THE LIBYAN WAR: AN UPDATE
"Pentagon civilian leaders and the military brass see nothing but trouble looming as the Obama administration takes one step after another into the Libyan morass. The next step appears to be arming the Libyan rebels, a move that would inevitably entail pressures to send U.S. trainers and even more potent arms—and a move that Defense Secretary Robert Gates flat-out rejected in testimony before Congress on Thursday. “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control, and some organization,” Gates said. As for providing weapons, that is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, testify before a House Armed Services committee hearing in Rayburn Building on the situation in Libya on March 31, 2011 in Washington. (Photo by Tom William Military officials also have slim sympathy in general for those who advocate U.S. combat operations for humanitarian missions, when other nations and other means should be leading such efforts. And with surging demands to cut the Pentagon budget, Pentagon brass aren't thrilled with the more than $500 million tab for the extra operations over Libya. Despite these concerns, Pentagon leaders have been saluting in public, hoping their private warnings will be sufficient to prevent deeper involvement....Pressures to do more and more will continue to lurk. All the Pentagon can do, then, is to raise tough questions....
In any event, if Gaddafi's troops continue to rout the rebels, outside arms will flow plentifully. At that point, escalatory reality takes hold once again. The rebels won't be able to use most arms, even relatively simply ones like anti-tank rockets and rifles, without extensive training. The White House might be tempted to ask for help from the ultra-secret U.S. special operations forces. These impressive commandos are not subject to the same Congressional approval process as CIA operatives. The commandos can be dispatched more or less on the president's orders. The Pentagon will resist, and the best bet is that Obama will use C.I.A. personnel.
Remember, underneath everything happening now are the two driving goals that President Obama set: to protect populations and to oust Colonel Gaddafi. In all likelihood, U.S. coalition partners cannot achieve these goals without U.S. jets resuming combat missions. Even with more U.S. air power, it probably won't be possible to stop Gaddafi without using some coalition ground forces. So, pressures to do more and more will continue to lurk. All the Pentagon can do, then, is to raise tough questions (Who are those rebels we're determined to help, could they be Muslim extremists?) to diffuse pressures on the U.S. military to do more".
Leslie Gelb, "U.S. Military not happey over Libya," The Daily Beast. 31 March 2011, in www.dailybeast.com.
"BREGA, Libya — A senior Libyan rebel leader sharply criticized NATO on Monday for bureaucratic delays that he said were putting civilians’ lives at risk and complicating rebel efforts to fight the Qaddafi forces on the ground. The official Ali al-Essawi, the foreign policy director of the National Transitional Council, made his remarks as the rebels’ disorganized and quixotic fight again stalled under fire in the eastern oil town of Brega, where loyalist forces have fought off repeated rebel attacks, and as more people were reported to have been killed in the siege at the beleaguered city of Misrata.
In Brega, after forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi ceded their presence in a residential quarter of the town, a rebel attack in the evening against loyalists at a university campus and oil infrastructure was met by ferocious heavy machine gun fire and an artillery or mortar barrage.
The loyalists’ firepower, coordinated and accurate, killed at least several rebel fighters and wounded many more, and sent others scrambling north in retreat.
Throughout the day, no air power was visible overhead. A Pentagon spokesman said that American air power had played a smaller role in the war since Sunday, and with command-and-control of the air campaign officially shifted to NATO, by midnight on Monday in Washington the United States had no strike sorties planned.
American aircraft, he said, would now be on a so-called “stand-by mode” and would fly only when requested by NATO and approved by the Pentagon. The withdrawal of American assets means, among other things, that the rebels will have less support from two classes of aircraft that made several successful attacks against the Qaddafi forces in eastern Libya — the AC-130 gunship and A-10 — when the loyalist forces were turned back just short of Benghazi, the rebel capital, two weeks ago.
The quiet in the eastern skies on Monday seemed to underscore Mr. Essawi’s sentiment that the international military campaign, after initially turning back Colonel Qaddafi’s army and militias as they swept eastern Libya, had lost momentum, leaving adrift the ground war, waged by rebels with virtually no military experience or structure....Any long-lasting campaign raises questions as well about the prospects for rebel success in the east, where a small, ill-trained rebel column had been stalled for days along the two-lane highway to Brega."
C.J. Chivers & David D. Kirkpatrick, "Rebel leader criticizes NATO effort in Libya,"
The New York Times. 4 April 2011, in www.nytimes.com.
The air campaign, nay the entire military effort has apparently grounded to a halt in Libya. That appears to be the reality, given the growing criticize coming from the rebel headquarters in Benghazi in recent days. With the inability of NATO's command of the air to materially assist the rebels with their ground offensive, leading increasingly it appears to frustration and hence criticism of the air campaign 1. With this state of affairs, and with it appears the only likely change in the situation coming from some rather vague, pourparlers from elements in the extended Qadaffi family 2. Given this situation, a state of affairs that Leslie Gelb's American defence department sources predicted last week, what is the possible salvation of the situation? I for one, in absence of a deux ex machina in the form of coup d'etat by one of Qadaffi's sons, see nothing in the near future but a prolonged stalemate. A situation which as time marches one, will become more and more entrenched. Therefore, if the absence of a string of rebel successes on the ground in the next one to two weeks, look for a military deadlock. As per the American Defence Secretary, Mr. Gates' last week, the rebels desperately need widespread training by a few thousand military advisers. Coming from one presumes, a Western military power. For reasons which have already been outlined ad nauseum, and thus do not require repetition here, none of the Western powers, with perhaps the partial exception of France, has either the intention or the stomach to put in place such a policy. Which merely means that we shall not see any change on the ground in the Libyan desert. Which in turn raises the issue as to the ultimate rationale for Western intervention in the Libyan sands. If the original idea of a 'no-fly' zone was to protect innocents from the depredations of the Qadaffi regime, the subsequent air attacks on Qadaffi's forces were surely meant to implement (on the 'cheap' of course) a policy of overthrow. All well and good. Except of course as we have seen, of the two instruments for the task, one (the rebels) is unfit for the purpose. And it appears that air power per se will not do the business. Therefore the present stalemate. I conclude by observing that either the goal of the 'overthrow' must be modified, or further force and assistance on the side of the rebels is necessary, in order to make them fit for the purpose. As the Clausewitz once noted, in military conflict it is best to observe:
"The rule, then that we are trying to develop is this: all forces intended and available for a strategic purpose should be applied simultaneously; their employment will be the more effective the more everything can be concentrated a single action at a single moment" 3.
The only question is when will the Western powers realize that a wise decision will require that they either engage more forces in the conflict or reconsider their decision to endeavor to overthrow the Libyan regime. Hopefully, the answer to this question is 'sooner' rather than 'later'.
1. Andrew England, "Benghazi Commanders seek greater air power," The Financial Times. 4 April 2011, www.ft.com.
2. C.J. Chivers & David Kirkpatrick, op. cit.
3. Karl von Clausewitz, On War. Edited & translated by Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 209.