Friday, September 30, 2011

Republican Senators Visit Martyr's Square Tripoli

Republican senators, from left, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, John McCain and Marco Rubio during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya. (Mohamed Messara / EPA / September 29, 2011)

US senators call Libyans inspiration for world
By Kim Gamel

Associated Press / September 29, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya—U.S. Sen. John McCain called Libya's revolutionaries an inspiration to the world, singling out activists in Syria, Iran, China and Russia, Thursday as he led a Republican delegation to Tripoli. It was the most prominent American delegation to travel to the Libyan capital since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

McCain, a former presidential candidate from Arizona, expressed confidence in Libya's new leaders but urged them to rein in armed groups and to press the hunt for Gadhafi, who has continued to try to rally supporters from his hiding place.

McCain said he was thrilled to be in Tripoli after traveling in April to the then-opposition's eastern stronghold of Benghazi.

"I've dreamed of returning to a liberated capital of a free Libya ever since I visited Benghazi in April and our visit to Tripoli today has been exhilarating and hopeful," McCain said.
But he expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons and armed groups, saying it was important for the country's leadership "to continue bringing the many armed groups in this city and beyond it under the responsible control of its legitimate governing authority."

"It's also important to bring this war to a dignified and irreversible conclusion, to bring Gadhafi and his family and his fighters to justice, while ensuring that past wrongs do not become a license for future crimes, especially against minorities," he said.

Interpol placed another of Gadhafi's sons, al-Saadi, on the equivalent of its most-wanted list on Thursday, placing pressure on the government of Niger to surrender a man accused of overseeing bloody repressions.

A Niger presidential spokesman has said al-Saadi Gadhafi is living under house arrest in the Western African country's capital, Niamey, after fleeing Libya earlier this month via the desert bordering the two nations.

Interpol has already issued red notices for Moammar Gadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam based on a request by the International Criminal Court. Both men have been charged with crimes against humanity.

The four lawmakers, who also included Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Marco Rubio of Florida, addressed reporters after meeting with the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and other high-ranking officials from the group that is now governing Libya.

They also toured Martyrs' Square, formerly named Green Square and the site of frequent Gadhafi speeches, and visited a prison amid allegations of poor conditions and human rights violations by former rebels taking revenge on former Gadhafi supporters.

Graham said that Libyans who met the team of visiting senators had expressed gratitude and want to repay the international community that rallied around Gadhafi's opponents. NATO airstrikes played a key role in decimating Gadhafi's military forces as rebels battled their way into the capital late last month and forced Gadhafi into hiding.

"There is a desire here by the Libyan people to make sure that those who helped will get paid back," Graham said.

American companies are hoping to tap into the wealth of oil and natural resources and other opportunities in Libya, which under Gadhafi long faced sanctions that prohibited much business.
"I think that American investors are more than eager to come invest here in Libya and we hope and believe that they will be given an opportunity to do so," McCain said.

He acknowledged, however, that it would be difficult for companies to get started until the country is completely secure. Gadhafi loyalists continue to put up a fierce resistance in three strongholds in central and southern Libya.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Libyan success in ousted Gadhafi was inspiring activists in other countries.

"The people of Libya today are inspiring the people in Tehran, in Damascus and even in Beijing and Moscow," he said. "They continue to inspire the world and let people know that even the worst dictators can be overthrown and be replaced by freedom and democracy."

U.S. relations with Gadhafi's regime had undergone a seismic shift in recent years after the longtime Libyan leader renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003 and agreed to pay compensation to the families of victims of 1980s terror attacks, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, blamed on Libyan agents.

The senators said they were confident the country's new rulers would help seek justice in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, many of them Americans.

Scotland has asked the new transitional leaders of Libya for help tracking down those responsible now that Gadhafi is no longer in power. The only suspect convicted in the attack, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was freed on compassionate grounds in 2009 because of illness and is said to be in Tripoli.

"We'd like to know who else was connected with this," McCain said.

Libya's acting justice minister, Mohammed al-Alagi, said earlier this week that there was no reason to drag al-Megrahi back to court but he was willing to probe the possible involvement of others in the attack.

The trip contrasted sharply to the last visit by McCain and Graham to Tripoli in August 2009, when they met with Gadhafi and his son Muatassim to discuss the possible delivery of non-lethal defense equipment as the erratic Libyan leader was moving to normalize his relations with the international community.

By Katherine Skiba

September 29, 2011, 9:35 a.m.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona led a delegation of Republican senators in Libya Thursday, where they met with itsTransitional National Council, a Senate aide said.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was traveling with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who also sits on the panel, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the aide said.

Kirk, in a news release, said they were in Tripoli “to assess the situation and meet the new leaders of Libya.”

He added: "It is clear that they are in the final stage of defeating Kadafi's army and as Libya recovers, we can look forward to a new ally and friend of the U.S."

"To accelerate the recovery of the country and relieve humanitarian pressure, the U.S. should replace the ‘no-fly zone’ with a ‘pro-fly zone,’ encouraging as much civilian commerce as possible."

“We should also transfer ownership and control of Kadafi's $34 billion frozen by the U.S. to the new Transitional National Council."

Kirk, in a tweet, said he was with the chairman of Libya’s Transitional National Council. “Look forward to new friend of America,” Kirk wrote.,0,6443102.story
WASHINGTON — After a daylong visit to Libya, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois had a message for the White House that it hasn't heard lately from the GOP: "Unquestioned kudos go to the president and his team."

Kirk praised the Obama administration after spending Thursday in Tripoli with three other GOP senators, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina andMarco Rubio of Florida. They toured the Libyan capital and met with transitional leaders who are running the country after wresting power from dictator Moammar Gadhafiwith the help of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Kirk later spoke to reporters in a conference call from Malta, saying: "We have all the makings of a very strong U.S. ally now in Libya."

He painted a largely optimistic picture but said challenges remain, especially with 28 separate militias in the Libyan capital and the pressing need for unified military command under a unified government.

He said Tripoli was devoid of a single image of the toppled Gadhafi but was marked by graffiti that was "overwhelmingly anti-Gadhafi." He reported "utterly unrehearsed appreciation" from bystanders as the delegation's motorcade made its way around town with "thumbs up and cheers and happiness on the street corners."

"There's overwhelming positive public support for what NATO did there," according to Kirk, who predicted that fighting against forces loyal to Gadhafi probably would persist until late October. "This is a victory for the United States military, for our British and French allies, for NATO, for the president of the United States, but most importantly, for the Libyan people."

Kirk said concerns persisted about the possibility of cross-border raids into Libya staged by Gadhafi loyalists out of neighboring Algeria and Niger.

Kirk, a commander in the Navy Reserve, said a critical need was help for the 60,000 Libyans wounded in the fighting. He raised the prospect that the U.S. could send a military hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, to "lift the tremendous current casualty strain" on the interim government.

He said the de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, would like to move forward with early elections and that Jibril predicted the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies would capture only 10 to 15 percent of the vote, with the vast majority of people favoring mainstream candidates.

Kirk departs for home from Malta on Friday, said Kate Dickens, his spokeswoman.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

CSIS Worked with Gadhafi Interrogators

Former Gadhafi prisoner recounts interrogation by Canadians


From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 8:11PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 8:20PM EDT

Mustafa Krer says that the Canadian intelligence officers who came to Libya to interrogate him while he was in Moammar Gadhafi’s prisons were generally polite but insistent.

“It was always the same – not exactly the same questions, but the same meaning and goal,” recalled Mustafa Krer, a Libyan-Canadian who spent eight years in prison under the ousted Libyan dictator.
“They were trying to convince me I was a terrorist and doing something bad to Canada,” he said, “and that’s not true and never could be true.”

Mr. Krer, speaking by telephone Wednesday from Libya, said he was questioned several times by agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service while serving time as a political prisoner for membership in a group that was trying to overthrow Col. Gadhafi.

His allegations are the first to name CSIS as one of the Western counterterrorism agencies that were given access to prisoners in Libya’s notoriously brutal prisons, where former detainees say they were regularly tortured and beaten.

Human Rights Watch, which described Mr. Krer’s case in a report released this week, said there was no evidence that the U.S., British or Canadian agents who conducted the interrogations mistreated Mr. Krer.

But the group, which has been examining a horde of documents found at the offices of the former Libyan security services, said CSIS and other agencies co-operated with the Gadhafi regime despite established evidence that it tortured the prisoners in its jails.

Mr. Krer, now 46, said he joined a militant anti-Gadhafi movement called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group while studying engineering in the mid-1980s, during a violent crackdown that featured public hangings of suspected dissidents in downtown Tripoli and the university campus in the capital.

He fled to Canada in 1989. There, he supported himself with a series of odd jobs and raised money for the LIFG, which claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi in 1996.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the LIFG was blacklisted by the United Nations as an al-Qaeda affiliate, a link that Mr. Krer disputes. But his ties to the group put him squarely on the radar screen of counterterrorism officials.

He returned to Libya in 2002, lured by Col. Gadhafi’s promise to forgive dissidents, but was hauled to prison straight from the airport. A year later, he said, he was interrogated by CSIS agents who had an encyclopedic knowledge of his phone calls and his movements while in Canada.

“I remember they asked me about the people who did 9/11. I didn’t know these people,” he said. “The CIA and CSIS and other agencies were trying to make out that this Libyan Islamic group was like al-Qaeda. It is not. It focused on Libya, just on Libya.”

