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”
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