The radio on board HMCS Charlottetown crackled with the news. The Canadian warship’s boarding party had struck pay dirt — a vessel in international waters loaded with weapons and ammunition trying to sneak into Libya.
It was May 2011, three months into Libya’s civil war, and NATO had set up a ring of 20 warships to enforce a United Nations arms embargo. No weapons, military supplies or ammunition were to reach Libya, either for troops loyal to the country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, or for rebels now fighting to overthrow him.
“There are loads of weapons and munitions, more than I thought,” the boarding officer radioed back to Charlottetown’s commander, Craig Skjerpen. “From small ammunition to 105 howitzer rounds and lots of explosives.”
The Libyan rebels operating the ship openly acknowledged they were delivering the weapons to their forces in Misrata.
Skjerpen radioed to NATO headquarters for instructions. The response was swift: let the ship sail on so the crew could deliver their deadly cargo.
A NATO senior officer, Italian Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri had boasted just weeks earlier that the alliance’s blockade closed the door on the flow of arms into Libya.
Not quite. While the UN embargo was clearly aimed at preventing the delivery of weapons both to Gadhafi and those fighting him, NATO looked the other way when it came to the rebels. Hundreds of tonnes of ammunition and arms breezed through the blockade, exposing what critics say was Canada and NATO’s real motive during the Libyan war — regime change under the guise of protecting civilians.
Qatar, one of two Arab nations to take part in the NATO-led mission, supplied rebels French-made Milan anti-tank missiles, with deliveries made by sea. The country also gave them a variety of trucks and communications gear, while Qatari advisers slipped into Libya to provide training.
Egypt shipped assault rifles and ammunition, with U.S. support.
Poland supplied anti-tank missiles and military vehicles.
Canada also didn’t sit on the sidelines when it came to supplying hardware to the rebels.
Five months into the war, Canadian government officials set in motion a plan to provide surveillance drones to rebels so they could better attack Libyan troops, day or night.
The Aeryon Scout Micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, designed and built in Waterloo, was a small spy drone that fit inside a suitcase.