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Ex-navy SEAL kicks his way to freedom in Libya
by Staff Writers
Tripoli (AFP) Sept 9, 2011

NATO vows to push on with Libya campaign
Lisbon (AFP) Sept 8, 2011 - NATO will push ahead with its bombing campaign in Libya for as long as it deems there is still a threat from forces loyal to fugitive former leader Moamer Kadhafi, the alliance's chief said on Thursday.

Speaking after Kadhafi had vowed in his latest broadside that NATO would be defeated, the organisation's secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was time for the colonel to throw in the towel.

"NATO and our partners will continue the mission as long as the threat remains. Kadhafi and the remains of his machine must realise that there is nothing to be gained from more fighting," he said on a visit to Portugal.

"Libya is turning a new page. The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," Rasmussen told reporters.

Rasmussen also defended the conduct of the seven-month air campaign, saying everything had been done to avoid civilian casualties.

"Our operation in Libya has been a great success," said the former Danish premier.

"We've been very cautious the way we've been conducting the operations to avoid civilian victims. We've prevented a massacre ... I don't think we could have done something diferent."

In his latest interview with a Syrian television station from his desert hideout, Kadhafi said NATO "will be defeated" as its "logistical capacities will not allow it" to press on with its campaign.

When war veteran Richard Peters arrived in Libya's coastal capital in January he did not foresee either the popular uprising against Moamer Kadhafi or jail-time looming on his horizon.

But when protests escalated to war in February, the former US Navy SEAL turned contractor decided to head east, where he thought he would be able to help secure oil installations or train rebels to fight against Kadhafi.

"There were checkpoints every four or five miles," Peters recalled in an interview with AFP.

But his progress was short-lived. He was detained and driven back blindfolded in the opposite direction by regime agents who were so convinced Peters was a spy that they put him through six interrogations, the longest lasting 10 hours.

"I know who you are: you are a human frog," one interrogator told Peters, a former "frogman." The mistake prompted a chuckle out of the captive, both then and now.

Peters, 62, reviews every chapter of his ordeal with a healthy dose of humour, even sympathising with interrogators who kicked him, saying they were clearly under a lot of pressure to dig up any dirt on him they could.

He said interrogators used a car key alarm in an unsuccessful bid to convince him he was hooked up to a polygraph or lie detector, and threatened to take him in for a "military interrogation" in the hope he would crack.

But he never did.

Peters does not even flinch when retracing his steps back to his cell at a police detention centre in Al-Furnash neighbourhood, where food was so scarce in the end that he only got a few dates and a lukewarm carton of milk per day.

"It is kind of neat to come back and see this place from the outside," said Peters, as he sauntered past guards on site, disarming them with a mix of charm and determination.

"Remember me? I was locked here for six months. I'm Libyan now," he joked.

Although Peters lost some 80 pounds (36 kilos) while behind bars, at first glance it seems as if the California native left a bigger mark on the prison than it did on him.

Mehdi Talia, the only social worker for a prison population of 400 during the war, immediately recognised him when Peters returned to visit the cell he called home.

"Welcome back, we are free now, we have nothing to hide from you," said Talia with a bemused smile as the American twice his size shook his hand and showered him with congratulations on the new chapter ahead for Libya.

"You are the American? Your papers are in my house," a guard chipped in.

Peters, a married man and father of five, says he stayed sane while in solitary confinement by reading a copy of the Bible, exercising and monitoring the guards in the hope of spotting an oversight and being able to make a move.

"I was anticipating a mistake every day," he said, adding that when guards abandoned their posts on August 20, he knew the golden opportunity he had prayed for all along had finally arrived.

"I just started running and doing front snap kicks at the door. After 25 or 30 of them, it blew the whole door out. Thank you, lord, for poor construction."

The ex-SEAL released fellow prisoners on his way out and then took shelter in a nearby public building where Kadhafi's portrait still loomed large.

"When I got out, I didn't know who was good or who was bad," he said.

Rebels found him hours later armed with a pipe and ready for a fight. But the moment of tension was defused when one fighter said "Kadhafi no good," a mantra promptly repeated by the American.

A local family then gave him room and board.

"He was very skinny when he came so we fed him and gave him everything we could except petrol which we didn't have," said Hadi Amar, 65, a father of nine.

Peters says he is going to stay in Libya to secure projects for his two companies, Associated Construction Management and Global Security and Retrieval, the original reason he came to Tripoli.

He has great hopes for the north African nation he now calls home.

"Libyans are the sweetest people. Their heart is in it so they will get it right, and you just want to do everything you can to help them," he said.

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US hails 'extraordinary' French, British roles in Libya
Brussels (AFP) Sept 8, 2011 - Britain and France played "extraordinary" roles in NATO's air war in Libya but the United States provided the critical assets that ensured its success, the US ambassador to NATO said Thursday.

"We're clearly getting near to the end of the operation," said ambassador Ivo Daalder, nearly six months since NATO took over a mission to protect civilians from Moamer Kadhafi's forces.

British and French aircraft flew one-third of some 22,000 sorties while their warplanes hit 40 percent of the 5,000 military targets that NATO destroyed in Libya, Daalder said.

"France and the United Kingdom did an extraodinary job and they were equally indispensable to the success of this operation," Daalder told reporters.

While around half of NATO members contributed military assets to the operation, only eight conducted air strikes: the United States, France, Britain, Canada, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Belgium.

Daalder highlighted the roles played by Belgium, Denmark and Norway, saying that combined they bombed as many targets as France despite their relatively small air forces.

Britain and France spearheaded the air war against Kadhafi's forces in Libya, launching the first salvos under a coalition led by the United States on March 19.

But with the United States bogged down in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama handed command of Libya operations to NATO on March 31.

Despite the handover, the US military provided three-quarters of the refuelling planes and reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft, while US unmanned drones were deployed to provide high-precision targeting.

US warplanes and cruise missiles were also central in taking out Kadhafi's air defences, allowing NATO warplanes to fly over safer skies in Libya.

"Each of these elements were absolutely critical to the success of the operation," Daalder said, noting that US planes flew a quarter of nearly 22,000 sorties, more than any other nation.

The US "contribution was critical to enabling NATO countries and partner countries to participate in, and fulfill their contributions to the mandate."

Daalder said NATO would continue its mission as long as Kadhafi loyalists pose a threat to civilians.

The alliance's second 90-day mandate ends on September 27, but officials have said NATO would renew it if the threat remained.

While forces of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council hunt for Kadhafi, who aired another defiant audio tape on Thursday, Daalder said it was unclear whether his capture would necessarily prompt his followers to raise the white flag.

"It isn't clear that if he were to be taken out that the whole thing would necessarily collapse; we just don't know that. We do know that if he doesnt have the capability to pose a threat to civilians, then it doesnt really matter," Daalder said.

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Turkish warships will protect Gaza aid convoys: PM
Dubai (AFP) Sept 9, 2011
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