Taking Sides in a Civil War

At what point in operations in Libya do we admit that we are taking sides in a civil war?

It is difficult to get any accurate information out of Libya and the rag tag band of freedom fighters we have swung behind are still and unknown quantity. What is certain is that for the most part they are ill trained, indifferently led and whilst they evidently have a lot of morale and cohesion, discipline is likely to be somewhat lacking.

As the rebels advance westward is it a possibility they will run into forces and a people that actually want Gaddhafi in power?

If this is the case, where do they stop and if they decide not to stop, is it feasible that these poorly organised and disciplined young men with machine guns have a rather liberal interpretation of the Geneva Conventions.

What if they advance, they threaten and kill civilians, will NATO step in and start dropping bombs on their pickups?

Although we seem to be hoping for the complete removal of Gadhaffi, what if the situation on the ground descends into a bloody civil war, Balkans style?

He and his supporters have very few options, the door to an arranged exile has been firmly shut, its the Hague or nothing.

As the rebels advance it is likely they will encounter more built up areas, specially if they get past Sirte and towards Tripoli, this means that rules of engagement for NATO air forces become much more difficult to adhere to as target identification and the reduction of civilian casualties restrictions will be complicated by the close terrain.

A stalemate is possible, what then?

In a recent Senate hearing in the USA, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Admiral James Stavridis) was asked a pointed question about ground forces and a post Gadhaffi Libya to ensure the country doesn’t fall apart. Admiral Stavridis said he “wouldn’t say NATO’s considering it yet.” But because of NATO’s history of putting peacekeepers in the Balkans “the possibility of a stabilization regime exists”

Source: Wired.ccom

This makes the assumption that a post Gadhaffi Libya is a done deal.

The best we can hope for is Gadhaffi realises his best option is to do a runner but at the other end of the scale is a civil war/failed state combo on the southern border of Europe.

Shades of the Balkans I think




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March 29, 2011 7:40 pm

That we will refuse to contemplate population expultions/transfers and a two state solution has occured to me, and its a big worry.

The advantage is the rebels are entirely reliant on our air cover.
If they move outside our envelope, they hit tanks and die.

March 29, 2011 7:58 pm

I think the rebels now have the oil ports again? If they do it looks like Qatar will sell the oil for them. So it maybe a case of sell the oil direct the money to the rebel government and say to the rest of Libya look how great it is over here get rid of Daffy Duck and you can have this too.

I think weve already kinda picked sides thou. Uk has called for Daffy to go on a number of occasions.

March 29, 2011 8:10 pm

A “Green Line” at least would be in the right place, now, should it happen.

The “rump” of a state to the West would be starved of revenues (and international reserves largely frozen, though sitting on vast hordes of physical gold, plus a few canisters of stale mustard gas).

On the other hand, there are quite a few towns with large populations that would face severe reprisals in any period of “calm”. Tripoli and its one million inhabitants are the microcosmos of all of Libya; would the “hard core” element of Gaddafi followers be able to keep a handle on the city in a prolonged stalemate? When there will be less money to buy off people?

Difficult questions; best to keep the situation fluid and starve all fighting units spread out to the rest of the country of their logistics train. That will make for an even playing field, without having to risk the collateral damage in towns.

March 29, 2011 8:15 pm

RE ” have the oil ports again? If they do it looks like Qatar will sell the oil for them. ”
– as long as you get it on a tanker, you can put those anywhere and sell your own oil, and hand over the money… nothing untoward – like handing over financial support will then have happened (not to mention a few jets whizzing overhead)

March 29, 2011 8:18 pm

All very good points indeed.

I admit when I saw the headline in my RSS reader, I automatically assumed you had written an FAA versus RAF article….. :-)

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
March 29, 2011 9:59 pm

Since the rebels have been stopped at Sirte, I fear this is heading towards a stalemate. Really, this has been played in the media with too much of a Western Democratic bias. The basic disagreement is tribal, there are 2 main bedouin tribes in Libya, one in the West and one in the East.

