On Monday I voiced the concern that Misratah (also spelled Misrata or Misurata), Libya’s third largest city — thick with anti-Gaddafi forces but isolated from rebel strongholds in the east — could be the site of serious war crimes in the event of a stalemate in which Gaddafi clings to power in western Libya. If this report is correct, it’s already begun:
GENEVA – Snipers are targeting children in the besieged rebel-held Libyan city of Misrata, the U.N.’ s children agency said Friday.
Hundreds of residents have been killed and wounded in the assault by Gadhafi’s forces on Libya’s third-largest city, and residents are running short of water, food and medicine.
“What we have are reliable and consistent reports of children being among the people targeted by snipers in Misrata,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva.
The information was based on local sources, Mercado said. She was unable to say how many children have been wounded or killed in this way.
The establishment of a no-fly zone has likely mitigated the bloodletting — Gaddafi can no longer order fighters to strafe crowds — but it obviously hasn’t stopped it. President Obama says he ordered the intervention in Libya to protect civilians, but not to effect regime change (he’s in favor of regime change, mind you, but he won’t make it a military goal). But just how committed to the humanitarian mission can the President be if he won’t directly target a regime that is reportedly ordering snipers to shoot at children?
As US officials have begun to acknowledge the emerging stalemate, there have been suggestions about a ceasefire plan that would involve Gaddafi’s forces withdrawing from Misratah. But it’s hard to look at the map and see how that would work. Moving toward the “regime kill” strategy that Anthony Cordesman advocates has its risks, but at this point the course that the Obama administration has chosen seems more dangerous.