Libya or Afghanistan – Time to Choose

When we started operations in Libya I did question the strategic interest, where were the UK’s interests in expending treasure and risking blood, frankly, I didn’t see it. In fact, our true strategic interests actually lay with maintaining the status quo, supporting the Gadaffi regime and possibly assisting with a managed transition that minimised bloodshed, contained the refugee problem and yes, kept the oil flowing.

Like many dictators though, Gadaffi was great at staying in power bit monumentally useless at seeing his long term vulnerability and once he started machine gunning protesters, any understanding or unwritten agreement with the West was null and void.

Hi long term future involves either a bullet or a hot seat at the Hague, especially as the rhetoric from the US, UK and France is that Libya has no future with him still in place, thus closing any doors to a negotiated transition.

Tough talking inevitably has consequences.

So no matter what doubts I and most others had, once we had engaged, they were rendered irrelevant.

There is no wriggling out, there is no backsliding or whining about others not taking part.

We have made our bed and have to lie in it.

In the last post on this I asked if it was time to ante up, the alternative being a minimum effort engagement that results in a stalemate, a gradual and begrudged slide into committing ground forces and the partition of Libya, with a pissed off Gadaffi & Sons running the show in Tripoli.

It is therefore in the UK’s interests to have a stable country on the southern border of Europe, a nation that is not a source of tens of thousands of refugees that Italy will happily rubber stamp permits for and send them on their way to the land of milk and welfare honey, the UK that is, and a nation that could be a valuable trading partner.

Direct intervention now has many many pitfalls but a swift operation to achieve a decisive victory for the rebels might be preferable to the long drawn out alternative.

But do we have the capability, even with the political will?

Despite the knocking from some quarters in the USA with inappropriate talk of aircraft being only useful for air shows and weight pulling, the fact is, yes, the UK and France does have the capability to mount a ground operation, supported by appropriate land and sea forces.

They are currently in Afghanistan, on a mission of dubious strategic interest.

Perhaps Mr Cameron and Sarkozy might use Libya as the fulcrum on which to lever our early withdrawal from Afghanistan.

If you had to analyse where the UK and France’s actual strategic interests lie, I would venture that Libya comes higher on a list than Afghanistan.

Maybe it’s time to choose.

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Jed
Jed
April 18, 2011 1:59 am

I am not sure either country holds a truly ‘strategic’ interest for the UK, but I agree that tactically it makes more sense to put effort into Libya than it does another two (thrown on top of ten) in Afghanistan.

Solomon
Solomon
April 18, 2011 4:10 am

interesting.

do you think that the RAF would be anymore effective at attacking ground targets if its handful of aircraft were not in Afghanistan?

i think not.

not to be too critical but we call this a ‘straw man argument’ it sounds good…readers love it…but it doesn’t get at the truth of the situation.

the RAF sold itself as a power projection force and its not up to the task. without the Royal Navy and its Harriers, its just too difficult for the RAF to provide the kind of support that a limited operation like the one in Libya requires.

question.

if Argentina made another run at the Falklands. could the UK repel a concerted attack and if not could it reclaim the islands.

i believe that under the current and future force structure that the UK is about to embark on…the answer is a resounding NO!

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 18, 2011 8:32 am

I am not sure that the RN with the Harriers would be significantly more capable then the RAF in this situation. What is required is the ability to determine whether a pick-up truck is filled with refugees or gunmen and if gunmen whether they are pro or anti Gadaffi gunmen, whether there is an artillery piece under the hay in the back of the truck and to distinguish where the bed down locations are for the mortar teams that are being used so effectively in Misrata. All these require at the very least boots on the ground in order to literally perform ‘eyes on’ and liaise with anti-Gadaffi forces.

What Libya has demonstrated is once again the limitations of airpower without land power, a neat corollary to France 1940 and Normandy 1945 which demonstrated the limitations of Land power without air power.

It appears to me that the UK is stating a strategic endstate (democratic government in Libya) has decided that the operational means to do this is through the armed insurrection against the Gadaffi regime but is not prepared to allocate the tactical resources to bring this about. Ends, ways but no means.

Tubby
Tubby
April 18, 2011 8:42 am

@TD

I think that the Coalition is to scared of the political backlash to boots on the ground. I think we might see France send in troops to hold the port in Mistrata (SP) but over the weekend it would appear that David Cameron has signalled that he is not up for any sort of ground operation, even a humanitarian one, and has gone to UN for discussions, no doubt to keep France happy, as the strong alliance of US, France and UK seems to be more of a case of full-on French commitment, moderately warm UK commitment and tepid US commitment.

@ Solomon,

No expert or anything, but I doubt that Argentina can currently take the islands (four Typhoons should be able to keep their attack aircraft clear, and they only have one troop carrying ship, and few of their forces are as well trained as they were in 82), and I very much doubt they could do so with a surprise attack, as they would definitely need to move units, hire RORO ferry’s and cargo ships, all of which will cause alarm bells to ring.

