Libya: Double Down or Drift Along

When I first wrote a post on Libya it was clear, at least to me, that Qadaffi’s forces would forgo their tanks and revert to lighter weapons and move into built up areas to exploit the likely NATO rules of engagement. This seems to have happened and is a natural reaction to wanting to avoid being Brimstone fodder, stuck in a T72 on the open highway.

Another entirely predictable action would be to use what weapons they have at hand, cluster or cargo munitions fired from rockets and mortars. Although they are an indiscriminate weapon that most western nations (except the US) have withdrawn, signing up to international treaty obligations for example, they remain a fearsomely effective means of denying large areas. The reason they are tactically and strategically a poor choice of weapon for NATO nations is because we tend to occupy the ground we use them on and are therefore responsible for clearing the duds, which there are always plenty of. That aside, let’s not be to surprised when they are used. Similarly we should also put away our shock and horror when the rebels brutally behead a government fighter/mercenary (who knows) on YouTube. This is not a war between western nations where all parties are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, it is a brutal civil war, fought in the age of mass communication where those doing the hacking have a fundamental and deep understanding of the power of the internet. If you were a mercenary fighting in Misrata would you be as keen knowing your fate if captured?


So, where are we?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and the USA

Much has been made of the deployment of Predator UAV’s to support the rebels, especially the first strikes that have apparently happened only a day ago. This is notable because their self evidently exists no credible air threat that would make their use impossible and an acknowledgement that the persistence offered by UAV’s able to launch a Hellfire or JDAM beats the over the target availability of the traditional fast jets such as Tornado and Rafale.

The air operation has changed shape.

It is also of note because however useful and well suited they now are to the operational environment, neither France or the UK has any they can send.

What small number the UK has are being heavily tasked in Afghanistan and the major European powers are still squabbling over what industrial arrangements need to be in place before they develop something similar.

The deployment is a measured contribution from the USA, along with the announcement of a number of non weapon supplies.

From a US perspective, I think President Obama has played a good game, he has done just enough to support his allies but not enough to risk yet more Arab hostility and the underlying message to France and the UK is that whilst it is fine to talk the big one, you have to have something to back up the big talking and the US is not a military cash machine that you can withdraw from when you like.

Libya is an object lesson to European governments about talking loudly and carrying a small stick.

When Europeans lament American leadership what they actually mean is US missiles, ships, tanks and GI’s.

Boots on the Ground

The US Defense Secretary and President Obama have made it crystal clear that their will be no US ground forces involved, not even advisors.

This was in response to the UK, Italy and France agreeing to send 10 military advisers each to the East of Libya to improve logistics, coordination, command and communication for the Transtional National Council but we should be sceptical of what this can achieve.

Beyond Misrata and the East of the country there is also fighting in the extreme West, on the Tunisian border but that seems largely unnoticed.

What hasn’t gone unnoticed though is the flexible manner in which France and the UK are interpreting the UN resolution 1973,

We are not happy about the latest events in Libya, which are pulling the international community into a conflict on the ground, this may have unpredictable consequences

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov

It’s hard not to agree.

Algeria’s Elkhabar newspaper reported that NATO has asked Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Niger and Chad to close their borders to high-ranking officials and other representatives of Qaddafi’s regime, and prevent imports of military and dual purpose products, including four-wheel drives.

It has also been reported that stocks of Brimstones and other precision weapons are running low, come on, you know we only ever buy enough for satisfy the ‘minimum order quantity’ but at least it has had a good war, expect orders to follow from a number of nations.

Liam Fox described the training of Libyan rebel forces as ‘not that different’ to the training of the Afghan national security forces, oh dear, a rather unfortunate analogy given the amount of time and money it has taken to get them to even a half competent force.

The EU

What an unmitigated useless shower of shit.

The best the EU could come up with was a half arsed, poorly articulated and heavily caveated offer to the UN of ground forces to protect humanitarian supplies.

The answer, thanks but no thanks.

Yet again, in response to a geopolitical crisis, the EU has been found to be wanting.


After several days of brutal fighting, it seems that toe tide is turning in favour of the rebels and the use of UAV’s, even after the RAF have destroyed 58 targets in the city in the last few days, will provide an effective boost. Because they generally fly lower and offer persistence they will be able to respond to fleeting targets in a much more effective manner. Of course, if Qadaffi’s forces have any effective MANPADS or the weather changes dramatically, that dynamic might change.

