TRIPOLI, Libya — These two fliers were provided by a member of the neighborhood militia in Gorji, in central Tripoli. Tripoli residents say they found them on the ground starting at least two months ago.
Though certainly less lethal than bombs, the leaflets, which bear NATO insignias, are only slightly subtler. The above leaflet shows an unmanned drone and an aerial view of a tank. The text takes a position of overwhelming force, declaring, in somewhat stilted Arabic, “Warning: You are neither a match nor an equivalent to the superior weapon systems and air force of NATO. Continuing to do what you are doing will result in your death.” The flip side shows the tank blown up and repeats the promise of death if they do not stop fighting.
The above translation is courtesy of Uri Horesh, former military translator and director of the Arabic Language Program at Franklin & Marshall College. “This was not written by skilled Arabic writers with good knowledge of how to write about military topics in idiomatic Arabic,” Horesh added. “NATO needs some training on this front, it seems.”
The second, white leaflet, pictured here, issues the following warning in legalistic language:
Dear officers and soldiers of the Libyan Army, the International Criminal Court has indicted Gaddafi for committing crimes against humanity in Libya. It is advisable that officers and soldiers of the Libyan Army refrain from carrying out Gaddafi’s orders and committing any military actions against the Libyan people. Any officer or soldier who commits crimes against humanity shall be in violation of International Law. Many officers and soldiers have chosen to stand against Gaddafi’s orders and refrain from fighting against innocent civilians. Do join these men for a prosperous, peaceful future for Libya.
The flip side depicts a collage of images depicting loyalist and anti-Qaddafi forces squaring off, and places Qaddafi opposite the image of Omar Muqtar, a Libyan independence hero. The text between them is a quotation attributed to Qaddafi. “He who kills another Libyan destroys Libya,” is a common translation. Below the quotation a man is sobbing. It looks a bit like a page from a junior high school history book.
Several native and non-native Arabic speakers were able to verify these translations, though giving slightly different versions of some phrases. If a native speaker would like to add their translation in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.
It’s not clear how widespread the propaganda effort was in the months that Qaddafi held Tripoli against protesters. The fliers are not common in Tripoli — you won’t casually encounter them in garbage piles, or blowing around in the street. NATO does not have a public representative in Tripoli and has not commented on the campaign in any overt way of which we are aware.
They do suggest that NATO’s role in the war may have been more complex than the coalition has acknowledged since its operations began in March. In addition to conducting propaganda operations, it is now tacitly acknowledged that NATO spotters and advisers were on the ground in Libya as early as April.
“Two French and an American,” said Khalid Azibah, a fighter from Nalut, in the Nafusa mountains. “They were three months in Nalut, just left a month ago.” It was about a month ago that NATO forces hit three targets near Nalut, precipitating the offensive that ended last week in Tripoli.
“I don’t have boots on the ground,” a NATO spokesman in Naples told me in an interview in early July. Unless the spotters were all wearing sneakers, that comment was, it appears, false.