebels came from Qatar and other Gulf emirates. They were taken by plane to Benghazi, the headquarters of the National Transitional Council, and then by boat to the port of Misrata….
At a mere 135 miles from Tripoli, the strategic port of Misrata represents a rebel-controlled enclave in otherwise government-controlled territory. It has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the Libyan civil war.
The Le Figaro report suggests that earlier arms shipments to the rebels likewise originated in France, even if they came via Qatar and other Gulf states. Citing an unnamed “well-placed source,” the paper explains, “If the French army decided to get involved without intermediaries…, this is ‘because there was no other way to proceed….’” The Arab allies apparently lacked the technical capacity to make pinpoint armaments drops in a mountainous region. In the meanwhile, however, the Berber rebel forces are supposed to have set up two runways permitting shipments by small plane from the Gulf states.
The reported involvement of Qatar in arming the rebels is notable in and of itself. The state-owned Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera has played a prominent role in broadcasting reports of alleged atrocities committed by Libyan government forces. Such reports have served to provide much of the justification for international intervention in the Libyan conflict.
According to a “senior French official” cited by Le Figaro, the end-game of the French strategy is to provoke an uprising in the Libyan capital. “If the rebels get to the outskirts of Tripoli, the capital will surely rise up against Gaddafi,” the official claims. “The regime’s mercenaries are no longer being paid and are barely being fed. There is a severe gas shortage. The population cannot stand it anymore.”
UN Security Council Resolution 1973 reasserted an embargo on arms shipments to Libya already established by Resolution 1970. Resolution 1973 is commonly presented as the legal basis for current NATO military action in Libya.