Amid reports of more Government troops deserting Misrata could be a tipping point, if the rebels succeed in ridding the city of Government troops and mercenaries

The tall buildings have now been cleared of snipers and the mood of the rebels is reportedly jubilant.

What Next

Does anyone know, does anyone have a plan.

It seems that NATO and partners have been incrementally escalating based on the fact that Qadaffi has decided to be uncooperative and fight it out. If there is an underlying strategy its seems to be an off the cuff, make it up as we go type deal.

We need to articulate where the UK’s national interest lies, what our objectives are and how we are going to achieve them. Simply drifting along on a predator wing and a prayer is simply not good enough.

In my last post on Libya I asked if this incremental strategy of always reacting, always on the back foot and always being led by the nose was a good one and whether a short but intense intervention with ground forces would deliver a decisive result that avoids a costly, drawn out civil war, in which we are forced to take sides amid horrendous civilian casualties.

I have no doubt that we should have stayed out in the first place but now that Dave has his first war under his belt he needs this to end quickly or be judged just as harshly as his idol Tony Blair.

The blanket of approval given by the UN is worthless, if we really want to oust Qadaffi, we should just get on with it and use military force to do so and there is no doubt we are making some friends in the region although of course, they would like more.

The current strategy is divided, confused and weakened by endless discussion and disagreement.

If the Germans, Russians or Chinese don’t approve we should politely acknowledge that, say thank you and do what we want anyway, it is not their forces that will be involved, it is not their region and in many ways, it is none of their business.

Of course, the only problem with that is that we would also be responsible for what came next, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is this that rightly haunts the decision making.

Double down or drift along.


Reports indicate that UK and French forces are planning to escort rebel forces to reinforce Misrata using Apache attack helicopters. This is unconfirmed at the moment

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April 23, 2011 8:01 pm

Could not agree more. The US are now turning their attention to the Pacific theatre and Far East(4 of their deployed carriers are in that area). European nations will now be required to sort its own problems out the UK will have to start pulling its weight that a P5 power status requires. Its seem long ago that the st malo agreement was signed were a european rapid reaction force of some strength was proposed after the kosovo crisis until we had to pay for it. Indeed we have become a significantly weaker player since then.

April 23, 2011 8:07 pm

Good post.

The time is approaching and as everybody knows, you always have to pay the piper. Question is, do we have enough left in the piggy bank for this?

April 23, 2011 8:18 pm

Well if you believe the Russian’s it has always been the Anglo-French plan to land ground forces in the next few weeks (stories in the Russian press have been claiming since 1973 was passed NATO planned a land intervention).

Still we should get a good number of Brimstone sales. Now if only we could rush LLM into service and dispatch some Apache’s we could get some export contracts for it as well!

April 23, 2011 9:58 pm

By semester 2 of an IR degree course even the most average teenager knows that the UN is nothing but a talking shop and international law such an empty term as to be hardly with using.

April 24, 2011 12:06 am

Strange, when European aircraft strike they are imperialist NATOpolitans but also hopeless Eurosexuals! Bases in Italy, CAOC in Italy, UK/French/Italian/Dutch/Norwegian/whatever aircraft – somehow this isn’t a European operation.

April 24, 2011 2:56 am

don’t be so quick about the Brimstone sales. from what i understand the USAF is hot to operate them because they can be used from their aircraft but the US Army and Marine Corps are aiming to use the much cheaper guided 2.75 rocket for the same mission set.

to be honest i’m not quite sure why the UK forces aren’t using them instead of the Brimstone…unless its just to give the system its combat debut.

April 24, 2011 6:55 am

Hi Solomon,

Brimstone has mass, electrical and mechanical external interfaces very similar to the Hellfire missile, but has been designed for launch from high speed (=jet) aircraft, which USMC has but Army doesn’t.

Very impressed with the 2.75 accuracy when self-lased or ‘sparkled’ from the ground. Not so cheap after that upgrade, and how does it perform in bad visibility/ at night?