As the Eastern rebels push into the west of the west of the country, they encounter more and more popular resistance, until they are pushed back by weight of numbers – the old adage of a man defending his homeland fights twice as hard etc.

Since France has already recognised the Rebel government, I can see Libya being split into 2, with the French/British UN force keeping the sides apart until the Eastern tribe has stabilised it’s government and armed forces. It only takes one country to recognise a new one, and then the UN accept it’s existence.

Of course I doubt that Dave, Nic and Nick have even thought this far ahead . . . :-(

March 29, 2011 10:05 pm

RE “French/British UN force keeping the sides apart ”
– not blue, but green
– Morocco, Jordan (anyone who is not too busy at home), and Turkey, of course, comes with good credentials & lots of manpower

March 29, 2011 10:12 pm

Jed, just above,

Smiled more widely than I should do when I read your comment.

Boss & others,

Yes, it is, it was even when the situation was more fluid and looked like “a displaced Col. Daffy v. all Libyan comers.” But as I’ve said elsewhere that kind of scenario is the only one where outside intervention has a hope in hell of being decisive unto itself. So while we may get antsy about sovereign states (although, to sound like some of my TD mates on the right side of the aisle for a moment, when has that ever stopped a war of consequence) that is not in itself an operational or strategic problem. The problem, so far, has been that the rebellion against a 40-year-old authoritarian regime has been about what that would suggest, i.e. a right bunch of amateurs. This means the Gaddafists have to spend less effort actually fighting them, and that makes this a more prolonged problem.

Being against partition pretty much ignores the endgame lessons of the Balkans. “Yugoslavia” was built from the get-go as a Serb imperium over the “lands of the South Slavs.” The Axis played on the fractures in that; after the war Tito (a Croat) turned it into a favour-trading old boys’ system between the big ethnic players. When the money for that dried up and it fell apart, it came back around to carving things up to prevent the Serbs from enforcing in blood and reprisal what they used to have by constitutional authority. So you got the Bosnia/Republika Srpska bodge, a working Croatia because the Croats used ethnic-cleansing payback to oust their in-house Serbs in the Krajina, and finally Kosovar secession. Being so willing to admit “Yugoslavia” was a ramshackle fantasy since in 1918 in the backyard, but not that “Libya” was just “what Turkey held onto until the Italians showed up in 1911” is not too smart.

This whole approach is, also, a really good strategy to get Gaddafi’s loyalists to disperse and help his security get lazy about the idea that outside boots would ever show up on the ground (all good if you want favourable conditions to stage a “let’s slot Daffy & Sons” hunting party) but again, not helped by the rebels’ reading from Brave Sir Robin’s song sheet.

March 29, 2011 10:13 pm

Just to clarify, that would be mates who are on the right side of the aisle, rather than me personally :-)

March 29, 2011 10:43 pm

ACC @ 10:05 PM,

Good point, and if they want to be “regional brokers” for real, that’s the price of the emerging state of Cyrenaica…

Again, this would all be simpler if Sarko would just be French all the way down, completely disregard the opinions of other nations, and kill Gaddafi. Then there’s enough long-term attachment to the tendrils of Gaddafi’s personalized state to have Libya-wide power brokering, or at least a more “natural” divorce.

March 29, 2011 11:00 pm

“Jed, just above, Smiled more widely than I should do when I read your comment.”

As did I. :D

March 29, 2011 11:21 pm

Problem is a great many of the people there wont accept a split state solution…(Balklands is a bit different) I mean, the history of a nation split into two along simlar lines isn’t full of shiney and smiling examples is it?

They may go that way, but probably like North and south Vietnam, eventually one side will win over…whether its really like Vietnam (force and death) or like Germany (politics, economics and genuine will) in the way it goes, who knows.