Mr. Krer was released from prison in 2010. During the anti-Gadhafi revolution, he fled again, this time to Tunisia, fearing he would be rearrested. He returned to his home in Sabratha, about 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, in early September.

A few days ago, he went to Tripoli to visit Abdul Hakim Belhaj, one of the LIFG founders and now the top rebel military commander in the capital. The two men were cellmates on and off in Libyan prisons.

He learned that one of his former prison guards was in rebel custody. “So I went there and I shook hands with the guy and told him, ‘See how times have changed,’” Mr. Krer said.
He said he has nothing but affection for Canada and no passion for revenge against his one-time torturers. “You see, our revolution now is not like the Gadhafi regime,” he said. “We are trying to build a good country, based on reconciliation. If we do the same as them – if we torture, kill or harass people – we will only be copying what was before us.”

• CSIS questioned Canadian in Libya, rights group says

Canadian spies teamed up with the Gadhafi regime to question a Canadian jailed in Libya, a prominent human-rights group says.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers travelled to Libya several times to interview the prisoner between 2002 and 2005, Human Rights Watch says. The New York-based group will circulate a statement on Wednesday revealing that it has obtained documents on this obscure case from an abandoned intelligence complex in Tripoli.

Mustafa Krer, 56, immigrated to Canada from Libya in the 1990s. He was jailed as a terrorism suspect when he returned to his homeland almost a decade ago. Released only last year, he hopes to return to Canada in coming months.

He maintains that Western intelligence agencies, including CSIS, came to put questions to him after the Libyans locked him up in 2002. “Seven Canadians and seven Libyans – I was there, and they did it together,” he is quoted as saying in a Human Rights Watch statement. He says he was tortured by Libyan guards when no outsiders were looking.

This account is “deeply troubling,” said Andrea Prasow, a lawyer for the group. “CSIS did not torture Krer, but they must have known the Libyans probably did.”

CSIS has long insisted it neither arranges arrests nor condones torture. It defends its partnerships with foreign spy services, even ones controlled by repressive dictators, as necessary to save Canadian lives.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that a Conservative government minister thanked Libya for putting its “extensive intelligence networks” to work for Ottawa in 2009.

Federal agents, including CSIS, had been in Africa earlier that year working their contacts in hopes of rescuing two captive Canadian diplomats. The two hostages were released after 130 days in the Sahara. Yet U.S. envoys cabled Washington to complain that Canadian officials facilitated a secret ransom deal that enriched terrorists and jeopardized West African security.

Canadian court documents alleged that Mr. Krer was a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member and was spotted meeting some al-Qaeda-linked suspects in Canada.

CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said in an e-mail on Tuesday that she couldn’t address specifics, but pointed out the LIFG “is an organization listed as an entity associated with al-Qaeda” by the United Nations.

Mr. Krer doesn’t deny that he has LIFG ties – in fact, he recently told a reporter he was a fundraiser for the group in its nascent phases.

While several of his former comrades became al-Qaeda militants, others are leading the rebel militias that NATO warplanes are backing in the effort to rid Libya of Moammar Gadhafi.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, several Arab-Canadians were put under CSIS or RCMP surveillance and accused of having ties to al-Qaeda. Many were jailed when they flew to their homelands.

Some are suing Ottawa for complicity in torture.
CSIS notes reveal how Canadian was kept in exile
Harper’s ‘Islamicism’ remark draws heavy opposition fire
Canadian data, foreign threats: Spying in the digital age

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gadhafi in Minsk?

Gaddafi may be hiding on border with Algeria, say rebels

The man most Libyans now call 'the tyrant' or 'the fugitive' may be sheltered by Tuareg tribesmen near the town of Ghadamis

Or he could have pitched his tent next to the National Library of Minsk after arriving there with two planeloads of Libya's gold reserves that he intends to invest there.

Ian Black in Tripoli, Wednesday 28 September 2011 15.28 EDT

Muammar Gaddafi could be hiding near a picturesque town on Libya's borders with Algeria and Tunisia, sheltered by Tuareg tribesmen who are in his pay, according to officials of the country's western-backed rebel leadership.

They said the man most Libyans now call "the tyrant" or "the fugitive" may have been near Ghadamis, a Unesco world heritage site famous for its oasis, walled old town and largely Berber population.

Evidence of his presence apparently emerged after an attack at the Algerian border last weekend killed at least nine rebels, though there is suspicion this may have been a diversion to let Gaddafi flee.

Gaddafi was last seen in Tripoli a few days after the Nato-backed uprising on 20 August. Witnesses spotted him at an army base with his daughter Aisha, who arrived in Algeria the following day with her brothers Hannibal and Mohammed, their mother, Safia, and other relatives. Saadi, another son, fled to Niger with other senior regime figures.

Hisham Buhagiar, coordinator of the hunt for Gaddafi, revealed the deposed leader had been in the southern town of Samnu a week ago, before moving to Ghadamis, 350 miles south-west of Tripoli.

"There has been a fight between Tuareg tribesmen who are loyal to Gaddafi and Arabs living there [in the south]," Buhagiar told Reuters. "We are negotiating. The Gaddafi search is taking a different course."

Libyan military sources say that Tuaregs, nomads who live in the Sahara in Libya, Algeria and Mali, support Gaddafi because he is paying them generously.

Colonel Ahmed Bani, military spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council, told reporters that he could not be certain of Gaddafi's whereabouts. But he confirmed that Gaddafi's son Mutasim, his national security adviser, was still in the coastal city of Sirte, where heavy fighting is continuing. The better-known Saif al-Islam is in Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, where there is a stalemate, and where a senior rebel commander was killed on Wednesday. A phone call between the two was intercepted by the NTC at the weekend.

"Gaddafi's location is a riddle," Bani said. "But this does not worry us. What we worry about is the complete liberation of Libya. After that we will do our best to hunt down this bloody man. He will be found wherever he is."

But there is scepticism about reports about Gaddafi. "It's propaganda," said one Tripoli analyst. "He spent 42 years fooling people and he's doing the same now."

The hunt for Gaddafi is also causing tensions with Libya's neighbours, though Algeria this week warned Aisha Gaddafi to stop making statements to a Damascus-based TV channel, al-Rai which has also broadcast defiant words from her father.

Rebel activists plan to demonstrate in Tripoli on Thursday to protest against the "hostile attitudes" of Algeria and Niger, as well as Syria, where Bashar al-Assad's regime seems bent on crushing protests that have already killed 2,700 people.

Tunisia said last week it had detained Gaddafi's last prime minister after he entered the country illegally and sentenced him to six months in prison. But it emerged on Tuesday that Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi has been freed – despite demands that he be handed over to the authorities in Tripoli.

It was reported from Belarus, meanwhile, that a military plane from Libya landed in Minsk on Monday with 15 people on board. It was immediately moved into a hangar. The Belorusski Partizan said it was met by diplomats and intelligence officials, fuelling rumours that Gaddafi and his family were on the aircraft.

Belarus Denies Rumors on Gaddafi's Arrival in Minsk
2011-09-28 22:17:45 Xinhua Web Editor: Yihang

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday denied rumors that former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has arrived in Minsk.

"It's perhaps impossible to comment on this nonsense," a Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters.

"One of the planes carried Gaddafi himself and his family members, and the other two planes have delivered Libya's gold reserve, which the ex-head of the Libyan state intends to invest in the development of Belarusian agricultural farms. Gaddafi's famous marquee has already been pitched near the National Library in Minsk, and you can come and see it," the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a sarcastic commentary on reports by a number of Internet services that Gaddafi arrived in Minsk on Monday.

Muammar Monitor: Colonel arrives in Minsk, sets up shop…err, tent

Published: 29 September, 2011, 10:49

Do many of you know where Minsk, Belarus is?

Libya’s hide-and-seek champion Muammar Gaddafi does. He knows it so well, in fact, that he’s just relocated there, wife and national gold in tow.

It’s an understandable choice of location. First of all, friend and ideological ally Aleksandr Lukashenko (more often referred to as Europe’s Last Dictator) is guaranteed to give Gaddafi a warm welcome. In fact, he’s already set aside a chunk of prime real estate right by the country’s huge National Library, where Gaddafi has pitched his tent up. He’s there right now, polishing his bullion, while the wife makes some tea (it does get cold at night in Belarus).

According to an unnamed diplomat in Minsk, despite the no-fly zone (and the bomb-a-lot-shoot-at-unsanctioned-planes zone) over Libya, Gaddafi managed to sneak three aircraft out of his shot-up country. The first carried him and the missus, and the other two brought all the gold Gaddafi’s been hiding in tunnels, under rocks and buried in desert sands. The same unnamed Belarusian source said negotiations are already underway (in the tent by the library) to invest the gold in village towns in the country. It’s as yet unclear whether “invest in” is being seen by Gaddafi as “hide in – until the dust over Libya settles.”

This is, of course, a hoax – an appropriately jokey reaction by a diplomat in Minsk to yet another Gaddafi sighting (of which there have been hundreds). In the months since he was last seen in public, Libya’s former leader has been sighted anywhere and everywhere, including Algeria, Chad, Venezuela, Tunisia, South Africa and Niger. Libya’s National Transitional Council and various NATO officials on the ground constantly claim to be “very close” to Gaddafi or having finally uncovered his actual whereabouts. But despite those reports, the Colonel remains at large, sporadically communicating with local TV and radio channels, denying the fact he has – or ever will – left the country.