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
April 24, 2011 7:31 am


The vaunted Predators have so far engaged precisely 3 targets, an SA8, a tank and a mortar! Really game changing bit of kit then! The problem for NATO lies in the Political sphere. Italian Naval forces have in the last 24 hours pulled out of enforcing the NFZ and other ops such as Psy Ops back to pue embargo operations. It is unfair to pick on the military ops of the European nations without any insight into the massive Poltical wranglings that are hobbling them. You say that Obama has played a clever game yet at home he has been heavily criticised and is now considered a long shot to gain a second term.

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
April 24, 2011 7:40 am

Its quite simple really. The UK government is clueless. They just don’t know what they are doing.

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 24, 2011 9:47 am

The British military is hollowed out. Unless money is switched from non jobs,DfId or EU contributions, our military does not have the resources for an invasion. There is no popular support for an invasion.
The danger is some token force gets sent because Hague/Cameron/Clegg cannot think of anything else.
Said token force might be easily captured/destroyed, and for what?
I would carry on with airpower alone to stop the worst, while asking the Russians & Chinese to broker a political deal. If Libya ends up as two autonomous regions in one country, so be it. Perhaps, the least worst option.
Then Britain needs a proper Strategic Defence(Real World Reality)Review.

April 24, 2011 12:13 pm

@ TD Ref 70mm rockets (e.g. CRV7)
Given the roughly similar range, speed, warhead weight and guidance between a laser-guided CRV7 and LMM, I’m still trying to find out what extra value the latter brings to the party, to make it worth opening a new supply/training line.
You can also get 70mm pods with more rounds-per-plyon and the US DAGR programme has a nice ‘4 rnds or 1 hellfire’ trade-off pod that fits in any position on the M299 launcher.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
April 24, 2011 2:31 pm

Can the LMM also hit a slow moving or stationary target as well as the other sort?

Would it do the same sort of damage to whatever the target is?

If so, go for that and that alone, why have many weapons instead of one or two that can do everything?

Commonality, simpler supply chain etc etc.

I think NATO countries really need a massive overhaul of procurement. I’m all for many factories in many countries building similair or the same things, instead of loads of different systems with all that that entails.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
April 24, 2011 2:43 pm

As to the article itself, yes TD, i agree. Look i don’t like this in any way and do NOT want to see UK Troops fighting in Libya but the longer it goes on i see an incremental kind of mission creep which will end in the same situation.

Although i get the feeling that we are doing war by whichever way the wind is blowing at any one point in time at the moment.

TD, i sometimes get the impression that our government is casting around for a strategy and are hoping that crowdsourcing it (or whatever you want to call it), will give them a workable strategy that they can then build on.

The lack of thought and planning this exposes is just scary.

April 24, 2011 3:06 pm

Thanks for that. Whilst Thales do mention air targets I’ve been looking for data to see if it does meet Starstreak levels or less?
DAGR & APKWS II programmes have been looking at defence against FAC swarms and Lockheed is promising accurately hitting a 60mph moving tgt; precision unknown but obviously way short of countering any accompanying aircraft or even UAVs.
It will be interesting to see how the relative costs pan out once in full production, to see if one rnd can cost-effectively do the whole job or if a mix, with all the logistical overheads that will incur, is the only affordable way fwd. Horses for courses as you said.

April 25, 2011 4:01 am

Great post. I don’t often give Pres. Obama credit, but in this case I do. And I do believe there is an element to US policy towards Libya that is intended to send a clear message to Europe that it is time to start investing in defense or risk complete irrelevance. I doubt that message is taken to heart though.

The idea that President Obama is a “long shot” to be reelected is absurd. There is no electable Republican alternative. Obama will be a two term president.

April 25, 2011 9:38 am

On the Libyan question posed, I think we need to ‘double-down’ until Qadaffi’s gone, before NATO loses it’s last shred of credibility.
50 years of hard won deterrence, consuming both blood (training accidents to achieve high readiness) and much treasure and largely intact despite some initial wobbles in the Balkans, has nether the less been thrown away in just the last decade; first Afghanistan(*) and now here.

Supporting only to the level where the rebels can consolidate and thus safely split the country in two, may prevent an exodus and illegal immigration nightmare but will then leave a mini-Korea on Europe’s doorstep. Without nukes the Colonel would be less secure than the north but would be a pain in the arse for years to come. Let’s face it, after the International community has thrown the previous proclaimed ‘rehabilitation’ back in his face, he now has no incentive to play nice, short of provoking a future boots on the ground invasion. Given the West’s reluctance to do that, he is left plenty of scope to cause trouble.

