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Tag: "libya"

Some Operational Thoughts…

[ 66 ] March 20, 2011 |

Some notes from yesterday:

  • As noted in several places, French fighter aircraft appear to have taken the lead in attacking Libyan armor approaching Benghazi. This apparently happened before the air defense suppression attacks launched by the United States.  Gutsy.
  • US enforcement of the no fly zone appears to be of the maximalist variant.  Libyan air defense assets have been hit, along with Libyan airbases.  No indication yet that the US has used F-22s, but B-2s were involved.
  • The cruise missile strikes were launched by US submarines, including the USS Florida, an Ohio class SSBN converted to SSGN duty.
  • I wonder if the British are already regretting the retirement of Ark Royal and the Harrier contingent.  USMC Harriers have participated from the USS Kearsarge.

The real action won’t come in the form of the no fly zone per se, as airpower wasn’t particularly critical to Gaddafi’s progress.  Rather, the no fly zone indicates a strong Western preference for Gaddafi’s exit, which might incline further elements of his regime to abandon him.  We’ll see how that works out.  In a military sense, the real action happens with the ground support/attrition actions like the French attacks.  Airpower can have a devastating effect on poorly trained forces, both because they don’t know how to conceal themselves from attacks, and because the airstrikes can break morale.  There’s every indication that while Gaddafi’s forces are better led and equipped than their rebel counterparts, they’re not prepared to deal with Western tactical airpower.  While the focus lately has been on Benghazi, rebels hold several other areas in the country, which means that airstrikes in support would have to be widely dispersed.


On Libya

[ 120 ] March 19, 2011 |

Posted these basic thoughts on twitter a few hours ago, but they deserve a little development.

I really hope that things go super awesome in the new war in Libya. I hope that the rebels win, and I really hope that a democratic state emerges.

I really hope that if they win, the rebels don’t start fighting each other. I really hope that they don’t settle scores with a blood purge of Gaddafi loyalists.

I really hope that the new regime isn’t fatally delegitimized by the Western intervention. I really hope that Gaddafi’s supporters don’t put together a bloody insurgency that lasts for years.

I really hope that if everything goes to shit, the French and British will catch at least some of the blame. Larison notwithstanding, there are some pretty important differences between how this coalition came together and how the Iraq coalition was assembled. I really hope that in the future, people will be able to do more of the “contrast” and less of the “compare” with regards to Iraq and Libya.

But then, as they say, hope is not a plan. And it’s really fucking unclear to me that anyone has a plan. And so now we’re in it, and we’ll see what happens.

How many wars in Islamic countries can the US fight at one time?

[ 21 ] March 19, 2011 |

Apparently, the answer is “at least three.”

On the Folly of the Liberal Interventionists

[ 18 ] March 15, 2011 |

Let’s be clear; not only is Anne Marie Slaughter making less sense than Ross Douthat, she’s also making less sense than Paul Wolfowitz:

It is only in the context of a larger assistance strategy that a no-fly zone should be considered. It would be different from the prolonged and largely futile zones imposed over southern Iraq from 1991-2003 or over Bosnia from 1992-1995. Intended to stop the genocides of the Marsh Arabs in Iraq and of the Muslim population of Bosnia, they did neither. Critics accurately point out that the massacre of 11,000 Muslims in Srebrenica took place under a NATO-imposed no-fly zone. But the situation in Libya would be very different if the Libyan people are properly armed.

Say what you will about the tenets of neoconservatism, dude, but at least it’s an ethos. Wolfowitz has answers to most of the questions I pose here, while Slaughter is left shilling for an almost-certain-to-be-useless no fly zone that will serve mainly as a pretext for further intervention. Whether they leave the point implicit or explicit, the neocons are reasonably clear about their preferences; we should support the rebels to the extent that we can be certain that they’ll win, and then we should install and support whichever parts of the rebel alliance are most to our liking. Slaughter’s approach amounts to “no fly and pray.”

Meanwhile, in Libya…

[ 30 ] March 13, 2011 |

The rebel situation continues to deteriorate:

On Saturday morning, pro-Qaddafi troops launched an assault on Misrata (Misurata), the city of some 600,000 due east of the capital of Tripoli, which has been in rebel hands for weeks. In the wake of government victories at Zawiya and Ra’s Lanuf, it is clear that the pro-Qaddafi military is hoping to parlay its momentum into complete control of the coast from the Tunisian border all the way to the eastern front, now at Uqail.

Qaddafi loyalists finally took the downtown square of Zawiya on Friday. The city is half an hour to the west of the capital, Tripoli, and was the last major stronghold of the rebels on the Mediterranean coast to the west. Reports indicate a massacre of the rebels, with the large mosque having been destroyed (it is customary for dissidents to take refuge in mosques, which traditionally were considered off-limits to violence), and rumors of bodies bull-dozed away.

Government forces also pushed rebels out of the eastern refinery town of Ra’s Lanuf to its east at Uqail.

