NATO forces are confident they are successfully tracking Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as he moves from hideout to hideout in Tripoli, the Guardian has learned.
But the coalition is abiding by the UN mandate, which does not permit the military to target the Libyan leader directly – commanders are still hoping that he will be removed by a revolt from within his circle of closest associates.
There is also a privately held wish in Whitehall that Gaddafi might be caught up in a legitimate bombing raid on a command and control cell as he flits from one safe haven to another.
A senior Whitehall source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Gaddafi’s movements were being monitored closely, and that the military had been able to track him “racing from one place to another” over recent weeks.
Nato has an array of surveillance equipment at its disposal: as well as a Nimrod plane and drones, HMS Liverpool, which is stationed off the Libyan coast, has listening systems which should enable the military to keep watch on the Libyan leader and his entourage.
The Ministry of Defence refused to be drawn on the issue, with sources reiterating that Gaddafi will not be targeted as long as Nato works within the parameters of UN resolution 1973.
With the coalition campaign now 100 days old, and pressure mounting over the growing humanitarian crisis in Libya, the MoD and the Foreign Office on Friday set out the gains it believes have been made, and tried to reassure Libyan rebels that Nato is doing all it can to bring a swift end to the conflict.
The briefing came at the end of a particularly difficult week – up to nine civilians were killed on Sunday after a Nato missile hit a home in Tripoli, an accident that prompted the Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini to call for a ceasefire.
Without giving details, a senior Foreign Office official claimed that Gaddafi was now displaying signs of “paranoid and erratic behaviour”.
The official said that the regime was being hit by a “steady stream of defections. Ambassadors, ministers – over 120 military officers including five generals left the country in May alone”.
The official added: “Gaddafi is down to a handful of followers, who rule by fear. Reports suggest Gaddafi has threatened to kill generals who do not deliver results around Misrata.”
The international criminal court is poised on Monday to issue arrest warrants on Gaddafi and two of his inner circle, he said.
Major General Nick Pope said that Nato had now undertaken more than 12,000 flying sorties, including 5,000 attack missions, of which 2,400 had hit regime targets – suggesting a less than 50% success rate.
He said that RAF planes had twice aborted missions in recent days because of concerns that civilians may be in danger – missiles had been fired, but diverted to wasteland at the last moment.
However, some EU countries remain frustrated by the slow rate of progress. At a summit in Brussels on Friday, the Belgian prime minister, Yves Leterme, said leaders “really have to see how we can achieve a definitive and decisive breakthrough” in the war.
Other nations remain concerned that Nato has already overstepped the terms of the UN resolution, and in the US, President Barack Obama is under pressure from Capitol Hill to justify America’s involvement in the campaign.
“The president has ignored the constitution and the war powers resolution, but he cannot ignore a lack of funding,” said Florida Republican representative Tom Rooney, who is proposing a bill to block money for the US military’s contribution to the Nato effort.
“Only Congress has the power to declare war and the power of the purse, and my bill exercises both of those powers by blocking funds for the war in Libya unless the president receives congressional authorisation.”
“The war in Libya is illegal, unconstitutional and unwarranted. It must end,” Ohio Democrat representative, Dennis Kucinich, said.
Obama has said he did not need to seek Congressional approval before authorising US forces to play a part in the Nato campaign.
Source: The Guardian