(*) Invoke article 5 and then not provide sufficient resources has made the concept of mutual support a pretty poor joke. If you think the UK helicopter situation is bad (and given the debates here most do) consider the %’s of Euro helo fleets that have been sat at home throughout the campaign.

April 25, 2011 9:57 am

Hi Wstr,

You may be right, but I remember NATO offering and the USA declining re “(*) Invoke article 5 and then not provide sufficient resources”
– there are 40 nations with resources in A-stan; is NATO 28 currently?

April 25, 2011 10:56 am

Yep it’s 28. I think a lot of the US rejections of support have been precisely because of the point made, in so far as promised contingents have either been: too small; lacking in support elements (esp. logs, engrs, helo lift); crippled by incompatible RoE; or all three! – so that they’re not worth having.
Even with those up-n-running the French & Germans both with larger militaries, have a combined contingent that is less than the UK total and the Italians have less than half despite also being a larger military than the UK (if you include their gendarmerie numbers which are actually a very useful capability for this phase of the campaign; i.e for ANP training)

April 25, 2011 9:06 pm

I can hardly wait to hear the reports about what Sarco has said to Berlusconi, to toe the line (or keep everyone coming across the Med?).

The Russian Foreign Minister by the lapels, our dear Baroness only saved by the PM stepping in (national duty, I guess)to save her

… true diplomacy, behind the curtains

April 28, 2011 2:11 pm


KROPEX INTSUM #8 0100Z 27APR2011

LAF = Libyan Armed Forces

TNC = Transitional Libyan National Council

TNCFOR = Formed groupings of AGR under TNC HQ BENGHAZI

AGR = Anti-Government Rebels ( unaffiliated or uncontrolled )


FR/GB/IT/US = Mainforce components in spt TNCFOR per UNSECR 1973

1. Refer SITTEMP 0600 22APR MISRATA. Shift FEBA polar co-ordinates to ::
N 32.3376, E 15.0650 / AZ 2450 mils / 2 500 metres

2. JEBEL NAFUSA Localized insurgent activity increasing and extending from
WAZIN – NALUT – KABAO – AL MAJBIRA and ZINTAN. LAF regain control of
YAFRAN junction and surrounds. NATO air strikes on LAF garrisons and positions in
these areas plus repeat bombing of munitions bunkers at MIZDA.

3. MISRATA LAF sub-units pull back from forward defended positions along
Tripoli Street axis SW beyond outer ring road. (Refer FEBA shifts) Remnant heavy guns
( SPG/SPHow 152 & 155 mms) and rocket artillery ( BM-21 122 mm) forced redeployments
west and south but keeping the ports districts within range. Renewed LAF drive on the
steelworks via the industrial hardtop Naql al-Theqeel was repulsed by directed air strikes.
LAF losses include 6 x IFV and 7 TCV (Battlewagons) from the motorized company BG.
Support artillery may have been subject to naval gunfire from NATO (IT) warships. LAF
have still failed to cut off or isolate TNCFOR from secure rear basing and the harbour/dock
facilities are relatively unscathed, being outside (10-12 000 m) range of most remaining LAF
indirect fire assets, except for remaining mobile SPG/SPH locations uncertain or emplaced
SSM not yet struck . Inflow of weaponery, munitions and personnel to TNCFOR continues,
despite occasional artillery impacts in the ports zone.

4. SURT NATO claims include 7 x MBTs, 4 x APCs, 8 x ICVs, 4 x MRLs, 1 x Hvy Arty
(Emplaced) 7 x Trucks, 2 x Tk Tptr, 2 x Hvy Eqpt Tptr, 1 x SSM (SCUD?), 2 x SAMs, 1 x AA
gun (SP), 1 x HQ/C3, 2 x Hangers (A/C?), and no less than 18 x Bunkers and 17 x Ammo
Dumps. The town and garrison is cut off from resupply by land, sea, and air and the last
fixed commlink via submarine cable has now been severed. LAF C3 with formation HQs
and forward units disrupted as both cell and satfone systems are down/jammed and tac
radio nets unreliable. General welfare situation of local civilians will worsen as food and
basic utilities run out with no possibility of resupply or evacuation. NATO priority intent is
the reduction of SURT to nil military value for the LAF. Air strike sorties will be sustained,
if necessary supplemented by naval gunfire, to this end.

