Thus far, militarily, this has been a perfect campaign. The alliance have acted in a measured and restrained manner to implement the UN resolution to the letter, they are implementing a no fly zone (NFZ) and they are removing threats to the population. As I explained in an earlier article this involved severely degrading Gaddafi’s C4ISTAR, taking his airforce out on the ground and dropping bombs against military assets being used against civilians.
Most of the heavy lifting in this has come from America. They are providing our C4ISTAR, using a wide range of unique assets and capabilities. USMC Harriers, flying from the USS Kearsarge parked off the Libyan coast, are flying large numbers of ground attack missions against Gaddafi’s army. Each night 3 B2s stealth bombers fly all the way from Missouri, carrying 15 2,000lb JDAM munitions each, that have destroyed Gaddafi’s airforce in their Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). Nearly all the cruise missile strikes against Libyan targets have come from American ships.
The NFZ started around Benghazi, where the need was greatest and is gradually being extended towards Tripoli as the alliance air assets become available. The armoured column attacking Benghazi was destroyed (just in time) by French and USMC aircraft. Now Gaddafi forces attacking the civilian populations in other towns are receiving the same treatment. Their integrated air defence has been massively degraded but is still capable of taking out alliance aircraft, especially using Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and shoulder launched missiles. Command and control centres have been flattened.
From an air war point of view it is nearly all over, most things worth destroying within the UN mandate are now destroyed. Most of the intact assets that Gaddafi has left are his remaining army hardware of tanks, artillery etc.Â The rebels on the ground are looking upon the allied air forces for support in their attacks on Gaddafi. They will not receive this. The bombing of Gaddafi’s army is only happening when they are attacking or threatening civilians.
The allied intelligence and targeting has been mightily impressive, they must know when anything moves in the country and what side it is on. Taking out three buses full of Gaddafi’s elite troops on their way to Benghazi being a typical application of this knowledge.
Less impressive have been the politicians, mostly trying to score points regardless of the damage they might do to this vital humanitarian mission. The French, the Arabs and the Turks say that they don’t want NATO in charge. The Italians say that unless NATO is in charge they will kick all the foreign aircraft off their bases. The non aligned countries like India and Brazil are whingeing from the sidelines. Of the leaders only Obama and Cameron are looking impressive and statesmanlike, focussing on the mission and the job in hand.
The end game here is the establishment of a secular, pluralistic democracy in Libya and we are currently a very long way away from that. Removing Gaddafi will be just one step on the road to getting there. The West will need to provide a wide range of support of many kinds along the route. The one good thing is that Libya has the oil money to pay for this.