Without a surprise attack we should be able to build our forces up: if we deployed a battle group, re-built our rapier batteries, and maybe added 4 Tornado’s alongside our Typhoon’s then I doubt that Argentina could take the island even if they threw everything they had at us, and if they did it would be too costly in terms of men and materials, making it a political failure (plus if they ended up killing civilians their chances of negotiating a settlement is nil).
Sure we might end up very stretched, and there is certainly a school of thought that says all that Argentina needs to do is invest a moderate amount of money in re-capitalising their armed forces specifically to take the Falkland Islands and eventually the cost of us matching their forces would force us to the negotiating table.

Jedibeeftrix
Jedibeeftrix
April 18, 2011 8:54 am

“They are currently in Afghanistan, on a mission of dubious strategic interest.”

Afghanistan might be of dubious strategic interest, but unilaterally pulling out would be a significant strategic failure due to the damage it would do to Britain’s credibility.

Capability [and] Will.

a
a
April 18, 2011 9:47 am

unilaterally pulling out would be a significant strategic failure due to the damage it would do to Britain’s credibility.

I am instinctively really sceptical of arguments that invoke “credibility” as the reason why we should keep doing things that don’t make any sense, i.e. to convince the rest of the world that, in future, they can rely on us to do things that don’t make any sense.

Not to mention that you could make the same argument about why we should step up in Libya: our “credibility” will surely suffer if the Gaddafis crush the rebels and stay in power in Tripoli for the next fifty years.

DominicJ
DominicJ
April 18, 2011 9:54 am

Salient point TD

Soloman
The forces under discussion are the Royal Marine Commando Brigade, not the RAF Tornados.

Also, if the Argentines invaded the Falklands, the on site forces would turn it into a blood bath, and the on site submarine would wink the argentine fleet in port.
We might struggle to retake the islands, but we could turn Argentina into a third world country with a few weeks cruise missile bombardment.
Hell, the opening strikes in Ellamy used 4 tankers for a 3000 mile strike.
How far from Ascension are the Argentine hydrodams? And are they storm shadow resistant?

Jedi
Meh, the US has hardly been a friend recently either, perhaps a dramatic cooling is a good thing?
Theres certainly some wannabe presidents who have repeatedly said Obama is spurning US allies in favour of US enemies.
A solid example of the inevitable outcome of that might be a good way of winning long term friends.

And of course, in four years time, we pull out of Afghanitan and Karzai falls, Libya at least offers hope of winning.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 18, 2011 10:59 am

The UK’s defence posture in the Falklands is predicated on the ability to detect a change in intent (from dilpomatic to military means) towards the Falklands and then the ability to deny access to the Falklands through very rapid reinforcement using aircraft. If air reinforcement was made difficult to impossible through denial of the airfields (a classic SOF task) then the UK’s options would suddenly be limited, expensive and difficult. The race would then be on to get the naval assets into theatre. The deployment (or not) of a RN submarine in the area is therefore one of the biggest strategic defence factors there is.

It is unlikely that Argentina would act unilaterally as it has invested a great deal in making the ‘Malvinas’ a pan-Americas issue and it might well receive support either materiel or more from other nations, Venezuala springs to mind.

Turning Argentina into a third world country would be a clear breach of the laws of armed conflict and lead to a Hague inditement of the politicians concerned.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
April 18, 2011 11:00 am

The US never made a commitment to Libya, it has to Afghan and it intends to fulfil its stated objectives.

a
a
April 18, 2011 11:20 am

If air reinforcement was made difficult to impossible through denial of the airfields (a classic SOF task) then the UK’s options would suddenly be limited, expensive and difficult.

This sentence is making me think things like “do we have enough C-17s and tankers to drop 2 Para into the Falklands as reinforcements?”

Andy
Andy
April 18, 2011 11:29 am

Solomon, suggesting Argentinas one capable amphib which can put max 300 men ashore at any one time and their what? 15 servicable fast jets can retake the Falklands is about as fanciful as someone suggesting the dutch have a better amphibious force than the UK.

Both are nonsense.

A different Gareth
A different Gareth
April 18, 2011 11:39 am

“Perhaps Mr Cameron and Sarkozy might use Libya as the fulcrum on which to lever our early withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Maybe, but I would sincerely hope they didn’t rush into Libya with that as part of the plan. They need to have the political will to exit Afghanistan and they do not. Nor do they have an idea of what victory enough to leave would look like in order to support the political will.

An intentional overstretch of armed forces to precipitate leaving Afghanistan would be a foolhardy strategy – we can already see the arguments coming thick and fast along the lines of ‘If we are to be a world power we need a better funded military’ which serves to distract from the poor value for money the MoD achieves.

So long as the politicians refrain from setting out their vision of what the MoD is for, should be capable of and why the ongoing problems needs checking they will not win the public over to their side.

When it comes to political standing I think the politicians would choose to do both Libya and Afghanistan than have to choose – for having to choose could be interpreted as showing you don’t have enough resources to match your rhetoric.

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
April 18, 2011 11:40 am

In 1981 there was a Foreign Office list circulating in MoD indicating UK intelligence priorities. There wasn’t a single country in South America on that list and only one in Central America. The US position wasn’t much better and there was no overhead coverage of Argentina. No one was looking or listening.

Somehow, I doubt that is the case now.

Also, the Argentinian armed forces are somewhat diminished. A bit like General Motors is said to be, a pension fund with some soldiers.