Recent reports have unearthed another potential blunder. It seems that Gaddafi’s ability to evade capture may be due to none other than President Sarkozy. Back in 2008, Sarkozy (who was prime minister at the time) apparently sold an armoured Mercedes 4x4 to the Libyan leader. The car reportedly has an in-built command system which allows Gaddafi to communicate with his troops and serious anti-tracking equipment which prevents NATO from locating the man.

There are thousands of articles claiming that yet another “source” has said Gaddafi is being helped by a Tuareg tribe somewhere on the Libya-Algeria border. Google has also joined in the “where in the world is Muammar Gaddafi?” game and in response to a “Gaddafi location” search states that the “best guess for Muammar Gaddafi location is Libya”. But until the man is captured, all those rumors remain just that – and considering the Colonel’s evasive techniques, a Google best guess is all the world is going to get.

Katerina Azarova, RT

Syrian Army Defectors Consider Fighting Back

Syrian uprising showing signs of armed rebellion

By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press –

BEIRUT (AP) — Once-peaceful Syrian protesters are increasingly taking up arms to fight a six-month military crackdown, frustrated that President Bashar Assad remains in control while more than 2,700 demonstrators are dead, analysts and witnesses say.

The growing signs of armed resistance may accelerate the cycle of violence gripping the country by giving the government a pretext to use even greater firepower against its opponents.

Authorities have already used tanks, snipers and mafia-like gunmen known as "shabiha" who operate as hired guns for the regime.

"If peaceful activism on the part of the protesters turns into violent insurgency, the risk of civil war will dramatically increase and the regime will benefit and likely go for the kill," Bilal Saab, a Middle East expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, told The Associated Press.

The degree to which Syrian protesters are arming themselves is difficult to quantify because Syria has blocked nearly all outside witnesses to the bloodshed by banning foreign media and restricting local coverage. The state media echoes the party line, which states the regime is fighting thugs and religious extremists who are acting out a foreign conspiracy.

But interviews with a wide group of witnesses, activists and analysts suggest the conflict is becoming more violent. Led by defecting army conscripts and Syrians with access to weapons smuggled in through neighboring Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon, protesters have begun taking up arms to fight back, observers say.

They are being aided by Sunni fighters returning from Iraq to their native Syria.

"Now these Syrian insurgents are returning to their country to help topple the Assad regime," said Qassim al-Araji, a Shiite member of the Iraqi parliament's defense and security committee. "We are happy to see these fighters leaving Iraq, saving us from their evils, but at the same time we do not want major disturbances in neighboring Syria."

A widespread armed revolt would be a potentially dire change in the protest movement, which for strategic reasons has remained mostly peaceful with an eye toward gaining a moral advantage over Assad. In many ways, the movement was modeled after the nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

But with the U.N. estimating more than 2,700 civilian deaths since the uprising began in mid-March, many protesters are starting to see the limits of a peaceful movement, particularly when compared to the armed uprising in Libya that drove Moammar Gadhafi from power — albeit with NATO air support.
Although the mass demonstrations in Syria have shaken one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, it holds no territory and still has no clear leadership.

"The regime is killing the people and some residents are thinking that peaceful demonstrations will take them nowhere, even in 10 years from now," said a prominent Syrian activist who asked that his name and location not be published because of the sensitivity of the issue. "Gunmen and army defectors are fighting side by side against regime forces."

He and other activists said the armed resistance is strongest on the outskirts of Homs, a central city that has seen some of the largest demonstrations, along with Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib province near the Turkish border.

There also have been increasing reports of attacks on security forces and police patrols. Mohammed Saleh, an opposition figure in Homs, said he saw a police car riddled with bullets and a burned-out security bus in the city last week.

Saleh also said gunmen attacked an army force last week, destroying six armored personnel carriers in Homs.

Another Homs activist, Majd Saleh, confirmed clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors.

"The opposition to the government is gradually transforming into more of an armed resistance," said Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert and former Obama administration official in the State Department. "The brutality of the regime has become enormous and there is increasing pressure on people to defend their families and their villages. They clearly have won a moral argument against the government, but physically it doesn't protect them."

There is no central call to arms by the opposition, in part because there is no clear leadership in the movement. The Syrian opposition is disparate and fragmented, with various parties vying for power as they see an end to more than 40 years of iron rule by Assad and his late father, Hafez.

Still, recent weeks have seen a subtle change in tone. Some Syrians are now calling on protesters to take up arms and inviting foreign military action, hoisting signs that say "Where is NATO?" and urging the world to come to Syria's aid.

The most prominent protest organizers responded swiftly, insisting the movement is entirely peaceful and stressing that the Assad regime will use any violence to justify its ferocious crackdown.

"While we understand the motivation to take up arms or call for military intervention, we specifically reject this position," said a statement last month by the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group with a wide network of sources on the ground across Syria.

"Militarization would ... erode the moral superiority that has characterized the revolution since its beginning," the statement said.

Many activists were hesitant to speak on the record about the armed resistance; others denied it outright. Mohammed Saleh, one of the activists in Homs, blamed the increased violence on drug dealers and smugglers.

But the calls to arms appear to be borne of frustration that the revolt has descended into a stalemate, with neither side willing to give in. The protests have continued nearly every day, but the gatherings have lost some momentum in recent weeks.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration understands that frustration, urging the Assad regime to avoid more violence by allowing a peaceful political transition process.

"The great majority of the opposition members have shown extraordinary restraint in the face of the regime's brutality and are demanding their rights through peaceful, unarmed demonstrations," Toner said Monday. "The longer the regime continues to use repression, killing and jailing peaceful marchers and activists both, the more likely that the peaceful protest movement will become more violent."

The U.N. human rights office says the regime has started retaliating against protesters' families to snuff out the uprising, a fearsome new tactic which could be having a chilling effect on the revolution.

"Prominent human rights defenders, inside and outside the country, are reported to have been targeted," U.N. human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva on Friday. "We are also concerned by reports of the targeting and attacking of families and sympathizers of the protesters by security forces."

There is little sign of the violence ending anytime soon. International intervention, like the NATO action that helped topple Gadhafi, is all but out of the question. Washington and its allies have shown little appetite for intervening in yet another Arab nation in turmoil.

International sanctions, some of which target Assad personally, have failed to persuade him to ease his crackdown. There had been hopes, since dashed, that European Union sanctions would prove a humiliating personal blow to Assad, a 46-year-old eye doctor who trained in Britain.

There also is real concern that Assad's ouster would spread chaos around the region.

Syria is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East, bordering five countries with which it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce. Its web of allegiances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy.

A destabilized Syria, the argument goes, could send unsettling ripples through the region.
Syria also has a volatile sectarian divide, making civil unrest one of the most dire scenarios. The Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Alawite dominance has bred resentments, which Assad has worked to tamp down by pushing a strictly secular identity. But he now appears to be relying heavily on his Alawite power base, beginning with highly placed relatives, to crush the resistance.

For many Syrians, the uncertainty over the future is cause for alarm in a country where sectarian warfare is a real, terrifying possibility. Syria is a fragile jigsaw puzzle of Middle Eastern backgrounds including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druse, Circassians, Armenians and more.

Even for Syrians who despise Assad, the worst-case scenario is a descent into a Lebanese-style civil war — and Assad has exploited those fears by portraying himself as the only power who can keep the peace. But as faith in the regime erodes, Syrians could decide that protecting themselves will be their only option, regardless of the outcome of the uprising.

"The argument for arming yourself is very strong, whether you think Assad is going to survive or fall," Nasr said. "People are becoming increasingly unconvinced a peaceful transition is in the cards. So either the regime will survive with enormous brutality or it will fall to chaos and violence. Either way, people are taking to arms."

AP writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Matthew Lee in Washington and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Analysis - Desertions show unease growing in Syrian army
By William Maclean

LONDON (Reuters) - A flurry of desertions from Syria's military shows unease among the rank-and-file over its repression of unrest but the army's overall clout seems unaffected, allowing President Bashar al-Assad to go on using force to prop up his weakened authority.

Further violence would worsen communal strains in the army, a pivotal power base for Assad, who is from the minority Alawite sect, while more desertions would raise opposition morale as he steps up efforts to crush protests now in their sixth month.

But a tipping point predicted by some analysts, at which a balance of fear favouring the government swings sharply and hastens its collapse, has not been reached.

"Low-level army defections appear to be on the increase, but they are still not affecting the effectiveness of military operations," a diplomat in the Syrian capital said of the mostly-conscript, 220,000-strong armed forces.

Nikolaos van Dam, a Dutch scholar of Syrian politics and a former senior foreign ministry official, told Reuters that defections from the army were continuing, but as long as they remained modest in scope, involved no loss of heavy weaponry or senior officers, there would be little danger to Assad.

"And if there were to be any sort of military threat to the regime, senior officers would stick together even more," he said, noting that the fate of many top commanders was closely tied to that of Assad.

"Any attempt at an internal coup would be extremely dangerous for those contemplating it. If they were discovered they would be quickly shot."

Protesters have been encouraged by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, whose autocratic rule they saw as similar to Assad's, and growing overseas pressure on the ruling hierarchy.


But Andrew Terrill, Research Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Army War College, told Reuters that large numbers of defections would probably have to occur in Syria "as they did in Libya, if that revolution is going to evolve from mass protests to regime-threatening armed struggle."

