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 Although they are an indiscriminate weapon that most western nations (except the US) have withdrawn, signing up to international treaty obligations for example, they remain a fearsomely effective means of denying large areas.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.
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.
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