5. BIN JAWWAD – AJDABIYA WEF 17APR TNCFOR went firm blocking routes
on western perimeter. Isolated forays by LAF sub-units seen off and armour/tracked arty
or MRL vehicles on MSR interdicted by NATO air. LAF mixed BG withdrew 40-50 kms.
TNCFOR regrouped to cover the approaches from south-west to east. A defence plan for
AJDABIYA was actioned, based on a conventional perimeter of fixed works (trenches,
berms, strongpoints, emplaced wpns) support arty & MRL, defensive minefields, OPs,
and forward screens of battlewagons. Assume that some form of ALO/FAC Tacair for
NATO CAS is finally in place. The FEBA runs roughly from the MSR 40-45 kms SW of
AJDABIYA parallel with dune alignment towards the WADI AL-FARIGH system. LAF
main defence covers the BRAYGA sector, new town, oil terminal, and road junctions.
Minefields and mobile screens protect the approaches and the routes south. The terrain
from AJDABIYA back to RAS LANOUF favours a delaying fallback with a succession of
natural defence lines running N-S from BRAYGAH, AL-UQUYLA, and 19 EASTING
chokepoint blocking the MSR and routes south. The N-S trending dunelines east of
GTAFI afford excellent reverse slope cover and forward fields of fire and observation
over wide areas for the LAF. Outflanking north is blocked by impassable salt pans/marsh
between the MSR and sea, while rough and sandy terrain southwards will slow or block
both wheels and tracks. The WADI AL-FARIGH system is NOT suited to an advance in
defilade, as the wadi floors are often treacherous and the steep sides impassable in places.
There are however many service tracks, particularly astride the water pipeline, suited for
an easily recognizable main axis of advance westwards.

6. BENGHAZI HQ TNCFOR NATO major belligerents FR/GB/IT/US +QA providing
materiel and weapons, logistical and comms support, organizational and planning for
upcoming TNCFOR ops seize and secure SIRTE BASIN oilfields and littoral to SURT.
Reform and restructure of brigade into battalion BGs. Induction, training and re-skilling
volunteers to basic military competency. Re-mounting hvy wpns (107 mm B-11 rkts,
57 mm rkt pods ex Mi35, 14.5 mm ZPUs) on battlewagons, plus refurbishing MBT T-55,
MTLB, BMP-1 and/or drawing on ex LAF stocks from AL-BAYDA or TOBRUQ ? Expect
TNCFOR to deploy a formed BG to AJDABIYA for operational offensive west. Refer
SITTEMP 1200Z 26APR att.

COMMENT : Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics

April 30, 2011 10:21 am

I don’t know how old the update, at the end of the leading-in article is, but these two developments (they are one and the same, really)have been posted today:
Libya said it will not allow any more sea deliveries to the besieged city of Misrata.

His comments came after Nato said Col Gaddafi’s forces had been trying to lay mines off Misrata. A Nato commander said the mines were being disposed of.”

So a good chance that Gaddafists actually fire on non-Libyans

April 30, 2011 1:17 pm


I was going to post about the same – while Gaddafi has been fairly clever to date, but with this announcement he is definitely hastening the day he is deposed. EC has offered the UN boots on the ground to protect humanitarian operations, UN had said no as Gaddafi was giving them, access, this announcement gives the EU or those parts of NATO who are willing a perfect excuse to take the port in Misrata and secure the area around it. Gaddaffi must be gambling that the very act would split the coalition, and see the Arab element pull out, but I think it has a danger of backfiring, that the Arab’s have traded Libya to the West in return for us turning a blind eye to the rest of the Arab spring, and Gaddafi will pour blood and gold into trying to dislodge well equipped professional “veteran” forces with air and sea superiority out of Misrata and fail miserably.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 30, 2011 5:52 pm
Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 18, 2011 9:51 pm
May 18, 2011 10:02 pm

It tool the Allies nearly a year to defeat Germany with near total air superiority, aircraft being based only miles from the front, and lastly with lots of boots on the ground. NATO only has 2 of the proceeding elements.

May 18, 2011 10:08 pm

1 of the elements