"Defections at this level have not yet taken place."

Residents and activists in different regions have reported the defection of hundreds among the mostly Sunni Muslim rank and file who managed to evade a Soviet-style system of political commissars and secret police that has ensured virtually no dissent in the military during 41 years of Assad family rule.

Scores of other conscripts have been shot for refusing to fire at pro-democracy protesters, human rights campaigners say.

Others have simply deserted and dropped out of sight.

A factor behind the unease of Sunni soldiers has been attacks by core loyalist Alawite forces on mosques during armoured incursions into the cities of Hama and Deir al-Zor last month, with Arab satellite channels repeatedly playing a video purportedly showing the minaret of a mosque in Deir al-Zor falling from tank fire, activists and a former officer said.

The total number of defections from the army stands at about 700 since the uprising began in March, according to estimates by some Syria experts, with many of that number leaving in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which this year fell in August.

Many at first sought refuge in Turkey or Lebanon, residents and exiles say. Now some may be going to Iraq as well.

A tribal sheikh told Reuters from Deir al-Zor in the east that heavy gunfire was heard overnight in the eastern Twaiba neighbourhood of the town of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq.

Citing residents, he said the army was seeking deserters suspected of fleeing to this desolate part of the country, mirroring reports about areas on the border with Turkey and Lebanon where intensified military operations apparently have targeted hideouts of suspected deserters in the last two weeks.

Most army conscripts are from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and many come from rural areas targeted in military efforts to suppress six months of street demonstrations against Assad.

Army commanders and security chiefs are mostly from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied that army defections had occurred. They have expelled independent media since the uprising began in March, making it difficult to verify accounts of developments on the ground.

But some purported defections have been captured on video and feature on Internet social networking sites and YouTube.


"We have a dream -- Free Syria," says a sign in English held aloft in another clip of what appears to a protest by hundreds.

Activists and residents have also been reporting increased defections in the central city of Homs and nearby countryside.

Residents of Rastan, a Sunni town near Homs and traditionally an army recruiting ground, published footage on Tuesday purportedly showing defecting soldiers on a balcony greeting a crowd of several thousands at a pro-democracy rally in the town last week.

While the videos' authenticity remains unconfirmed, they are a boost for opposition activists seeking to complement protests with an information and diplomatic campaign to unseat Assad.

Speculation about army unity intensified a week after Gaddafi's fall, when an armoured government force surrounded a town near the city of Homs on August 29 and fired heavy machineguns, in the wake of the defection of tens of soldiers in the area, activists and residents said.

In Jerusalem, Ehud Yaari, Middle East analyst for Israel's top-rated Channel Two television news, told Reuters hundreds of soldiers up to lieutenant-colonel rank had quit, but very few were Alawites. There was no serious army rift as yet.

He said that "at the end of the day" generals would probably act to oust Assad to preserve sectarian co-existence.

Patrick Seale, biographer of Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, said that as long as the army and security services were loyal it would be extremely difficult for Assad to be toppled.

"It looks to me like a long drawn-out conflict," he said.

Women Rebels Train as Fighters

Libyan women train for military, hope for equality

By RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI, Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Moammar Gadhafi famously surrounded himself with a personal coterie of female bodyguards during the decades he ruled Libya. But it was more a sign of his eccentricities than a real commitment to equality for women in this conservative Islamic society.

Now the revolutionary forces that swept the longtime leader from power last month are offering military training to scores of women, some of them housewives, others high school teachers. On Sunday at a military compound in the eastern city of Benghazi, dozens of women with machine guns slung over their shoulders listened attentively to instructions in shooting and martial arts. They are the latest group of trainees as Libya's new leaders work to build a national army.

Women were at the forefront of the protests that launched the anti-Gadhafi uprising in February, demanding democracy for the country and justice for loved ones who had been killed. Many women now hope the revolution will herald full equality.

"We should be equal and we're fighting for the same goal, so why should the men have to carry the burdens of this fight while we sit and watch?" said Amal al-Obeidi, 35, who teaches business management at a high school in Benghazi.

"The least we can do is learn to protect ourselves so the men can focus on fighting Gadhafi on the front lines knowing that we have their back," added al-Obeidi, who wore a headscarf and was brimming with enthusiasm.

She said Islam doesn't forbid women from fighting alongside the men.

"The men have died on the front lines as they had to fight with no weapons and they sacrificed their lives to protect us ... while we were at home doing nothing to help like a piece of a valuable antique furniture," she said as she struggled to hold a heavy machine gun with two hands at the school. "Gadhafi's mercenaries could come back at anytime so I want to be ready to defend myself and my house if I have to."

Volunteers at the military training center say they felt helpless during the months of fighting leading to Gadhafi's ouster, especially with reports about rapes by Gadhafi forces, and no longer want to sit on the sidelines.

At least 200 women have graduated from the program since it began at Benghazi's Technical Military Compound in late March. They are given the choice of joining the National Security Force, which operates like the U.S. National Guard and allows them to operate in their own cities. There's currently no talk of sending women to the front lines.

The Benghazi training center is one of several set up around the country.

A unit of 20 unarmed women was deployed last month when British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Benghazi and addressed a crowd in the main city square. The female guards stood watch and searched other women with fears high that male attackers could try to disguise themselves with all-encompassing robes.
Abdul-Basit Haron, a military commander in Benghazi, said all revolutionary fighters, including the women, would get a one-time fee of $5,000.

Col. Mohammed Garaboli, the commander of the compound where the training takes place, said women's involvement in the military is important for morale.

"Women feel like they are neglected and they came here to prove that they are equal to men in this society," he said. "They want to show the world what the Libyans are made of and how open-minded they are as well."

The role of women is sensitive in this conservative Muslim country, even though Gadhafi regime long touted policies it said were aimed at breaking cultural taboos concerning women's work and status. The erratic leader had a contingent of female bodyguards and a small number of women were elevated to prominent positions in government ministries.

Female soldiers — a rare sight in most Arab countries — were a trademark of Gadhafi's regime, patrolling roadside checkpoints in khaki uniforms and Muslim headscarves and often sporting sunglasses and heavy makeup. One group of women even reportedly ran their own interrogation center for suspected female anti-Gadhafi activists.

However, there was not a fundamental commitment to improving women's lot in life across all aspects of society.

Gadhafi's policies were in part aimed at weakening traditional tribal and religious powers so he could impose his own vision of society, and just as for men, advancement depended on total adherence to Gadhafi's authoritarian rule.

Col. Sabriya Mohammed al-Shraidi, a Benghazi native who graduated from the military school in the city in 1986 and specialized in military intelligence, said eight officers were training 36 volunteers in the current class, which she said would be the fourth group to graduate.

"Most of these women are housewives and working ladies. They have no experience in the military and they don't know how to use guns so they come here to get the training in case they have to defend themselves and their children," she said. "You never know when you need these skills."

She said they're given training in all types of light arms and self-defense. Those who join the force will help provide security for demonstrations, banks and other institutions.

"People are wrong when they say it's bad for women to be in the military," she said, pointing out that women already had provided humanitarian aid and helped smuggle weapons to the former rebels by hiding them under their robes.

"Women have contributed to this revolution in many ways," she said. "But they are still neglected and isolated and we are trying to show ... it is not a shame to be a part of the army and the society unlike during the Gadhafi era when military women had a very bad reputation."

Wafa al-Rayth, a 29-year-old housewife, said she signed up to join the revolutionary fighters to "show the world that the Libyan women are capable of standing next to their brothers and we are an open-minded society."

"It is about time we help to spread peace and secure our cities, especially since our traditions require that women guard places where women gather and check their bags and make sure it is not a man dressed in women's clothes and planning to commit an act of terrorism."

Lameis Aghnaish, a 20-year-old engineer wearing a camouflage uniform, said she had been trying to move abroad under Gadhafi's rule, but is now proud to stay.

"I was planning on leaving Libya to another country because life was difficult here and I never felt like I belonged to this country in any way, but now things are different," she said. "I will sacrifice my life if I have to for this country."

She said she was putting her career on hold to join the military.

"I will go back to my old job after everything has settled down because what we need now is safety and security and I am helping to provide that by volunteering to be a women guard," she said.

Wafa al-Gargouri, a 49-year-old housewife who is known as a mother of the revolution for her role in leading protests, said people used to revile women soldiers, calling them Gadhafi's toys and speculating that he used them for pleasure.

"We want the people to change the way they think about the military women," she said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tripoli Bookshop

Tripoli bookworm thrilled by Libya’s exciting new chapter

Saturday, 03 September 2011

Mohammed Ali Al-Bahbahy stands in his bookshop near Tripoli’s newly-named Martyr’s Square, formerly Green Square. (Photo by AFP)

A tiny bookshop is among the first businesses to open in Tripoli one week after the Libyan capital fell to rebels determined to uproot the regime of

Muammar Qaddafi.

“I opened this used bookstore to fight ignorance under Muammar Qaddafi,” said Mohammad Ali al-Bahbahy, a spritely septuagenarian sporting a checked shirt and loafers.

The quaint store round the corner from Tripoli’s Green Square, which was renamed Martyrs Square after rebels took the capital last week, was founded in 1995. Bahbahy drew on 200 works of literature in his personal collection to get started.

“Now I have 12,000 books,” he said, gesturing to rows of volumes on subjects including geography, philosophy, politics, science and religion.