I think I agree in principle of jackstaff’s idea of simply offing the offending blokes… but then who knows what would happen? The ‘bad guys’ give in? or Some other bloke comes in on scene? Or may even rally them… or may destroy what credibility the rebels had and they may just sag in moral and end in stalemate.

So many ways this could go!

I think we may be more careful in this case since its so damn close to our boarders and another islamic nation.

Either way, we havent got much left to give to anything or whatever that comes after the current senario of waiting and hoping whilst hitting targets by air and sea.

March 30, 2011 8:32 am

But there is a Germany and there is a Vietnam

There isnt a Libya.
Just like there isnt an Afghanistan.
Long term it will be damn near a miracle if we can hold a Benghazistan together.

Much of the world never gained our concept of nationalism, they went from tribalism to empirism to smaller empirism.

I feel something about England, to them, Libyas just a line on a map, to some, like the Taureg, its not even that…

March 30, 2011 8:38 am

Best view I’ve seen so far is Cameron should send a personalised storm shadow to Gadafi, The Lockerbie Bomber and and the Embassey Shooter.
County reshuffles are 5 weeks away.

Bush pulled Sadam out of the hole just in time for a vote….

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
March 30, 2011 8:51 am

This has been a mess from the start, and could become a bigger mess even if Gaddafi goes. There is so far no indication that the rebels are capable of organising their own half of the country let alone the rest, and for tribal reasons they would presumably be rejected by most of the Westerners – who would then become the “rebels” in turn. Will we switch over and support them, then?

The least worst outcome will probably be a divided state, with the hope that someone offs Gaddafi before he gets around to organising his terroristic retribution.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 30, 2011 9:51 am

I don’t think we’ll see a stalemate continuing for very long. Having eagerly gotten themselves involved in this messy situation, all the allied nations want to see this over as soon as possible. Both Clinton and Hague have been saying that arming the rebels could be legal under RES1973 despite the arms embargo; they just don’t seem so keen to be the ones to do it.
– – –
I wonder if the main cause of the rebels stalling advance is the lack of basic logistic support.

They are apparently constantly short of fuel (despite Hague’s recent comments regarding arming the rebels, he has previously said that the coalition could not supply fuel to rebel forces), and the long stretches of desert highway between strategic towns leads to problems keeping the ammunition flowing after every engagement with Gadaffi’s army.

At the moment rebels are unable to keep up momentum and maintain the initiative, as each succesful firefight grinds to a halt while they wait for someone’s cousin to bring up a few more rockets or recoilless rifle shells in the boot of his car.

For a lot less than the estimated $100million a week spent on the NFZ and airstrikes, the coalition could supply plenty of trucks, fuel and logistic advice to the rebel forces – perhaps breaking the stalemate before the need to send in offensive weapons becomes critical.

Mental Crumble
Mental Crumble
March 30, 2011 10:06 am

The whole thing is an ill advised and poorly thought through shambles, which was cobbled together in a back room at the UN in NY by a disparate collection of diplomats and which has all the ingredients to morph into a complete catastrophe.

Consider the following:

1. What is the national interest of the UK here?
2. Germany, a key NATO member, is on the sidelines.
3. …. so is Russia, who are happy to see the West embroiled in yet another middle eastern op.
4. The Italians, who have the greatest national interest in Libya are on the sidelines and hedging their bets; ie, their airfields can be used, (for the moment), but their forces are not engaging.
5. What exactly has all this to do with NATO, has it become the armed wing of the UN now or just a convenient cover for some countries to legalise their offensive ops without declaring war?
6. Where did the Arab League disappear to? Bet none of us saw that coming did we…..
7. Who is actually making the calls on the operation now, what is the aim and what is the exit plan? No, I didn’t think so….
8. Has anyone bothered to explain the risks involved here to civpop in the coalition countries of a terror strike by Gadaffi agents?
9. Can we run a concurrent and potentially much larger op in the Gulf if trouble kicks off there, and where our real national interest lies?
10 Odd that the French, who took what they suggested was the moral high ground in Iraq, should be so aggressive in leading the Libyan campaign…….. why though, are we trotting after them?
11. The loose, and temporary, affiliation of rag tag rebels are only advancing because they are backed by billions of pounds of the best military technology on the planet. At some point, boots will be required on the ground, if just to maintain order when Gadaffi is swinging from a lamppost. From where will they come?
12. It’s not news that the rebels include AQ fighters. Gadaffi was happy to send some of the more fundamentalist elements in the East to Afghan over the past ten years. Now they’re back, how do we feel about supporting them?
13. Isn’t this one operation where the Chiefs could have turned round and said, “On this occasion Prime Minister, it might be an air bridge too far?”