Andy
Andy
April 18, 2011 12:04 pm

I’d have to question, how important to the UK is either Afghanistan or Libya?

Or more pertinently, how important to politicians? We’ve constantly been told that Afghan is a national security priority for UK security over the past decade but the funding of the MoD has never backed that assertion up.

I agree of the two, Libya has more immediate knock on effect for the UK but the best option was for the UK not say anything to begin with and continue with Gaddafi onside.

We won’t put boots on the ground, so Libya is looking like a long term degrading of Gaddafis assets. I hope Cameron is prepared for a long wait becuase the Colonel is a survivor.

Richard W
Richard W
April 18, 2011 12:13 pm

I’ll admit that at the beginning I was okay with the idea of a no-fly zone and it has to be accepted that it hasn’t had the secondary effect that was desired ie getting rid of Gadaffi. There always was a risk it wouldn’t work.

However, I’m not in favour of fighting wars, or even watching other people fight wars, with all the cost and destruction for the ordinary people involved, if really all you want to do is get rid of one person. If you want to do that then use Special Forces to remove him clinically. Okay there will be some problematic legalities to resolve but better that than the thousands of casualties you will incur by fighting a war, directly or by proxy.

DominicJ
DominicJ
April 18, 2011 2:10 pm

Callum
“Turning Argentina into a third world country would be a clear breach of the laws of armed conflict and lead to a Hague inditement of the politicians concerned.”
Thwe first gulf war saw 97% of Iraqs electricty generating capacity destroyed.
Unless I’m mistaken, Bush Snr isnt sat in prison.

Argentine could whine to the ICC, but who exactly is going to kick down the doors of number 10 and place the Prime Minister under arrest?

A
I suppose it depends, do you mind if the pilots bail out and the planes are lost?
That ups your first wave strength quite a lot….

Andy
Grand Logistics did a decent walk through of it a while back.
Far from impossible to get the four aircraft airborne at once, once they’re in the air, run them out of fuel, wait for them, to land and hit the runway, its only defended by a few rapier batteries.

Once that runway is severed, reinforcements are weeks away.
The argies have a full parabrigade, all going well, more than enough to overwhelm the company defending the islands and the FIDF.

Its possible, its equaly possible that the Typhoons arent grounded and the airdrop shot down with total losses, hence my belief they wouldnt try it.

“We won’t put boots on the ground,”
I wouldnt be so sure.
We have a training operation on the way….

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 18, 2011 2:36 pm

@DomincJ

The law changes and what might have been acceptable 10 or 20 years ago may well not be now.

The principles of the Law of Armed Conflict are that use of force must be reasonable, necessary, proprtionate and discriminate.

eg: For a military campaign occuring in the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands and southern Argentina would it be necessary to remove Buenos Aires power supply? What would be the military purpose to this – Buenos Aires is some 1200 miles from the Falklands. How could one discriminate between the military purpose and the inevitable impact on the provision of essential services such hospitals? Would this be a proprtionate response? Has Argentina launched all out war on the UK targeting its national infrastructure?

One may well debate the merits of the Allies strategic bombing campaign in WW2 or the Coalitions bombing campaign in Iraq in Gulf War 1. But both of these camapigns happened in the past, and both were broad coalition efforts in what were perceived as black and white cases of ‘right and wrong’. Any future Falklands conflict is not likely to see the UK in a Coalition and where the perception of a large part of the formerly colonised world is that the UK is in the wrong and where public (domestic as well as international) opinion is strongly averse to civilian casualties.

gopher
gopher
April 18, 2011 3:04 pm

Solomon,
As you are a constant critic of the UK’s armed forces,indeed only a couple of weeks ago you wrote them off on your blog as ‘irrelevent’ I would suggest your opinion is at the best dubious.
Also please note how your comments on here are met with reasoned and polite answeres which are in complete contrast to the abuse with which you meet any criticism of your opinions on your own site.
You are constantly harping on about how the USA has carried Europe for years and how we should take on more of the burden of our defence.
I completely agree with you and Libya may be the seed that brings about a new era in European defence thinking.
It is certainly sorting out the wheat from the chaff and showing who is willing to step up to the mark with some surprising countries like Sweden coming forward.
Whilst I have always been cynical about a UK/French coalition it seems to be working and I would be very satisfied to be proven wrong and for both countries to work more closely together.
I would suggest that your interventions in the middle east are soley political largely due to the massive political zionist lobby in your country.
Perhaps it is time for the UK in particular and the rest of Europe in general to stop being the USA’s poodle.
You seem to be quite happy for the USA to be more isolationalist but as world affairs and in particular power bases change you may just find that you need all the friends you can get.

DominicJ
DominicJ
April 18, 2011 3:55 pm

Callum Lane
“The law changes and what might have been acceptable 10 or 20 years ago may well not be now.”
As far as I’m aware, proportionality predates removing Iraqs ability to generate electricity.

“and where the perception of a large part of the formerly colonised world is that the UK is in the wrong”
But that my point, no one gives a **** what Tonga thinks. The world isnt X factor. You dont win or lose based on a public vote.
You win or lose based on military effect.
Unless Venezualas harsh words against the Imperial Aggressor are backed up with concrete action, its just not the relevent.

a
a
April 18, 2011 4:14 pm

“I suppose it depends, do you mind if the pilots bail out and the planes are lost?
That ups your first wave strength quite a lot….”

No need – C-17 has the legs to get from Ascension Island to the Falklands without refuelling (4500 nm range according to the RAF) so as long as you top off on the way down and again on the way back you’ll be fine.

a
a
April 18, 2011 4:21 pm

“Argentine could whine to the ICC, but who exactly is going to kick down the doors of number 10 and place the Prime Minister under arrest?”

That would be the Metropolitan Police, actually.

Britain’s an ICC signatory (as is Argentina), and so if Cameron (or whoever) is indicted for war crimes, we either have to prosecute him ourselves, convince the court that we have already investigated and decided for legitimate reasons not to prosecute, or hand him over to the Hague.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 18, 2011 4:25 pm

But in Iraq the justification was the effect bombing of the power distribution network would have on the Iraqi C2 structure and the pressure that it would bring to bear on the Iraqi regime to extract from Kuwait prior to the commital of Coalition Land Forces. In the context of the invasion and occupation of one soverign country by another it was deemed as proportionate. Plus the UNSC was pretty much united against Iraq meaning that politically there was unlikely to be trouble with this approach. In the years after Gulf War 1 the imposition of sanctions caused increasing problems for the US and the UK precisely because they were seen as neither proportionate nor discriminate, illustrating the problems that can ensue.

You do not win or lose a conflict based on military effect; you win or lose a conflict based on political effect achieved in part through military means. ‘Winning’ the ‘Falklands Conflict part 2’ but finding Britain isolated internationally, indited in the ICC and the Falklands under OAS jurisdiction pending a UN ruling on sovereignty might rank as a hollow victory.

And yes, if Tonga has a seat on the UNSC people do give a **** what it thinks!

a
a
April 18, 2011 4:28 pm

You do not win or lose a conflict based on military effect; you win or lose a conflict based on political effect achieved in part through military means. ‘Winning’ the ‘Falklands Conflict part 2′ but finding Britain isolated internationally, indited in the ICC and the Falklands under OAS jurisdiction pending a UN ruling on sovereignty might rank as a hollow victory.

Well, yes. As most of us learned after 1956…

Chris.B.
April 18, 2011 5:46 pm

In no particular order and at nobody in particular, just picking up points I observed along the way:

– Bombing mainland Argentina would be cloaked under the auspices of degrading the Argentine command structures ability to control and coordinate a military campaign, thus shortening the war and protecting civilian lives in the process. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that line or not, it’s what the government would push and there are enough countries with various skeletons in their closets that it would be bought. Everyone would huff and puff, there would be a lot of outrage and calls for restraint, then in a years time everyone would have forgotten about it.

– Argentina would only attempt to invade the-islands-that-shall-not-be-named if their entire government went stark raving bonkers.

– Withdrawing our entire force from Afghan tomorrow would cause a lot of political wrangling by the US and some wailing from various newspaper writers that “Great Britain” should remove the “Great” in her name etc, but by tea time everyone will have remembered about the size of our submarine force and the fact that we now have one of the most overall battle hardened armies in the world. Then they’d shut up again.

– The modern world is driven by cash not the military. Germany and Japan are not major military powers who flex their muscles left, right and centre. But they have a lot of money so they get to sit at the top table. Deal with it.

– You win or lose a conflict based on whatever the winner decides was the deciding factor.

– Building a degree of distance between us and the US would be the most strategically sound thing we’ve ever done. Our close friendship with the US is also our bigger threat to national security. I’m not saying I sympathise with terrorists, but if you at least want to know why they want to blow us up, look across the Atlantic.

– If things carry on the way they are, this topic could quickly be renamed; Libya, Afghanistan or Northern Ireland?

Jed
Jed
April 18, 2011 6:08 pm

Gopher at 15:04

Well said sir ! Sol also constantly bangs on about the “death of NATO” how Europe needs NATO, but the U.S. does not – all of which of course may or may not be true depending on your political viewpoint BUT therein lies the point:

NATO is not a political entity – it is a military alliance. Libya is NOT a military threat to NATO. Interference in the internal shennagins of the sovereign state of Libya was decided by a bunch of European Politicians AND the U.S. President. It was endorsed by the U.N.

All of which has nothing at all to do with NATO. Where NATO comes in is the use of its already established command, control and communications infrastructure linking the U.S. and all the European nations that are taking action against Libya.

The fact that Germany, for example, is not involved in the current ops against Libya ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT mean NATO is a fractured and defunct organisation.

What it does mean is that NATO is not a political organisation with a “foreign policy”.

Does Europe rely on the US, I believe so, should Europe look to its own defence, yes absolutely, but does Europe (as a whole) have the political homogeny and willingness to indulge in “foreign policy by firepower” – no of course not. Still non of that has anything to do with NATO, except perhaps the lack of an existential threat to NATO’s borders (and I don’t count “Islam” as such a threat).

Of course I should be explaining this over at SNAFU, but as you pointed out, it can be a bit of a useless effort.

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
April 18, 2011 7:30 pm

Couldn’t have put it better TD. Given the size of the US presence in Afghanistan and the fact they are point blank refusing to do anything in Libya it only makes sense. Political embarrassment could be stemmed by a ‘putting resources where they are needed’ argument. Turning and running from Libya would far more costly to our reputation at this point and cause far more of a problem, far nearer our doorstep. I’m not quite sure what would change in Afghanistan if we left, which tells you all you need to know. Neither operation was well thought out in advance or in the strategic national interest – but Libya has the higher costs of backing out.

Mark
Mark
April 18, 2011 8:29 pm

Well if we have to choose then I think it has to be Libya. It is a regime that has visited the largest terrorist attack on this country and indeed support Irish terrorists for over 30 years. They also supply oil to this country and wither we like it or not energy security is important and we are dependant of imported oil. The migration issue of Libyan people will be an issue for continental europe and will be here too.

This is in contrast to Afghan while we deployed and dealt with the initial threat and got out quickly why we ever decide to head into helmand ill never no. It had not a direct impact to UK security indeed it probably has stirred up more UK hatred though arguably it was linked to instability in tribal regions of Pakistan but maybe reducing to provide specialist troops there with some of our air assets would have been off more use that getting way out of our depth in nation build in a tribal country.

The US doesnt want involved in Libya so it may make sense to say you take over our role in your war in afghan and we and the French will take the lead to sort this one out.
But before we ever get to deploying ground troops in Libya it would need a very very realistic goal and NOT nation building if we can do a serria leone/Kurdistan style ground deployment then ok if its more like a bosnia or iraq then it stays as a containment and SF type operation.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
April 18, 2011 9:51 pm

@TD*

For me the question of where our strategic interest lies should be America or Libya?

Not Afgahnistan or Libya.

What would America’s reaction be if Britian pulled out of Afghanistan and then sent fresh troops into Libya?

If Britain pulled out while American soldiers were still fighting & dying, official American reaction might be muted (IN PUBLIC!), but i think the public’s reaction would be very different and probably longer lasting.

I also think the reaction of US Military Personnel themselves would be much more significant than merely thinking up a new nickname instead of “The Borrowers”.

Institutional memory last’s a long time in the armed forces the world over.

We’ve made military commitments to the USA, i humbly suggest we hold fast to them.

HMG got into this mess (Libya), without an exit strategy or, so far at least anyway, some sort of idea of how to bring about what they really want to see. I do not think it’s a good idea to try and decide which one is more important now, due to the near total failure of any sort of planning by HMG. What exactly did the air marshals and generals expect to happen on the ground when the Libian Army’s tanks, apc’s and other heavy weapons were turned into scrap?

Now what do they do, shoot at every white 4×4 or pickup truck they see heading east? I mean is that what it’s going to come down to, now that the bloke in No.10 has just told the Libyian’s that they won’t be facing western troops anytime soon?

What a stupid thing to say! The man and his advisors are cretin’s.

*p.s. i haven’t read the comments yet but i’m really suprised at what you are suggesting in this article.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
April 18, 2011 10:33 pm

Hi Jan Guest.

Very respectfully, i disagree.

I think all we’d be doing is combining two insane situations into one even more insane situation, with the potential for huge unforseen and unwanted consequences.

Our PM will be proved to be a liar in front of the whole world (which may not be a bad thing, in itself). After Blair and now Cameron, everyone, if they don’t already, would view us with nothing but the most hostile suspicion and disbelief.

The reaction of arab governments and the various peoples in north africa and the wider middle east could be very different to what we might expect. Some people in these countries might start thinking that now, here, they have a way to really force the pace of change and that could cause a real backlash from all those secret policemen and their governments torturers.

Yes, i do think a lot of people want a different sort of life with nobody looking over their shoulders or taking them in for “questioning” but i also think there are an awful lot of people who will just see it as another British invasion of a muslim country and then plan to get even.

I know i seem to have contradicted myself, with my previous post but as our PM has ruled it out i think it might be an idea to see if someone else will commit troops to an operation or invasion.

Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Norway…..any of them or most likely all of them together would probably be better than say, France and Britain.

I really think our reputation will be blown if we take part after our PM decided to slam the door on that option.

ChrisM
ChrisM
April 18, 2011 10:33 pm

Re the Falklands.
How is Ascension defended? What happens if Argentina lands a commercial airliner full of troops there? Or even just land an airliner there and then destroy it on the runway? Combine that with one of the scheduled flights into Mount Pleasant “accidentally” crashing into the QRA resources and the Argentinians could buy themselves a fair bit of time.
I assume the anti-terrorist precautions would stop them arranging to sink block ships in the approaches to the Navy bases?
IMO the only thing they would worry about is the submarine that could effectively blockade them and put Tomahawks into their military facilities on the mainland. We better hope they/their friends never find a way to track it.

Andy
Andy
April 18, 2011 11:46 pm

‘How is Ascension defended? What happens if Argentina lands a commercial airliner full of troops there?’

Argentina lands troops on a joint RAF/USAF base?

ChrisM
ChrisM
April 19, 2011 12:10 am

Argentina lands troops on a joint RAF/USAF base?

Obviously it would require a bit of desire from the Argentinians (and confidence in the support of their south american neighbours), but what would the US do? They would make a formal protest but would they risk annoying most of South America by doing anything more, especially if the Argentinians fronted that it was a misunderstanding blah blah (the scrap metal men on South Georgia…)and they will be off soon. They only need to be there for a few days to make the difference between us reinforcing the Falklands and it being too late.

Andy
Andy
April 19, 2011 12:19 am

You don’t think that Intelligence would somehow pick up the start of an Argentine build up to a threat on the Falklands and that a Argentine flagged plane making its way to Ascension might not get noticed?

Solomon
Solomon
April 19, 2011 7:03 am

ok men.

since no one wants to look in the mirror and see the bad news then its up to me to deliver it.

NATO is either dead or so weak as to be irrelevant. if Libya is able to force this type of standstill then how in heavens name will this same organization be able to deal with a more powerful entity that decides to act badly?

Russia vs. Georgia springs to mind. our collective countries were forced to sit on the sidelines while Russia “punished” the Georgian people.

but back to the Falklands. you’re all thinking like Surface Officers. a grunt would think like this….

infiltrating a team onto that island would not be difficult. destruction of the Typhoons on the ground should be rather easily accomplished.

flying in reinforcements would then be childs play. you could do it with civilian airliners. if Argentina is able to gain an ally or two with advanced aircraft (a certain dictator comes to mind) then you could assume that although losses would be high, the battle would turn on pure numbers for the bad guys.

yeah, if deception campaigns are properly carried out to mask intentions. and if the enemy is bold enough, then British forces have been weakened to such an extent that reclaiming the islands would be beyond difficult. it would be impossible…and those oil fields would be in the hands of the Argentinians.

Stuart
Stuart
April 19, 2011 8:31 am

@ DominicJ and Andy:

You’re very wrong. The Argentines could walk into the Falklands almost unopposed precisely because we defend it with inappropriate tools… because those are the tools the MOD has saddled the islands with. “We’ve got fast jets, so we have to use them…” Nice, circular MOD logic.

And assuming a nuclear sub is always on station? I assume you have posters of Astute on your wall and like to mutter ‘Pew-pew, die Argy swine!’ in your sleep.

We need something like patriot/S400 and land-based antiship missiles in the Falklands. They’d cost less than the current jet-based set-up, and a fraction of an aircraft carrier and modern air wing. Don’t lose the islands = don’t have to fight to reclaim them.

Instead we have expensive jets that can’t be scrambled between the Islands’ radars identifying sea-skimming missiles, and the moment they strike. Think Argentina can’t afford a few dozen cruise missiles? Think their warships don’t sail within 50km of the islands on a regular basis? (You can always have your submarine sink them after they’ve fired their missiles at the airbase and decided the conflict. Salvage some modicum of pride.)

The super-duper Typhoons have no antiship missiles. No brimstone. No Storm Shadow. In this case, they’re criminally expensive paper tigers that can’t fly in fog, and have to divert to Chile in bad weather. No AWACS, and one ancient tanker. Think the four fast jets on the islands can be in the air all at one time? Maybe they don’t need to refuel or re-arm? Watch Argentina play cat and mouse with them, probing from different directions, always out of missile range – the Typhoons would have to land repeatedly, and the pilots would be exhausted within 48 hours.

With just one offshore patrol vessel, we can’t even stop the Argentines from sailing a few civilian boats close to the islands and unleashing volley after volley of Popeye missiles.

It’s Argentina’s for the taking. We’re the world’s third-largest military spender according to ‘War News Updates’, and we can’t even guarantee to defend a small island outpost because we do it wrong.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 19, 2011 8:44 am

The US has actually been pretty clever regarding Libya and has called the Europeans members of NATOs bluff as to there committment to operations. The latter with the exception of the UK and France have conveniently decided only to commit to the No Fly part of resolution 1973.

Regarding the Falklands can we leave this topic behind us. Next people will be discussing how we can defend Gibraltar against Spanist agreeion of the Channel Islands against France!

a
a
April 19, 2011 8:55 am

“If Britain pulled out while American soldiers were still fighting & dying, official American reaction might be muted (IN PUBLIC!), but i think the public’s reaction would be very different and probably longer lasting.
I also think the reaction of US Military Personnel themselves would be much more significant than merely thinking up a new nickname instead of “The Borrowers”.”

I was not aware that the core mission of our armed forces was to avoid hurting the feelings of the American public. Or even those of the American military.

Note that we didn’t participate in Vietnam (thank god) and the alliance somehow survived. Some countries (coughIsraelcough) even manage to remain US allies, and receive vast amounts of US aid, while not participating in a single US war – and even while selling US military technology to China and Russia!

Stuart: I’m not going to go through that scenario in detail, but a couple of points: “Think Argentina can’t afford a few dozen cruise missiles?”
No, actually, they can’t.