His stock also boasts stacks of American thrillers and a banned biography of former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan – whose husband Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of “terrorist-related” targets in Tripoli as US president in 1986 after Libyan secret forces were blamed for bombing a night club in West Berlin. The attack killed two U.S. servicemen and injured scores more, along with other clients.

The shop, he said, became a safe haven for those with an appetite for culture and a desire to discuss politics freely but “behind closed doors.”
Bahbahy said he was never directly threatened by the Qaddafi regime.

Thanks to his military past and connections – coupled with a prudent dose of caution and self-censorship – intelligence services thought him a supporter of the regime and left him largely alone.

Qaddafi killed the culture of reading, Bahbahy said, so it was easy to build up his collection as friends and strangers short on education and cash eagerly sold off the books once read by their grandparents when Libya was a monarchy.

Born in the western mountain town of Yefren and educated in military academies in England and the United States, Bahbahy was an army officer when Qaddafi seized power in a bloodless coup in 1969.

“We were happy to have the revolution then,” he said, “but he stole it.”

Slowly but surely Qaddafi purged the army of educated officers. Bahbahy’s turn came in 1979. After years of dabbling in various business ventures he decided to make a profit out of his childhood passion, too proud to seek help from regime cronies.

“I learned to read the Quran from my grandfather who raised me when I was three,” he said in fluid English. “As a teenager, my hobby was to read history books.”

The regime essentials are readily available on his shelf. There are copies of Qaddafi’s infamous “Green Book” in Arabic, English, French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and even Hebrew.

“‘The Green Book’ was translated into 45 languages – more than the Quran,” Bahbahy said. “Qaddafi had thought himself emperor of the whole world so he wanted his theories to reach everyone.”

Most of his customers, he said, were tourists passing through Tripoli.
Tomes as thick as the “Encyclopedia Britannica” are piled up on the bookshop’s second floor under the watchful gaze of a framed Mona Lisa.

They are annual compilations of every oral or written statement made by Qaddafi.

“Now that I am free, I am hungry to read history books that cover all sides,” said Bahbahy, a harsh critic of education under Qaddafi, which placed the strongman at the start of history and mapped Libya as the heart of the Arab world and Africa in turn.

“You couldn’t say a single word. We would discuss politics in our trusted circle of friends behind closed doors. But never in public and we would never publish.

“Now,” he said joyfully, “you can.”

Libyans reclaim their streets

Freed from the 'old frizzyhead' dictatorship of Gaddafi, an infectious sense of goodwill is giving birth to a vibrant new civil society

Ian Black in Tripoli

Omar al-Mukhtar street does not quite live up to its promise as the most elegant boulevard in Tripoli. Tall, Italianate colonial-era arcades and a few spindly palm trees provide shade, but the buildings are rundown and the pavements dirty and neglected.

Still, Khawla, Asma, Aya and friends are sprucing things up. With a few dozen other teenagers – looking purposeful in 17 February revolutionary T-shirts – they are sweeping and cleaning, and even painting the kerbstones in precise yellow and black segments.

"Now we must help look after our city," said Khawla, a beaming 18-year-old with her hair covered in a scarf topped by a baseball cap bearing the crescent and star emblem of Libya's revolution. "We want to do something for our country," Aya chimes in.

Abdul-Moneim, a 17-year old schoolboy, raises a laugh about why he is shovelling dust and cigarette ends into a wheelbarrow. "I'd had it with Abu Shafshufa" ("frizzyhead" – the universal nickname for Muammar Gaddafi), he grins, shouldering his broom like a rifle. Passers-by nod approvingly. "Well done kids!" calls out a soldier in camouflage gear. Shopkeepers keep the squad supplied with water and snacks.

Until last month youngsters like these had only ever experienced dictatorship and the apathy it bred. "Of course we wouldn't have done this before the revolution," said Asma. "Why should we sweep Gaddafi's streets? When they did clean things it was only because there was some African president visiting Gaddafi in his stupid tent. It wasn't ever for Libyans. Now we feel Tripoli is our city."

Volunteers who are cleaning or helping in hospitals, orphanages and charitable institutions are part of an explosion of civic-mindedness triggered by the fall of the old regime. New NGOs are springing up daily, emulating what happened in Benghazi when the uprising began.

"These groups have mushroomed in the last two or three weeks alone and there isn't even anywhere for them to register yet," said Khalifa Shakreen of Tripoli University. "It's only natural because people were so tightly controlled and lived under a culture of dependency for 40 years."

As Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the ruling National Transitional Council, put it proudly to the UN general assembly on Saturday: "A new Libya is coming to life."

Public service messages, lectures and advertising campaigns are proliferating in an atmosphere of infectious goodwill, though the mood is still sullen in traditionally pro-Gaddafi areas such as Abu Salim. Efforts to curb the dangerous practice of celebratory gunfire have been fairly successful. "Say Allahu Akbar instead of firing bullets," counsels one leaflet. Exhortations to respect public property and keep neighbourhoods tidy are everywhere. Text messages urge people to donate blood.

Ordinary Libyans are also being mobilised around the inadequate treatment of injured rebels (the Arabic word they use, tellingly, is Thuwar, "revolutionaries"), many of them hospitalised far from home in Tunisia and Malta. "It is a scandal," complained Nawras Omar, a volunteer nurse. "Thousands of people are affected. Many have lost limbs and there are not enough doctors and nurses. This is a nation at war and our wounded should be in military hospitals."

On Friday night hundreds of people gathered to appeal to the NTC to "put the injured before reconstruction", as one slogan demanded. "For 40 years we never participated in anything," said organiser Abir Abu-Turkiya. "Before only Gaddafi's people came to demonstrate and they were bribed. Now everyone who is here wants to be here. This is the beginning of civil society."

Crowds milling in nearby Martyrs Square enjoyed a combination of street party – with bouncy castles, popcorn and break-dancing – and a patriotic rally for free Libya. "This is the first time we have ever done anything like this," exulted Lubna Arousi, a dentistry student raising cash for friends who are still fighting the "dictator's forces" in Sirte and Bani Walid. "In the Gaddafi years we would have been shouted down and chased away."

Longer-term social, educational and economic issues are being tackled by new groups such as Doctors for Free Libya, Youth Future Makers, Libyans Against Corruption and the religious-sounding United Youth Charity Organisation. Activists of the Amazigh (Berber) minority, who played a big role in the war, are launching an unprecedented campaign for recognition.

Not all these fledgling organisations will survive, but some are likely to become part of new movements and parties as a pluralist democratic political system develops.

Unfinished wrangling over the relationship between the rebel brigades and the national army will shape the way Libya works, as will the way power is shared between Islamists and liberals. The ownership of the revolution is already hotly disputed. Regional rivalries will be important too. Misrata, proud of its wartime sacrifices, has already produced a party that reflects a strong sense of entitlement. Tripoli worries that it will be marginalised by Benghazi.

The coming months are supposed to spawn the formation of a transitional government, elections and a new constitution. It is a lot of change in a short time but, for the moment at least, there is a powerful sense of public engagement and enthusiasm behind it – from the kids sweeping Omar al-Mukhtar street to the revellers in Martyrs Square. "People want to join something to make an impact," said an NTC official. "That's good. But the danger is that they'll follow the wrong person. It's not easy to move from the mentality of the cult of one person to the notion of civil society."


This LEMV is designed to fly above the battlefield for days or weeks at a time, providing immediate and accurate information as to what is happening on the ground below. It was possibly used extensively in Libya.

This photo was from the Joint Base McGuire (Fort) Dix Lakehurst (JBMDL) in New Jersey.

Directing Traffic to the Front

Enroute to the Final Front

Obama, Cameron & Gadhafi

The Fall of Sabha

Witnessing lengthy battle for Libyan city
The Fall of Sabha
By Ben Wedeman, CNN
September 27, 2011 --

(CNN) -- We were told to be awake and ready to move at 4 a.m. The National Transitional Council fighters we were with were planning to launch a dawn assault on the Saharan city of Sabha.

All predictions indicated it would be one of the bloodiest battles yet. NTC officials said loyalist forces would use weaponry they hadn't used before. They didn't go into detail but it sounded ominous. Western intelligence sources told CNN the fighters in Sabha still loyal to Libya's ousted leader, Moammar Gadhafi, had heavy artillery and would likely use it.

Sabha was frequently described as loyalist and pro-Gadhafi.

The night before the assault there was an edgy, giddy atmosphere on the air base where we were camped along with the force that had traveled more than 600 kilometers from Tripoli.

The fighters were shooting more ordinance than usual into the air, and they flocked to our campsite behind the officer's club, eager to chat, and even more eager to use our satellite telephones.

One after another, they shyly asked if they could make a call. Each one had a special reason for calling -- reassuring parents, a brother getting married, a sick baby daughter, an angry girlfriend.

Many talked about their expectations for the coming day. It would be a bloodbath. It would be easy.

"Maybe I'll die tomorrow, I'm ready for it," declared Mohamed, a toothy young man from Sabha who had spent several years in Manchester, England, where he had picked up the local accent.

"But if I don't die, you are all welcome to stay at my house in Sabha."

Mohamed, like many of the fighters from Sabha, insisted most of the people in his home town sided with the revolution. But there was concern about possible resistance from members of Gadhafi's Gadadfa tribe.

Despite a month of impressive advances by the anti-Gadhafi forces, it's clear not everyone has gone over to the revolution.

