Mission creep seems to be inevitable in any military venture, the Americans sent a few military advisers to Vietnam and ended up in a long and bloody war, we went (illegally) into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and ended up nation building in a long guerilla war. It is the inevitability of the way that politicians work and often comes from the absence of a clear exit strategy. However in Libya the politicians are at least constrained by a clear UN resolution.
Just recently, in what is widely perceived as mission creep, Britain, France and Italy have sent military advisers to Banghazi. These guys are there in a management role, to help the rebels actually run the war, to help them up a very steep learning curve. These advisers will have been to staff college courses and will have practical real world experience of running a war so their presence will give the rebels a huge advantage over Gaddafi’s forces. Also they will be in a position to help to make sure the transition to democracy runs smoothly when Gaddafi falls.
In another piece of mission creep the Americans have sent armed Predator drones. These have the advantages that they fly slowly and can loiter over a target area for a long time gathering intelligence before striking with precision. This enables them to hit smaller targets and to operate in an urban environment. Some think that they are specifically there to go Colonel hunting.
The stalemate phase of the war is now over and Gaddafi has gone on the defensive as his losses start to become palpable. In Misrata the rebels have been supplied from the sea and have been clearing Gaddafi’s forces out of Tripoli Street, which has been the main battle zone. In the East the rebels are advancing but in a more slow and considered way than last time. The allied air forces have, in steady attrition, have destroyed about half of Gaddafi’s heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery, they have done an excellent job. Over the last week they seem to have been targeting command and control resources on the ground to prevent the Libyan military effectively operating. Gaddafi has lost a lot of soldiers and those he has left are spread very thinly. All over the country there are continuous uprisings as the oppressed population detect Gaddafi’s weakness and seize their chance to be rid of his venal rule. Ultimately it is the fact that the people of Libya don’t want him that will see him gone.
So mission creep is a good thing at this time because we have just gone past the tipping point and so even small extra capabilities will make Gaddafi’s losses snowball, bringing his demise more quickly thus saving lives and minimising the general destruction of war.
Meanwhile, conveniently ignored by Western leaders, things have got a lot worse in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. In Bahrain the Sunni secret police and military are trying to smash the Shia majority into submission and compliance. This is nasty and dirty with lots of people murdered on a daily basis. But Bahrain are our allies so this is OK. Syria is Libya Mk2. The vast majority of the population there are fed up with a highly oppressive, dynastic rule which denies them all their basic human rights. Bashar al-Assad is using a lot of force against his people, also on a daily basis. Presumably, if we get the timing right, we will be able to transfer all our military assets from the Libyan to the Syrian theatre of operations when Gaddafi falls. Yemen is headed to being a failed state like Somalia, in which case the pirates will close down the Red Sea and Suez Canal as a trade route.
What we are seeing is the final resolution of the problems created when the Ottoman Empire collapsed nearly a century ago. We are headed for a very interesting year or so and the Western leaders have a huge responsibility to give the right help to the right people at the right time. With good judgement we can immensely improve the quality of life of many millions of people in the region. Let’s hope that Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy are up to the job.