Why the international community must protect Misrata

At least for now, Rebels in Libya control the coastal town of Misrata. With international media outlets having reported today that Colonel Gaddafi has employed the widely condemned cluster bombs against the besieged citizens of the town, NATO must decide whether to escalate the air war against Gaddafi or sanction the continuing brutality of his attempt to reconquer land lost to rebel forces.

The coastal town of Misrata in Libya is, currently, the only pocket of resistance holding out against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s relentless and loyal forces. Suffering sustained bombardment on a daily basis from weapons designed to wreak havoc and cause the maximum number of civilian casualties as possible, being fired indiscriminately at targets with the aim of making life impossible in the rebel enclave, the citizens of Misrata cannot just be sacrificed to the Gaddafi war machine. During the devastating Bosnian War (1992-1995) the international community failed tens of thousands of innocent Bosniaks, and let towns declared ‘safe areas’ fall to a similarly brutal bombardment.

Back then, disagreements over strategy and attempts to remain ‘neutral’ hampered the development of a cohesive, workable strategy. These errors cannot be repeated in Libya. The international community, working through the multi-national military organisation, NATO, must make a choice: back the rebels or let Misrata fall. If it does, thousands of fighters will be slaughtered, and the civilians who bravely held out against the siege will go with them. It’s time for NATO leaders to decide what constitutes a humanitarian emergency, and whether or not we in the West have the stomach for a real fight against Gaddafi. As the days go by without proper retaliation, however, the likelihood of Misrata remaining outside government control falls precipitously.

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