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
March 30, 2011 10:44 am

I can’t imagine what we are supposed to be doing in Libya. Perhaps Cameron and Hague have had their brains removed?

March 30, 2011 11:48 am

A good question “boots will be required on the ground, if just to maintain order when Gadaffi is swinging from a lamppost. From where will they come?”

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
March 30, 2011 11:59 am

I rather liked a comedian’s comment on the name of this operation, Odyssey Dawn:

“Odyssey = very long, arduous and dangerous journey.

Dawn = just beginning.”

March 30, 2011 12:17 pm

A good one Tony; which side is Scylla and which Charybdis? Looks like they’ve both hopped over to the other side of the Med
“incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim”

Mental Crumble
Mental Crumble
March 30, 2011 12:36 pm

14. Interesting too that the Sherman’s are stepping back by refusing to countenance arming the rebels or committing ground troops. They’ve also sent the Enterprise back to the Red Sea. They are definitely on a direct path to let Europe deal with this. We’re going to be left holding this orphan baby and it’s not ours.

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
March 30, 2011 1:45 pm

Correspondents here are well-informed and have lots of good ideas. But it is all futile.

Defence policy should be framed to enable the defence of the UK and to execute the foreign policy of the UK government.

But our current foreign policy (and that of the USA) is just crap. No matter what the defence policy is, it won’t work.

March 30, 2011 3:58 pm

With reference to Mental Crumble.

After spending many years in the Middle East attempting to train Arabs from various countries within the region, I cannot but agree with the sentiments expressed in your posting.

Phil Darley
March 30, 2011 4:26 pm

Heh! with our balance od payments problems… As long as they pay sell arms to both sides!!! ;-)

March 30, 2011 4:43 pm

Would a forced partition (i.e. a no-cross line, policed by UN peacekeepers) and training of the rebels as a credible force work? We could get Chinese and Russian buy in by using our DFID money to fund arms for the People’s Islamic Republic of Eastern Libya from them, after all everyone loves a third world regime all the time it buys arms, sells it precious resources and does not create any bad headlines. Then after a couple of years and say $10 billion (most of it spent on Mercedes and private villa’s of course), we could decide the region is stable, pull out our UN peace keepers and let our trained up hordes pour into Libya and kick of round two, but this time with a bit less of running back and forth in pick up’s firing in the sky at every passing shadow, and bit more systematically crushing Gaddaffi, his clan, and anyone in the west (optionally western Libya) who looks funny at yeah. What’s not to love about this plan?

PS I was going to ask a sensible question, but by the time I wrote the first sentence I realised that it was pointless, that the slightly sarcastic future I outline is roughly what is going to happen – stalemate, forced partition, loads of money pissed up supply and training the rebels, then it all going tit’s up and bloody and with us left looking like right idiots. Of course if we can hold on four odd years it will be Labour’s problem, which is only fair as the left the coalition Afghanistan.

March 30, 2011 5:32 pm

@ Mental Crumble

Well said.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
March 30, 2011 6:25 pm

@ Tubby:16:43 –
“Of course if we can hold on four odd years it will be Labour’s problem, which is only fair as the left the coalition Afghanistan.”

I think you are endowing Dave & Co. with too much animal cunning. Would be a “good wheeze” for the amoral amongst us, though!