The Arab League is calling for UN intervention in the form of a no fly zone:

Despite losses on the ground, the rebels won a key battle at the Arab League during crisis talks in Cairo on Saturday. It came out in support of plans to impose a no-fly zone over Libya…

The 22-member league also agreed to contact the rebels’ provisional national council, a move welcomed by the US and Britain.  Arab foreign ministers urged the United Nations Security Council ”to assume its responsibilities in the face of the deteriorating situation in Libya and take the necessary measures to impose an air exclusion zone for Libyan warplanes”.

The decision was adopted by nine of the 11 foreign ministers attending the meeting at the league’s Cairo headquarters, from which Libya was excluded. Algeria and Syria voted against the move.  The pan-Arab organisation also announced its recognition of the transitional national council set up by the rebels in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi.

US forces continue to accumulate in the Mediterranean.  I remain unconvinced by the case for intervention, although obviously if it happens the more multilateral the better. I suspect at this point that the rebels will require more than simply a no fly zone in order to prevail; even shipments of food and military equipment may not cut it.  At the same time, prospects for Libya following a notional Gaddafi victory are really quite grim, especially given the large number of defections from the state that accompanied the first demonstrations.

…I suppose I should expand a bit, based on some of the comments below. As Mojo suggests, there’s not a lot of evidence right now that Gaddafi’s ability to use airpower is decisive, as his loyalists seem to have material and organizational advantages beyond airpower, although preventing the use of helicopters would probably help more than stopping the fixed wing bombing. If the US really wanted to overturn Gaddafi, something along the lines of the Afghan Model would probably work. This would involve using Libyan rebel forces to support and screen US SOF while applying air and sea precision strike. I suspect that the military and political effect of such operations would be dramatic and decisive. However, that would still leave a large number of strategic and grand strategic questions unanswered. On the former, these include but are not limited to:

  • Who shall we install in Tripoli?
  • How much should we support the new government against pro-Gaddafi insurgents?
  • What shall we do if the new government decides to settle scores in a brutal fashion?

On the grand strategic level, the questions include:

  • Does the US need to intervene in every civil war everywhere, even if neighbors are very supportive of a particularly faction?
  • How will another US military intervention in an Islamic country play?

I suspect that an inability to answer these questions satisfactorily is driving the policy ambiguity in Washington and in Europe.

… A couple people in comments wonder why the United States would have to decide “Who shall we install in Tripoli?”  The answer doesn’t depend on the point “Well, because we’re imperalists,” although of course that can be part of the answer. As there is no unified opposition, in any military cooperation with the rebels, the United States would have to find particular rebel leaders and factions to work with.  Working with them (even to the extent that we hand over the keys of Tripoli) is tantamount to deciding who gets Tripoli in the end; by necessity the people we decide to engage with will have a tremendous advantage in any post-Gaddafi struggle for power.  We can’t throw open the gates of Libya, then “let the Libyans decide for themselves;” the very act of throwing open the gates requires intervention that will work to the benefit of certain actors, thus necessitating the question “Who shall we install in Tripoli?”

No Fly Zoning…

[ 16 ] March 10, 2011 |

A no fly zone over Libya has at least one set of ready advocates:

Now [F-22] advocates are arguing that the world’s most capable tactical aircraft should be used to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. It can, advocates note, survive in an area defended by the best opposing anti-aircraft systems and it can destroy them. This is being linked with calls — mostly from Republicans but Democrats are speaking out as well — to do something to help the Libyan opposition against the badly tailored and worse coiffed man who sort of leads the country: Muammar Gaddafi.

In a piece titled, “U.S. Fifth Generation Fighters Could Enforce No-Fly Zones,” the Lexington Institute’s Dan Goure argues for the plane’s deployment: “Apparently, the Secretary forgot that he has an airplane specifically designed to operate in contested airspace, full of hostile SAMs and aircraft.”

We have the equipment, so of course we have to find a mission. Airpower advocates have also been active in a more general sense:

Dominating Libyan airspace would not be a tough or geographically overwhelming task for the U.S. and its allies, say airpower advocates. Objections to the U.S. establishing a no-fly zone over Libya are based on erroneous suppositions made by leaders in the Pentagon – such as U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis – who do not have the aviation experience needed to make such a decision, say two senior, retired U.S. Air Force officers.

There also have been mutterings among aviation advocates that the no-fly zone idea is being downplayed so that budget support for Army and Marine Corps ground forces will not be minimized by some sort of aerial coup. Those opposing the hands-off approach of the U.S. Pentagon are promoting a congressional call-in campaign in support of allied domination of Libyan airspace.

For my part, I wholly agree that establishing a no fly zone over Libya would be a manageable technical problem; the US would be exceedingly unlikely to lose any aircraft, and the operation could be conducted without unduly stretching US capabilities. The problems of a no fly zone have been and remain political; there is little agreement as to what the eventual goal of a no fly zone would be (extension of the civil war, destruction of Gaddafi regime, etc.), or of how a no fly zone fits into wider regional strategy.

See Christopher Albon for a list of arguments pro- and anti. See this CSBA report for a budgetary analysis of no fly zone options.

