Now that Gadhafi has shown he is determined to hang on and even import mercenaries to fire on his own people, it is time for the United States to send humanitarian relief to Libya. UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon has spoken against military intervention, but with the resignation of Gadhafi's Minster of Justice, several Libyan ambassadors, and other members of his government, prompt humanitarian relief is essential to deal with the casualties now mounting up as the internal civil strife continues.
Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, now in a rebel area, is running out of medical supplies, and yet Benghazi has both a fine port and an airport. According to some reports, the Benghazi airport has been wrecked so it cannot be used for landings.
But the American military has long used airborne pallets of supplies LAPS delivered from air transport planes like the C 130. A plane, flying just a few feet off the ground, is more than adequate to deliver the medical supplies desperately needed. Aircraft skim the surface of the ground and crews onboard use parachutes to jerk cushioned pallets loaded with supplies out the back of the plane. Our airlift planes don't need to land. They can airdrop all the supplies needed on the airstrip at Benghazi and other locations as needed.
With the tactical air bases in Italy, it is easy to give those humanitarian transports whatever air cover they may need in the confused situation they may find in Libyan air space.
And the U.S. has access to its own military air facilities at dozens of locations in Italy as well as a huge warehousing facility with port access near Pisa. And there are prepositioned supplies of medical equipment and food immediately available all over NATO home bases in Europe that could be moving towards Libya within 24 hours.
President Obama says he "is considering all appropriate action" regarding the Libyan situation. But rather than the embarrassing administrative flip flops we saw during its "considering" of the freedom demonstrations in Tahrir Square, initiating humanitarian aid should be a no-brainer. It isn't even a matter of taking sides on who wins in Libya. It is simply a decision to save lives unnecessarily lost by lack of medical care which can be offered to all parties to the confrontation. There is no reason why the same kinds of supplies can't help those suffering in Qaddafi's embattled capitol in Tripoli as well.
"We need the world to stand up by us," pleaded the recently-resigned Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali to the United States on Good Morning America this morning. As we saw in the wake of the Indonesian tsunami, "the world" can take a while to muster its humanitarian aid, but that didn't prevent the United States from a prompt and much-needed intervention using its military assets in the area.
During World War II, American war planes flew from bases in Libya to bomb targets in Europe saving many lives because of the shorter round trip required to reach destinations far from airfields in Great Britain. What could be more appropriate than for the United States military to repay our hosts during that terrible conflict with humanitarian flights, now coming from European fields many of which were American targets during World War II, coming to Libya to give whatever aid is possible in their time of most need?
Veteran journalist Thomas Lipscomb is a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (USC).