That afternoon we had gone into the nearby town of Birak Al-Shati. I had seen scattered green flags flying over some of the houses earlier in the day. Unlike other towns we had been through, few people in Birak Al-Shati waved or flashed the v-for-victory sign. They just glared at us.

As CNN's Cairo camerawoman Mary Rogers was taking pictures of the town, a car drove up to me in the town's main roundabout.

The driver, a young man in his early 20s, shouted to me: "Allah, Moammar, Libya, wa bas" -- (God, Moammar and Libya only) -- the standard slogan of Gadhafi supporters, then began to pull away.

"Wait," I told him. "Talk to me. We've been speaking to pro-revolutionaries (Gadhafi opponents), but not your type."

In the passenger seat sat a boy, maybe 10-years old, who repeated the slogan several times, pumping his fists in the air.

"No camera," the driver told me. "Everyone around here feels the same, but we're afraid to say anything with all these thuwar (revolutionaries) around." He then drove away.

I crossed the street to a cigarette shop where there were about half a dozen people inside.

The shopkeeper, a chunky man in his early 20s wearing a jalabiya, echoed the same sentiments. As did another man, who identified himself as Jamal, a businessman.

"If there were free elections here, and we had a choice between voting for Gadhafi or the new regime in Tripoli, 90% would vote for Gadhafi," he said. "And none of this would have happened if NATO wasn't bombing Libya."

A young fighter with an AK-47 walked into the shop to buy cigarettes. Surprisingly, the discussion over the new Libya carried on.

"We don't want these guys here," he said, pointing to the fighter. "They are going around, breaking into houses, stealing people's possessions. That's what they did to my cousin's house."

"If that's what happened, your cousin deserved it," replied the fighter, who said he was from Tripoli.

By now a fairly large crowd had gathered to listen and take part in the conversation. Suddenly a man pushed through the crowd and grabbed Jamal by the shoulder.

"Get out of here and stop talking like that!" he shouted, clearly angry, pushing Jamal out of the shop. "Are you an idiot?"

It was getting tense, so I stepped out of the shop.

"Don't worry," the shopkeeper told me. "It's his brother. He just doesn't want trouble."

As I stepped to the side of the road, anther car drove up, this time with three occupants wearing baseball caps emblazoned with the pro-Gadhafi Libyan flag. When I peered into the car, I saw that the driver had a bottle of clear brown liquid in his lap. In the back seat a teenager with a machine gun in his lap was rolling a joint.

"We are the revolutionaries of Birak Al-Shati," the driver said, a big grin on his face.

"What's that?" I asked him, pointing to the bottle.

"Whiskey!" he proudly declared. "You want some?"

I declined. I knew we had a big day ahead of us.

Although we had been told to be awake and ready to go at 4 a.m., I woke up two hours later. Having spent much of the last seven months in Libya, I knew these guys were not strong on punctuality. We ended up leaving the base around 10 a.m. behind the ambulances, and met the main body of fighters heading to Sabha.
An hour later, after an uneventful drive though the desert, we arrived on the outskirts of Sabha. I could see some smoke on the horizon, but could hear no gunfire. Small clumps of people by the side of the road were cheering and waving. Driving further into the city, the crowds grew larger. There was gunfire but it was all in the air, the ubiquitous celebratory gunfire.

Up above, a man tore down the green flag from the city's main water tower and sent it fluttering to the ground.

We were the only journalists in Sabha. Wherever we stopped cheering crowds mobbed us. Most asked if we were with Al-Jazeera.

The huge, bloody battle for Sabha wasn't to be. No one was disappointed.
"We are now in Sabha and we were not expecting this," one of the doctors shouted. "This is the best moment of my life."

There was fighting, of course, in the Sabha neighborhood of Manshiya. We watched as cars and ambulances rushed to the emergency ward in the city's main hospital. It was pandemonium. The medical team we had traveled with arrived at the hospital just minutes before the first casualties began to arrive.

Along with the wounded, came the dead, more than 10 in the two hours we were at the hospital. Suddenly the bravado of the young fighters was gone when they drove up with the bodies of their dead comrades.

They cried like children in one another's arms. Others just sat on the curb and wept quietly as their friends tried to console them. For many it was their first real encounter with combat. Others vowed to carry on the fight and avenge their friends.

By contrast, the loyalist dead were received without fanfare. A pickup drove up to the main entrance to the hospital with two bodies covered with a light blue cloth splayed in the back. On the side of the pickup truck the fighters were smug with satisfaction.

"We killed the rats," one told me, pointing his gun toward the bodies at his feet.
That night we slept next to a NATO-bombed VIP guesthouse at the airport, which had become the main base for the hundreds of NTC fighters who had taken part in the conquest of Sabha.

The next morning we ventured out into the city. Mid-morning, and there were few people out on the streets, and still plenty of green flags. In front of the administration building at Sabha University, a still intact portrait of Gadhafi featuring the odd slogan, "High you are above every ceiling, proud you are above every height."

Within minutes, a group of gunmen showed up, backing their pickup up to the poster, which they proceeded to rip apart with a knife.

We then went to Al-Gurda, a tight neighborhood composed of families from all over Libya. People look after their neighbors, keep an eye out for strangers, and never, as residents told us, dabbled in the dangerous business of politics.
The streets are dusty, the asphalt crumbling. The roads in this corner of Sabha were paved once, in the 1980s and never since, they told me.

We sat down with the neighborhood men, each one cradling his machine gun. They explained that the last straw was when armed strangers -- they called mercenaries -- arrived on their street.

"We shot one, he died right over there," one of the men told me, pointing to the corner. He then showed me the video of the dying man he had shot on his cell phone.

Dentist Abdel Majid Tijani said he had learned to use a gun in school.
Gadhafi "forced us to train on this," he said, patting his AK-47 assault rifle. "He intended to change us to fighters to fight for his dreams in Africa and in other places. But God decided the reverse. He forced us to train on this thing to fight him."

Afterwards, we went to the nearby home of Khadija Tahir, a strong-willed English teacher at Sabha University. I asked her why Sabha, despite its reputation for being a Gadhafi stronghold, had fallen to the opposition in less than 24 hours.
People "realized that this man is not right. So many people came 180 degrees from being pro-Gadhafi to protesting Gadhafi," she told me. "The other reason is that people got fed up -- lack of electricity, lack of water. So they wanted to get out of this situation. I am one of them."

There are still a few parts of Sabha where the "thuwar," the revolutionaries, are hesitant to tread.

But most parts of Sabha were like Al-Gurda. They'd simply had enough.

Sabha - Libya's transitional government delivered 20 million dinars ($16m) Tuesday to this remote southern city beset by fighters loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, hoping to bolster support for revolutionary forces. On the other side, Gaddafi’s son was seen in a video for the first time since Tripoli fell, trying to rally the remnants of his father's regime.

Journalists accompanied the oil and finance minister, Ali al-Tarhouni, and the cash on the first flight to touch down in the desert city of Sabha since a Nato enforced no-fly zone order in March. The 20 boxes of 20-dinar notes, each weighing 78kg, were delivered to the Sabha central bank.

Revolutionary forces have gained control of much of the area but still face heavy resistance.

"The forces inside these areas are not opposed to joining us but they do not want to disarm," said Ahmed Bashir, spokesperson for Libya's National Transitional Council in Sabha. "They have the weapons and no manpower. We have the manpower and lighter weapons."

More than a month after sweeping into Tripoli and ending Gaddafi’s nearly 42-year rule, the fugitive leader's supporters are still putting up a fierce fight on three fronts: in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, the town of Bani Walid southeast of the capital and in pockets in the country's vast desert south, including Sabha. Most of the recent fighting has occurred in Bani Walid and the Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte.

Gaddafi’s whereabouts are unknown, although he has exhorted his supporters to fight on several times in audio messages. His son, Saif al-Islam, also was shown in an amateur video recording on Tuesday on the Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the former regime's mouthpiece.

The video shows Saif cheering and waving with a machine gun in his hand. While he has sported a beard in past appearances, Tuesday's video showed him shaven and wearing a camouflage jacket.

He pumps his fist in the air and addresses a crowd, but there was no audio.

Crimes against humanity

The TV station reported the video was taken September 20 in one of the besieged towns, but did not say which one. Many have speculated that Saif al-Islam is still hiding in Bani Walid.

It appears to be his first appearance since August 23, three days after revolutionary forces entered Tripoli. There had been reports of his capture at the time, but he turned up in front of cheering supporters in the capital.

Saif al-Islam was long the voice of reform in the authoritarian regime, but he threw his support behind his father after the uprising began in mid-February and became a civil war.

Like his father, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for the regime's bloody efforts to repress the uprising.

In Sabha, revolutionaries are based in the city's largest neighbourhood, al-Gurtha. They have set up a national council office and checkpoints on roads leading to areas where Gaddafi loyalists refuse to hand over their weapons. Residents are able to cross checkpoints into Gaddafi loyalist-held areas, but only if they have family inside, and even then they risk being accused of being Gaddafi supporters.

Bashir said the area has no Gaddafi brigades, but there are worries that armed Gaddafi loyalists may ambush revolutionary forces from the desert.

Deaf Rebels on the Road to the Front

Deaf rebels play part in Libya’s freedom

(Star, Canada) - Khalid Mustafa Sati fights in silence. He can feel the vibration of the bombs that fall around him, but this member of Libya’s rebel forces cannot hear their explosions.

