NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on Wednesday that the alliance and its partner countries have agreed to extend NATO's campaign in Libya for another 90 days after June 27, when the initial 90-day operation authorized by the U.N. is due to expire. Rasmussen pointed to recent Libyan military defections and rebel advances in the western city of Misrata as signs of success, and said extending the mission through late September would send a message to Muammar Qaddafi's regime about NATO's resolve to protect civilians and a message to the Libyan people about NATO's commitment to ensuring that they can determine their "own future." Meanwhile, in Tripoli, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim reiterated that Qaddafi wouldn't step down even after a recent visit from South African President Jacob Zuma, and claimed NATO airstrikes have killed 718 civilians and wounded over 4,000 others.
The dueling statements come as news outlets raise questions about who exactly is fighting on either side of the conflict. It's been widely reported that NATO has recently revamped its campaign in Libya by intensifying airstrikes on Qaddafi's command-and-control bunkers in Tripoli and deploying attack helicopters. But the alliance may also be employing more controversial tactics as it tries to avoid sending ground troops into Libya. The Guardian reports that NATO is gathering information on Libyan troop movement from former members of Britain's Special Air Service working for private security companies in Misrata. The private soldiers appear to be getting paid by Arab countries (particularly Qatar) and receiving non-combat equipment from coalition forces. An opposition spokesman, meanwhile, tells Reuters that Qaddafi is arming "drug dealers" and "criminals" with "automatic weapons and hand grenades" to arrest, intimidate, and rape the residents of Zlitan, one of the few towns in between Misrata and Tripoli.
The Guardian's report on private British soldiers built on this Al Jazeera footage of six armed Westerners meeting with Libyan rebels in a Misrata suburb: