Vijay Prashad in Counterpunch:
On March 19, 2011, the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 1973 to establish a “no-fly” zone over Libya. The violence against civilians and media personnel is cited as the reasons for the new resolution (an earlier one, 1970, languishes). The Council authorizes a ban on all flights over Libya (except for humanitarian purposes), freezes selective assets of the Libyan high command and proposes that a Panel of Experts be set up to look into the issue within the next year. Even as members of the Council raised their paddles to indicate their votes, French Mirage fighters powered up to begin their bombing runs and U. S. ships loaded their cruise missiles to fire into Libyan targets. Their bombardments were intended to dismantle Libyan air defenses. This is the prelude to the establishment of a “no-fly” zone.
To create the “no fly” zone, the Council allowed member states to act “nationally or through regional organizations,” viz. NATO, “to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights.” It is the “all necessary measures” that allows the member states (the U. S., the U.K. and France) to extend the zone at will, and to push from enforcement of a “no-fly” zone to the removal of Qaddafi, including by the targeting of his compound in Tripoli. For Obama, the war aim is to remove Qaddafi, which exceeds the authority of UN Resolution 1973. US cruise missiles struck Libyan armed forces units and Qaddafi’s home (what the media call his “compound”).
The murkiness of the mission perplexes General Carter Ham of the U. S. African Command. He acknowledged that many of the rebels are themselves civilians who have taken up arms. Resolution 1973 does not call upon the member states to assist the rebels, only to protect civilians. Would the “no fly” zone give an advantage to the rebels, and so violate the mandate? “We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces,” General Ham notes, “We protect civilians.” However, “It’s a very problematic situation. Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft.”