Sati can see the smoke and flames from his gun as he fires at Muammar Al Qathafi’s soldiers, but he cannot hear the sound of the bullets. Nor does he have a voice to speak of the death and violence he has witnessed during this uprising.

Sati is one of Misurata’s many heroes, praised for his courage and quick thinking on the battlefield. He now heads a unit of 86 men. What sets them apart is that they are deaf.

“In the early days, there were not so many men fighting,” Sati said. “I wanted to show everyone that we needed to get out there; show the people I can’t hear, I can’t speak, but I can fight. If I could do it, they had no excuse not to be out there, too.”

Of the 86 members of the Deaf and Mute Brigade, only seven can hear, and they are fluent in Libyan sign language and act as interpreters for the others. The majority, like Sati, were born with their condition. Others have lost their hearing later in life through injuries or disease.

None of these men are expected to fight, but many, including Sati and 18-year-old Abubakre Mustafa Awene volunteer to fight every day. They are distributed among the other units to fight alongside those who can hear.

“It’s not difficult to fight, but there is a lot of danger,” said Awene. “Rockets fall around us constantly, but if I die I will go to heaven because I am doing what is right.”

The men who fight with Awene speak highly of his bravery and dedication.

Without the ability to hear, other senses often become more acute.

“People rely too much on sound,” explained Sati. “They are not very observant.”

Sati recounted one occasion when he was fighting with 10 other men in the early days of fighting on Misurata’s Tripoli Street. As they entered the basement of a shop, Sati’s sharp vision spotted a tiny movement through a corner window.

Motioning the others back, he took aim with his AK-47 rifle, killing a Al Qathafi soldier seconds before he released a grenade into the room, saving all those with him.

Now manning a 14.5-mm mounted gun, Sati says the other advantage the men in his unit share is that when operating heavy weapons, they have no problems with the noise.

Other unit members run a number of checkpoints around Misurata and work security for events within the city.

This week, several members were chosen to form the security team for the visiting leader of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jibril, who praised them for their courage and impressive work for the revolution in an emotional meeting with members of the group.

This new-found acceptance and support has given the men, who were often discriminated against and even feared under the Al Qathafi regime, confidence and fulfilment, said Mohammed Hussien Gabag, the brigade’s spokesman and main translator.

Under the old government there were few education and employment opportunities for the deaf, said Gabag, who can hear but is fluent in Libyan sign language.

The community had no education about their condition, which meant that understanding and acceptance was low. The men were highly segregated from society. Even the sign language they were taught is unique to Libya, limiting their ability to communicate abroad.

Gabag had been trying to assist the men to form an association since 1992 but their requests were constantly delayed or refused. They were not granted permission to meet together under Al Qathafi’s system, which feared unity and alliances among its citizens.

The revolution’s start was a period of fear and confusion in Misurata, a city that quickly came under attack and siege by government forces.

With limited information on the dangers outside, most of the men say they were afraid to leave their homes. But as a united group, they found courage and purpose, cementing their role as determined rebel fighters.

“When we first requested to form this unit, no one wanted to back us because they were afraid for us,” Gabag said. “But they saw the hard work of our people and were surprised by the number of members.

“Now when people meet us at the checkpoints, we get a great reaction because they see the efforts we have made to help the city.”

Now the deaf group has its headquarters in the Misurata building that once housed Al Qathafi’s secret police. Gabag says he was once held overnight in one of the building’s underground cells.

There he was threatened, beaten and attack dogs were set on him before he was released without charge the following morning.

Two of the men say they had been approached by Al Qathafi’s intelligence agency on several occasions and were asked to spy on the deaf community to monitor anti-government conversations that could take place silently via sign language.

The headquarters is now colourfully painted in red, black and green, the colours of the new government of the National Transitional Council, with slogans of freedom and Libyan unity.

Hanging on the office walls are photos of 52-year-old Atiyah Aseid, a prominent fighter among the deaf group who was killed in a battle on Tripoli St. in Misurata.

Several of Aseid’s children are members of the unit.

“My father was a good man,” said Mohammed Atiyah Aseid, who works the night shift on one of several checkpoints run by the group. “My heart is proud because he died for Misurata and Libya.”

Several other deaf members have been injured in the fighting, including Sati, who was struck by shrapnel twice and hit in the torso by a 23-mm bullet. Despite that injury, he returned to the front line three days later.

With his background working in a steel factory, Sati at first volunteered to fix weapons for the soldiers.

“I saw them heading out to battle. Some returned. Some didn’t. Others came back injured. They clearly needed more men,” Sati said of his time spent working in the weapons factory.

After several days, he made his decision. As he left the house that first day dressed in combat gear with a gun in hand, the father of five says his wife tried to block the doorway. Despite her tears and pleas, Sati said he knew where he was needed most.

Awene, with bright young eyes and an innocent smile, beamed as he loaded his AK-47 and got ready for battle. He said he is determined to continue the fight to the end.

“I will hold my line or advance until it is over,” said Awene. “I will never back down.”

Tripoli Port Explosion & American Suicide Bombers

This explosion at the port of Tripoli is said to have been an accident. The location is situated within a half mile of the Old Protestant Cemetery where five of the men of the USS Intrepid are buried. The Intrepid exploded in Tripoli harbor on September 4, 1804 killing Lt. Commander Richard Somers, Lt. Henry Wadsworth (uncle of Longfellow), Lt. Joseph Israel and ten volunteer seamen. Their remains were buried in two graves outside the walls of the old castle fort on what is now Martyr's Square by Dr. Jonathan Cowdery, chief surgeon of the captured frigate USS Philadelphia.

These US sailors, the Navy SEALS of their day, were on a special, suicide mission to destroy the anchored pirate fleet, but the Intrepid exploded prematurely, killing all 13 men.

In a sense they were American suicide bombers.

Canada's Case for Staying Engaged in Libya

The case for staying engaged in Libya

by Aaron Wherry on Monday, September 26, 2011 1:37pm -

The House of Commons is presently debating an extension to the mission in Libya. The following is Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s opening speech to the House.

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying how proud I am to rise in support of this comprehensive motion laid out the House. I am especially proud of the tremendous role that our men and women in uniform have played over the past six months in protecting the Libyan people from the brutal dictatorship of Gadhafi and his henchmen.

I am truly pleased and honoured to speak to the proud contribution that Canada has made, writ large in creating a new Libya, one free of tyranny and dictatorship, one that finally, after four decades, will reflect the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people.

In March when the House first debated Canada’s military mission, members would know that I was very clear in arguing that we needed to act. At that time Libyans were under attack from their own government. They had joined a popular wave of uprisings across the Arab world to demand an end to dictatorship.

Moammar Gadhafi’s regime met these peaceful protests with violent brutality. The situation was dire. It was urgent. When Gaza was under threat of attack, Misrata was besieged, and Libyan civilians everywhere were being touched by the violence, being bombed, shelled indiscriminately by Gadhafi forces.

Through the bloodshed and violence, it was clear that Gadhafi had lost all legitimacy. We worked, as Canadians, with our allies in the international community to bring forward a peaceful solution.

However, after all exhaustive efforts have been made, diplomatic efforts, it was evident that action had to be taken to stop these massacres. The United Nations Security Council understood this reality and passed Resolution No. 1973 on March 17. This resolution authorized all necessary action to protect civilians and civilian populated areas in Libya.

I am proud that Canada took a leading role in enforcing the UN mandate. I wish to commend all hon. members for their role in supporting the Libyan people. In supporting Canada’s participation in the NATO Operation Unified Protector, we sent a clear sign of Canada’s determination to support the Libyan people.

Our international partners understood that Canada was a country that not only carries its weight but punches above it. Today is a new round.

Le soutien de la motion dont nous sommes saisis aujourd’hui permettra de prolonger le leadership que le Canada a démontré depuis le début du conflit en Libye plus tôt cette année.

Le Canada a fortement contribué aux changements importants en Libye. Nous avons montré à nos alliés que nous sommes un partenaire fiable. Nous avons montré au peuple libyen qu’il peut toujours compter sur le Canada pour faire les bonnes choses.

Notre travail en Libye n’est pas terminé. L’OTAN a établi trois conditions pour mettre fin à ses opérations militaires en Libye: l’arrêt de toutes les attaques contre les civils, le retrait vérifiable des forces militaires et paramilitaires et l’accès entier et sûr à l’aide humanitaire pour tous ceux qui en ont besoin partout en Libye.

Bien que la plupart des Libyens jouissent désormais d’une liberté qu’ils n’ont pas eue depuis quatre décennies, des parties de la Libye demeurent toujours sous la poigne de fer de Khadafi. La capacité de Khadafi d’attaquer des civils a été réduite mais elle n’a pas été éliminée. Les forces restantes du régime se battent sans trop se soucier du bien-être du peuple libyen. Il y a un meilleur accès aux services de base, mais quelques zones ont toujours des besoins très aigus.

Last week, in support of the UN security council resolution 2009, taken September 16, NATO, on September 21, acknowledged that its mandate to protect civilians remains in force and extended its mission by up to three months.

Canada was in at the very beginning, as we know, and we should be there until the job is done. Canada has never shirked a responsibility and certainly we cannot do so now. With Canadian leadership and the military mission of the Canadian Forces, we have been at the leading edge of the Canadian effort in Libya. Canada was instrumental in preventing attacks against civilians, with our allies. We have persevered. We have helped save lives that were at imminent risk while Gadhafi was at the helm and I am proud to say that the men and women of the Canadian Forces have been instrumental in the mission’s success thus far.