Libya Updates

[ 7 ] March 7, 2011 |

It’s a day old and so probably outdated in some respects, but see this good update from Juan Cole on the civil war in Libya. See also this report that the United States may have asked the Saudis to airlift weapons to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, and that the US may be lending some reconnaissance and signals intel to the rebels. Finally, see this piece on the potential for food assistance to rebel forces.

Airpower in Libya

[ 1 ] March 6, 2011 |

Alex Harrowell has an excellent post on how we should think about airpower in the Libyan Civil War. The main point is that the effect of airpower is likely to be felt less in terms of the ability of Gaddafi’s forces to carry out tactical and strategic airstrikes against rebel forces, and more in terms of airlift capacity. This makes a no fly zone very complicated, because it would involve threatening to shoot down military cargo aircraft and, potentially, civilian aircraft converted to military airlift purposes.

Prospects for Restoration Make a Very Mild Uptick

[ 6 ] March 3, 2011 |

For what it’s worth, the heir to the Libyan throne seems to be on the right side of history:

Muhammad bin Sayyid Hassan as- Senussi, who would be Libya’s crown prince if the country still had a monarchy, said the people who were “killed by the brutal forces” of President Muammar Qaddafi are “heroes” and that their struggle will soon be victorious.

Qadaffi’s “fight to stay in power will not last long, because of the desire for freedom by the Libyan people,” Senussi, whose great-uncle King Idris was overthrown by Qaddafi in 1969, said in an e-mailed statement from London today. He called upon the international community “to halt all support for the dictator with immediate effect.”

Qaddafi’s crackdown on a week-long uprising, inspired by protests that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, has left more than 200 dead as regime supporters fired on demonstrators in Tripoli, according to Human Rights Watch. Libya’s royal family, which was for a period held under house arrest by Qaddafi, emigrated to the U.K. in 1988, according to the statement.

Briefly, on No Fly…

[ 30 ] March 2, 2011 |

There’s a lot of interesting stuff out on the utility of a no fly zone over Libya; I’d recommend Spencer, David Axe, Adam Elkus, and Magnus to start. The operational details are actually pretty important, because the political impact of any effort to enforce a no fly zone depends on decisions to pre-emptively suppress the Libyan air defense network, to attack Libyan airbases, to exempt rebel aircraft, to destroy Libyan helicopters, and so forth.

I am generally reluctant to adopt the position that advocacy of any particular military action makes one “just like a neocon”; I think that there is, within the larger family of potential military interventions, a number of actions that don’t “rise to neoconservatism”, and the advocacy of which doesn’t necessarily make one a “hawk.” No fly zones are a pretty non-invasive way of invading a country, so to speak. However, we shouldn’t be under any illusions about the political decision to intervene militarily in the Libyan civil war. Any decision to intervene means, effectively, that we have decided on regime change in Libya. This is to say that we’ve decided the rebels should win, and we’re willing to undertake steps that will make it easier for them to do so. When understood in this context, enforcement of a no fly zone is different from forcibly seizing Tripoli only in the level of Western risk and material commitment. It’s not even clear that seizing Tripoli with the USMC and handing it over to the rebels would be less bloody than letting them bludgeon Gaddafi’s remaining forces into submission in a long ground campaign.

As such, advocates of a no fly zone have to answer two difficult questions. First, to what extent do we really want to be responsible for installing the next regime in Tripoli? This is what we’d be doing, because a no fly zone is a military intervention intended to help one party win. Second, what if Gaddafi wins in spite of the enforcement of a no fly zone? There was a point at which Saddam Hussein seemed utterly dead in 1991, with a no fly zone appearing to be the coup de grace. Committing the United States to regime change in the form of enforcing a no fly zone made 2003 radically more likely, if not inevitable.

Advocates of a no fly zone, even those I respect, haven’t answered these questions to my satisfaction.

Libyan Uranium

[ 8 ] November 27, 2010 |

One lesson I take from this is the US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation is altogether a good thing:

In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.

The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.

For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.

Read the rest. The downside of letting the hacks at the Heritage Foundation call the tune on GOP nuclear policy is that relatively small, little known moments like this become precarious. Pretending that we can dictate to Russia, and that Moscow’s preferences matter for naught, is extraordinarily dangerous.

Well, I’m in Favor of Abolishing Delaware…

[ 0 ] September 7, 2009 |

I’m sure that folks have already seen this:

Farhan Haq told the Swiss News Agency that Libya had submitted the proposal for discussion by the General Assembly. It was thrown out by the committee responsible for setting the assembly’s agenda, since it contradicted the principles of the UN charter.

Swiss parliamentarian Christa Markwalder had told a Swiss public television news programme on Wednesday that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi intended to present the proposal to the United Nations General Assembly, which he is due to address on September 23.

Gaddafi first mentioned the idea of dismemberment during the G8 summit in Italy in July. Switzerland “is a world mafia and not a state”, he said, adding that it was “formed of an Italian community that should return to Italy, another German community that should return to Germany, and a third French community that should return to France”.

Discuss: What countries should be abolished? I say Austria; it’s just like another little Germany all tucked away down there, and really, does the world need two Germanys?

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