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A no-fly zone over Libya may still turn the tide, lead to the ousting of Colonel Gaddafi and facilitate an orderly transition to democracy led by the rebel forces based in Benghazi. At a minimum, military action may mitigate civilian suffering in Libya's rebellious east.

But with troops loyal to Gaddafi making their way into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi hours before a 19-nation summit in Paris launched Western intervention, the no-fly zone — plus mandate over Libya's skies approved by the United Nations a few days earlier under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 may be a case of too little too late.

President Barack Obama's earlier statement that Gaddafi must go was surely correct. But is this what military intervention against Libya aims to achieve? And can anything, short of regime change, protect ordinary Libyans from their dictator's wrath?

The US Administration has been evasive on this point. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has recognised the rebels as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people but his foreign minister, Alain Juppé, announced — a day after military operations commenced — that the goal of the operation was not to oust Gaddafi. If this is not about toppling Gaddafi, what will coalition forces do, once confronted with stalemate, vicious urban fighting, a possible refugee crisis, Western casualties or hostages, and mounting hostility across the Arab world?

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