Our air force has conducted approximately 9% of all NATO strike missions, provided vital aerial surveillance, and carried out crucial refueling missions. At sea, HMCS Charlottetown, and now HMCS Victoria, carried out important maritime patrols enforcing the UN mandate and enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

I would also like to salute the leadership of Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, as commander of NATO operation unified protector. I call on all hon. members to join me in applauding his efforts for the achievements that he has overseen not only on behalf of our country but on behalf of all NATO participants in this mission.

Le 14 juin, le ministre des Affaires étrangères a pris la parole ici et a promis que le Canada allait mettre sur pied une stratégie d’engagement diplomatique améliorée pour apporter le succès en Libye.

Je suis heureux d’annoncer que notre gouvernement a tenu sa promesse. Le Canada a reconnu le Conseil national de transition comme le représentant légitime du peuple libyen ce jour-là. Moins de deux semaines plus tard, le ministre des Affaires étrangères s’est rendu à Benghazi où il a rencontré les dirigeants de la rébellions. Il a également remis 355 trousses de traumatologie pour répondre aux besoins médicaux pressants. Il a soulevé, avec le Conseil national de transition et avec les représentants de la société civile la profonde préoccupation du Canada concernant l’utilisation du viol comme arme de guerre.

Les Libyens qu’il a rencontré à Benghazi ont partagé leur horreur par rapport à ces crimes odieux et ont souligné qu’en raison des sensibilités culturelles l’ampleur réelle du crime n’est pas connue.

Les victimes hésitent à accepter un traitement ou un soutien. La détermination du Canada pour les aider s’est concrétisée.

It has become very clear as well that the council is legitimate. The council represents the people until we can have a full democratic process in place. Its commitment to rebuild Libya is to establish for its people a government based on the rule of law, and this is genuine. It is expressed in its vision of a democratic Libya, its road map and the more recent declaration of a constitutional declaration.

These principles must now be put into action. The international community has the mandate to protect civilians in Libya and support reforms, but it the responsibility of the Libyan people to take the reins and guide their country into the future.

That means rebuilding. It means, of course, leveraging Libya’s immense natural wealth. It means establishing civil society and democratic institutions, and the road ahead will not be easy. However, Canada, as in previous conflicts, as previous efforts and missions around the world, will be there to assist.

During our debate here in June, members will recall it was unclear how events would unfold in Libya. One-man rule had been the reality in that country for four decades, and that was in fact all that two generations of Libyans had ever known. How quickly that would change.

On August 21, just as some members of the opposition were referring to stalemates and musing about Canada pulling out, Tripoli fell. Gadhafi and those closest to him fled, and the remaining are still on the run.

Four days later, on August 25, Canada accredited the new Libyan chargé d’affaires appointed by the NTC and committed to address the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government until elected representatives were in place.

On September 1, the Prime Minister and the foreign minister attended the Paris on Libya. They announced the lifting of sanctions imposed by Canada since the UN Security Council has unfrozen more Canadian-held funds.

Conditions in Tripoli are improving. Traffic jams are back, a sign that both basic commodities like fuel are now available, and the people have the confidence to leave their homes. The flags of the new Libyan country are prominently displayed throughout the city. Children and adults alike are dressed in T-shirts and ball caps of red, black and green stripes. We now see a degree of civility returning: street cleaning, neighbourhood distribution of water and food when both were scarce, and this obviously did not exist in the days running up to the fall of Gadhafi.

Outside of specific areas of fierce fighting, such as Misrata, the infrastructure is still largely intact. In Tripoli, the precision of NATO’s strikes over the past month is evident. Some government buildings are damaged, but little else.

As well, Libya enjoys oil wealth, which will give of great assistance in their rebuilding. While there has been some damage to oil facilities, repairs are already under way.

Despite these positive signs, there are still very real challenges, as I mentioned, on the horizon for Libya. Many of the demands for a better quality of life which preceded the conflict, still remain. People want better schools, hospitals, job opportunities.

After four decades of stagnation, the Libyan people are hungry for change, and the challenge for Libya’s new rulers will be to deliver, while also maintaining cohesion among its desperate elements that shared in ridding the country of the Gadhafi regime.

Security and stability require control of many thousands of weapons now circulating in that country, and the young men who carry them. It was Gadhafi’s son Seif who promised, “We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet”.

Today, we can see that is indeed what the Gadhafi loyalists intend to do. Together we have watched the brutal tenacity of Gadhafi and his followers as they clung to power, first in Tripoli, and now from strongholds in Bani Walid and Sirte, leading to further senseless loss of life.

Yes, there are significant hurdles to overcome. Success is not an option; it is an imperative. That is, again, why Canada will be there.

Libyans are asking for our support, both to continue to protect civilians and also to provide technical assistance to build, for the first time, a country that represents freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our role is no less important now than it was in March, two months ago, or two weeks ago. To end our multi-pronged mission now would be to jeopardize everything we have accomplished in Libya this year, as well as abandon those continuing efforts of our allies.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are at the United Nations together this week. They and other leaders from more than 80 countries met to address how to best assist Libya in implementing its plans for stabilizing and rebuilding the country. These include: the work of a special support mission that will coordinate support among donors; restore public security and promote rule of law; undertake political dialogue leading to national reconciliation; extending the authority of state institutions; protecting human rights and support for transitional justice; and, of course, aid in the economic recovery, among other efforts.

I am pleased to report that our government is leading a whole-of-government effort that will respond to a post-Gadhafi era with targeted assistance where Canada will add value. This will come in conjunction with other support, both domestic and international, and that is what is at stake here today. Canada stands ready to promote effective governance in institutions and expertise, a secure environment founded on the rule of law, economic development, prosperity and respect for human rights including women’s rights and religious freedoms. In addition to support for Libya, Canada is also focusing on returning full services to Canadians in Libya, including support for Canadian companies.

Following an assessment mission done by the Departments of National Defence and Foreign Affairs, Canada has re-established its diplomatic presence in Libya. The embassy is currently operating out of a temporary location while repairs at the chancery are being completed. It will re-open at full operations as soon as the appropriate level of security is deemed to be in place.

It is important in our discussion today to remember that Libya is not a poor country, it has immense petroleum wealth, but it has simply been squandered or seconded by a dictator for several generations. The scourge of war has, of course, taken its toll on the country as well. Libya will need to refurbish oil infrastructure, export capacity and make basic repairs to roads, dams, water wells, electrical and power generation as well as a host of other areas of critical infrastructure. These things will happen with international support, but they will happen at the initiative of the Libyan people.

Quand le ministre des Affaires étrangères a pris la parole ici, en juin, au sujet de notre mission en Libye, il a indiqué que notre stratégie était claire, elle n’a jamais été plus claire. En exerçant sans relâche une pression militaire et diplomatique sur le régime de Kadhafi, tout en fournissant une aide humanitaire, le Canada, ses alliés de l’OTAN et d’autres partenaires internationaux ont pu protéger la population civile de la Libye et créer des conditions d’une véritable ouverture politique. Les Canadiens comprennent ce que nous devons faire. Les Canadiens savent que le travail n’est pas encore terminé.

As Minister of National Defence, I again reiterate how proud I am, how proud I believe Canadians are for our country’s military contribution to this mission in Libya. We are fortunate to have such committed soldiers, sailors and air personnel who three weeks ago I had the privilege to meet with some of them when they returned to Halifax. I would describe this quite simply as a heroes’ welcome on the wharf in Halifax.

It was a moment that could be described as timeless as the men and women aboard the HMCS Charlottetown returned to the Port of Halifax and they were met by their families. They were met by other personnel, their colleagues. But they were met, interestingly, by a number of Libyan Canadians who were there to show their affection, support and appreciation for what those men and women aboard the Charlottetown had done for them. They were unreserved in their thanks to those men and women as they debarked from the ship and told them how proud they were as Canadians, but as Canadians of Libyan descent. They had been talking to their families who were able to assure them that Canada was behind the people of Libya in this mission.

I would share very briefly something else that happened which is quite common when ships return to port. A young mother was there with her child who was born while the father was at sea. This has been a timeless scene when ships return to port and a sign of what sacrifice men and women in uniform make when they are away on deployed operations, not only the risk that they undertake, but the personal sacrifice of time away from home and those important moments that they give up in order to protect our country.

The sense of duty not only to Canada, but to the Libyan people is evident throughout the rank and file of the Canadian Forces. We should be immensely proud of them and immensely proud of the contributions that they make on our behalf. Our men and women in uniform are playing a key leadership role in the enforcement of the international community’s will through their significant contribution to the NATO position. They are positioning Canada as an effective, dependable ally and partner, a reputation that we have enjoyed since our inception. But most importantly, they are standing up for the people of Libya who are demanding change and getting support in that change. In so doing, they are setting the stage for a peaceful future for Libyans and a transition that will occur under their watch.

Just as it was right to do so in June, I believe that it is right now that we extend the Canadian Forces’ mission for up to three months. It is the right thing to do now as well. I urge all hon. members to support this mission before the House. I look forward to the debate that will take place here today. I look forward to the information, the questions and the facts that we will put before the House and the country by virtue of this debate. Again, I thank all members present for participating in this important discussion.