“we can’t even stop the Argentines from sailing a few civilian boats close to the islands and unleashing volley after volley of Popeye missiles.”
Which they don’t have any of.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 19, 2011 9:04 am

@ Michael (Civ). I could be wrong but I do not think that the UK government has explicity ruled out the use of ground troops in Libya in the future. What it has said is that in accordance with UNSCR 1973 ‘Occupying Forces’ are ruled out. ‘Occupying forces’ is a very precise legal term and does not rule out the committal of land forces; it just rules out the commital of sizeable land forces which faciliate the supplanting of a Libyan regime by an external (NATO?) regime.

@ Solomon. NATO is not dead, nor as weak as you think. NATO is a military alliance (not merely a military organisation) which therefore makes it a military / political organisation. The North Atlantic Council is strictly political. NATO as a political entity has decided to allow an element of its military capability to be used to support UNSCR 1973, but not to get heavily committed to the Libyan effort. That is a political/strategic decision by NATO and not an issue of purely military capability strength (or weakness). If NATO does have a weakness that lies in its lack of political consensus in dealing with non-existential threats outside of the European theatre of operations.

With regards to Georgia NATO did not get involved because Georgia was not and is not a member of NATO. Individual countries (the US amongst them) also decided that it was not in their national interests to get involved. Your argument appears to be that because NATO (as a military/politcal alliance) choses not to get heavily involved in Libya that it is weak. By that same token the US and China are also weak because they choose not to get decisively involved?

The Falklands: Currently the Argentinians have neither the capability nor the intent to attempt an occupation of the Falklands. They could take the Falklands but they could not retain it unless supported by other nations. Taking is relatively easy; SOF deny use of the airfiels to us, preventing use of our QRF Typhoons and then fly in an occupying force (likley parchute in the first wave). Then what? Holding is the hard part. The UK’s garrison in the Falklands is scaled to the threat; as the threat changes so too does the garrison capability. A better Argentinian option would be to increase in capability, make noises about intent and then watch the UK increase its garrison. Wait a little longer and HM Treasury will squeal about the cost. The UK has a long track record of getting rid of expensive to maintain dependencies…

DominicJ
DominicJ
April 19, 2011 9:42 am

A
And yet Tony Blair walks free…….

Callum
” but finding Britain isolated internationally, indited in the ICC and the Falklands under OAS jurisdiction pending a UN ruling on sovereignty might rank as a hollow victory.”

How many divisions does the [s]Pope[/s] OAS/UN have?

A
“Well, yes. As most of us learned after 1956…”
You misunderstand, the US was damned well prepared to take concrete action and throw us out of Egypt if we didnt leave.
Who’s going to go to war with us over Argentina and the Falklands?
Peru?
I’m truely terrified…

Soloman
Its not that qwe dont want to look in the mirror, its that you’re talking like a 12 year old after a Marathon session of Halo.
We chose not to intervene in the Georgia/Russia war. Much as I’m argueing the world would ignore the UK systematicaly wiping out Argentine Infrastructure.

As for the Falklands.
Ok, you sneak on a special forces team.
How? Argentine fishing vessels generaly dont hang around just off the coast.
But ok, lets say your team gets on shore, and gets to the airfield.
Again, how? The Beach to Mt P isnt exactly easy going, and you have to do it without being seen.
But, ok, you do, and you destroy the 4 QRA planes on the ground. Well done, then?
You load three brigades onto your civillian airliners and the FIDF blows them up on landing.

The Entebbe raid wouldnt have worked if Uganda had plenty of warning.

You’d need to paradrop to seize the airfield, and they can be messy.
It would probably go well, and the defenders, outnumbered 2,500 to 150 would lose. But what if its a mess? Broken legs, lost equipment, scattered landings. 150 motorised riflemen against 50 pockets of 50 immobile paratroopers. Destroy them in detail, one after the other.

But it goes well, you land, overwhelm the defenders, but not before they spike the airfield.

You now need to paradrop supplies and an engineer unit to rebuild the airfield.
You can try shipping the supplies and reinforcements, but Astutes rimoured to be in the area and would love to meet your troop ships en route.

And of course, once it sinks a few ships, it can start turning your electricity plants into rubble via tomahawk.

Stuart
“I assume”
Well you know what they say about people who assume? They’re generaly being muppets.

I have specificaly directed you to a plan to take the islands….

None of what you said is in any way reflective of what I said.
I didnt say we would retake the islands militarily, I’ve specificaly said we wouldnt even need to. We’d just bomb the mainland into submission.
How many Argies are going to freeze to death over winter for possesion of the Falklands?

Now back on topic.
I now disagree with TD
Victory in Afghanistan is not on the table, so his choice is meaningless.
We have victory in Libya and defeat in Afghanistan, or defeat in Afghanistan and Defeat in Libya.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 19, 2011 11:03 am

@Dominic. To paraphrase Clausewitz, war is a continuation of politics by other means. That is the nature of conflict; you cannot divorce the two and therefore you cannot deal with a military solution/problem in isolation from the political context and consequences.

With regards to SF insertion to the Falklands, the Argentinians succesfully inserted SF onto the Falklands in 1982 after the British reoccupation, and small craft (fishing and leisure) suitable for covert SF insertion are routinely approaching to within 50 miles of the the Falklands. The issue of gaining military control of the Falklands is a red herring, because, as you have correctly pointed out, then what? For the UK the problem will be the same as in 1982 – dealing with the solution whilst retaining international support and not allowing it to become a regional (pan-South American) issue. The reasons why this was necessary in 1982 are pertinent now, and in 1982 Britain was considerably stronger in terms of national power.

Finally victory in Afghanistan is a distinct possibility as we have defined victory as leaving Afghanistan with a government capable of exercising de facto control over the country and enabling the West to disrupt and destroy terrorist elements that pose a threat as necessary. Those are very limited and realistic objectives which are achievable in the timeframe.

Solomon
Solomon
April 19, 2011 11:10 am

Dominic J,

its obvious that you’ve never served in a line company or you wouldn’t be spouting such nonsense.

the Royal Marines are hard. very hard. i had the chance to train with 45 Commando. but no matter how tough your garrison is, it can’t remain at a wartime footing all the time.

what does that mean. it means that unless you’re willing to spend an inordinate amount of money and have an equally large garrison of troops then it will be easy to infiltrate a team onto the island. not HALO my friend. sad reality. look at your country and mine. if it were easy to keep out illegal aliens then it would be done…but they in essence infiltrate your country and mine everyday. the Falklands are no different.

but lets not lose focus here. my main contention is that at the expense of real forces that could maintain UK capability, its been pissed away for the glory of air power that is incapable of sustained operations…in capable of providing real deterrent capability…in capable of providing expeditionary capability.

don’t fall into the same trap that the USAF has attempted in our defense establishment. there is expeditionary and then there is real expeditionary capability. that resides in your nations naval forces…not in your air power or land power. both of which have grown at the expense of your navy.

and to address TD’s point of this article. the failure of Europe in providing forces to this effort and to the UK in particular might indeed fall to the politicians. it might fall to the service chiefs who provided poor advice to leadership. it might fall to the services themselves that didn’t adequately plan for even limited warfare…but it doesn’t fall to UK participation in Afghanistan. in Afghanistan its an Army affair. it has nothing to do with supporting operations in Libya.

Jon
Jon
April 19, 2011 2:07 pm

BBC News: UK officers to be sent to Libya
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13132654

Jed
Jed
April 19, 2011 3:07 pm

My goodness, I think I am having an embolism or something, I actually agree with Sol !

“my main contention is that at the expense of real forces that could maintain UK capability, its been pissed away for the glory of air power that is incapable of sustained operations…in capable of providing real deterrent capability…in capable of providing expeditionary capability.”

I agree entirely. Although TD has now posted a separate article to deal with the Falklands issue, this in my opinion brings us back to the failure of HMG and MOD post 1982 – they went for stupidly expensive “fortress Falklands” strategy instead of ensuring we always had enough SSN, amphib capability and carriers to use as a either a deterrent against further attack, or take back the islands again, in a much more one sided manner. Assets of course that would be flexible enough to use elsewhere as required.

Sol – having said that, your still a complete numpty where it comes to “NATO is dead” :-)

Solomon
Solomon
April 20, 2011 3:21 am

not a problem Jed.

we can agree to disagree.

but let me add that i’m voicing a concern about a world that i see going mad. and in such a world who is going to safeguard it…protect its peoples and resources from madmen?

Europe, Canada, Australia, and the US.

i leave Japan, S. Korea, Singapore and a number of other countries off the list because they’re more insular and therefore aren’t quite ready for a world leadership role.

its obvious that the US cannot do it alone. neither can we continue to shoulder an inordinate amount of the load. the most irritating part of this is that the UK was always the bridge between Europe and the US…understanding the positions that both sides took…able to act independently if absolutely necessary but if acting in concert then extremely capable.

i’m worried that the UK is in essence refusing to lead and would rather fall back to the pack.

its not UK bashing…its an intervention.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
April 20, 2011 5:40 am

(Finally TD used a crowbar to get the Falklands separated from Libya/ Afghanistan!)

@ Salomon, RE ”
i leave Japan, S. Korea, Singapore and a number of other countries off the list because they’re more insular and therefore aren’t quite ready for a world leadership role.

its obvious that the US cannot do it alone.”
– howabout the Malabar exercises where Japan and Singapore have joined, now in the 13th year running, the US in keeping the critical sea LoC’s free, both in the Indian Ocean and in the South China Sea? (Sadly, this year Japan is too busy with some pressing matters…)

I rather agree with your “able to act independently if absolutely necessary but if acting in concert then extremely capable.

i’m worried that the UK is in essence refusing to lead and would rather fall back to the pack.”

Alex
Alex
April 24, 2011 12:06 pm

If you want an example of the limitations of air power, look no further than Georgia and that old lady who destroyed Armenia’s Internet connectivity with a shovel. In 2008 the Russians bombed Georgia to buggery and invaded the place, and the good people from the RBN were crawling all over every web server in town, but the Georgian ISPs stayed up (they have fibre to Turkey).

Squadrons of Backfire and Fencer, armies of really nasty hackers – bugger all result. Old bird with shovel – no route to host. Michael Rose’s remark about one intelligent soldier being more dangerous than a fleet of B-52s has rarely been more to the point.

Alex
Alex
April 24, 2011 12:09 pm

…even if in Rose’s case the intelligent soldier was quite often more dangerous to his own side than the fleet of Buffs…