The fight for Libya

Samia Nakhoul reports:

By the time the outside world agrees on a response to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s bloody onslaught against a popular revolt, it could all be over.

The advance of Gaddafi’s better-armed forces, who seem to have shown little regard for civilians when storming in to retake rebel strongholds, has outrun the slow pace of hesitant initiatives being discussed by European, U.S. and Arab leaders.

An Arab League call for the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone to protect the revolt, was welcomed by France, which has taken a lead in backing the rebels and will host G8 foreign ministers in Paris Monday.

But others, notably the United States and other European Union states such as Germany, remain very cautious about military engagement. No U.N. Security Council meeting had yet been scheduled, despite events racing in Libya.

“The international community is dragging its feet,” said Saad Djebbar, a London lawyer and expert on Libyan affairs. “The diplomatic pace is very slow. There is an urgency to act quickly before those people are finished off by Gaddafi’s forces.”

“The international community has to act now — not only to protect Benghazi from an onslaught but because of what it means for the rest of the world if Gaddafi is allowed to remain the leader of Libya,” said Geoff Porter, a U.S.-based political risk consultant who specializes in North Africa.

After the relatively peaceful and speedy overthrow of Arab strongmen in Egypt and Tunisia, Western disarray on Libya may persuade other authoritarian rulers facing unrest, from Yemen to Bahrain, that the best antidote to revolt is violence.

“If they allow Gaddafi to win, that would encourage other Arab despotic regimes to use brutal force against their people to stamp out revolt,” Djebbar said. “This will erase the gains of the people power we have seen in Egypt and Tunis.

“It sends a very bad signal to other movements.”

Reuters reports:

Muammar Gaddafi’s troops seized the strategic Libyan oil town of Brega on Sunday, forcing rebels to retreat eastward and putting extra pressure on world powers still deliberating on a no-fly zone.

The government offensive had already driven the rebels out of Ras Lanuf, another oil terminal 100 km to the west on the coast road, and the seizure of Brega and its refinery deprived the rebels of more territory and yet another source of fuel.

The government, in a message on state television, said it was certain of victory and threatened to “bury” the rebels, who it linked to al Qaeda and “foreign security services.”

Riad Kahwaji writes:

Some Arab defense experts believe it is time for the Arab States to stand up and take responsibilities in their own hands and come to the aid of the Libyans. Retired Major General Khaled Al-Bu Ainnain, former commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense, believes that some GCC states and Egypt can mount a joint operation and successfully enforce an NFZ over Libya. “The UAE Air Force can deploy couple of squadrons – one F-16 Block 60 and another Mirage 2000-9 – the Saudi Air Force can deploy a couple of F-15S squadrons and Egypt a couple of F-16 squadrons out of Mersi Matrouh Air Base in western Egypt,” Al-Bu Ainnain said. “This would provide 120 fighters and attack aircrafts that would be backed with airborne early warning planes like Egyptian E-2C Hawkeye or Saudi AWACS, some unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for reconnaissance, and air-refueling tankers from Saudi Arabia and couple of Egyptian or UAE helicopter squadrons comp osed of Apache Longbow gunships, Blackhawks and Chinook helicopters, for search and rescue missions.” Crews and troops needed for the operation could be quickly airlifted to western Egypt, and even Algeria, within hours using a large fleet of UAE and Egyptian C-130 and Qatari C-17 transporters.

Observers believe the area of operations for any force executing an NFZ over Libya now would be confined to the area between the capital Tripoli and the City of Cert and down south to Sebha in the center. The rest of the country is under rebel control. The Libyan Air Force is comprised of aging Cold War-era Soviet supplied fighters like Su-22, MiG-21 and MiG-23 and one remaining operational Mirage F-1 and some 30 MiMi-24 Helicopter gunships. According to reports out of Libya, only few Su-22 and MiG-23 aircrafts were seen involved in the air raids in addition to MiMi-24 gunships. As for Air Defense, Gadhafi’s forces are believed to be in possession of a few batteries of Soviet-era SAM-2, SAM-3 and SAM-6 surface to air missiles. “All of the Libyan Air Defense SAM’s and radars can be taken out swiftly by the arsenal of smart weapons and cruise missiles in possession today by GCC and Egyptian Air Forces,” Al-Bu Ainnain said. “Runways can be destr oyed with bunker-busters to ground all the jets, and the gunships can be easily destroyed on the ground.” He pointed out that GCC and Egyptian Air Forces have considerably enhanced their joint-operations capabilities as a result of almost annual exercises they have done together along with the U.S. and some EU countries. “Issues related to command and control and interoperability would be resolved quickly which would ensure a smooth running of NFZ operations.”

The Washington Post reports:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday that the U.S. military, already fighting two wars in Muslim nations, would have no trouble enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya if President Obama orders one.

The comments appeared designed to counter the criticism surrounding his earlier remarks on the issue and came as the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone to protect Libya’s civilians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

Gates indicated earlier this month that the creation of a no-fly zone would be a “big operation.” NATO would need to deploy an array of air power to target not only defense systems and fighter jets, but also the low-flying attack helicopters that Gaddafi has used against rebels and civilian protesters.

The assessment drew criticism, in particular, from those who favor a more aggressive American response to the Libyan conflict, now tilting back in favor of Gaddafi’s better-armed forces. Some accused Gates of inflating the dangers and scope of a no-fly zone mission over a large desert country with a small population.

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8 thoughts on “The fight for Libya

  1. Renfro

    I am not clear on whether the US has pressured the Arab League or the League has come around on a no fly zone for Libya on their own…confident maybe that the next hurdle to action will be a UNSC passage ….which Russia and China are sure to veto?

    This is a long, long, long game…by design it looks to me.

    Can the rebels hold out long enough to embarrass the world further….is it even possible to embarrass the US or the UN or the Arab league into action?

  2. Ian Arbuckle

    Just a thought? Could the callous and pragmatic game plan be. No NFZ now, let things degenerate so that the “unruly” opposition is cut down to desperation, Gaddafi and his thugs exercise proceed with their heavy handed justice against the uprising all the way to Benghazi, and then only then a massive US lead onslaught so that any and all parties in the conflict cannot resist “the West’s” dictate, of course done out of “humanitarian urgency”.

    Where as if they intervene today with a simple NFZ, they may turn the balance in favour of a bunch of rebels who have equally no time for any western dictates….??

    Its not what you do but when and how you do it. Its all in the timing!

  3. Colm O' Toole

    That’s a great link to Al Jazeera’s Empire. A good discussion on the NFZ everyone should take 25 mins out to watch it.

    There are also plenty of valid proposals floating around that could assist the rebels without the US-EU sending in the military. The Dubai based Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) has proposed an Arab No Fly Zone. Egypt has the largest air force in the Arab world and is located right next to Libya.

    “Retired Major General Khaled Al-Bu Ainnain, former commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense, believes that some GCC states and Egypt can mount a joint operation and successfully enforce an NFZ over Libya. “The UAE Air Force can deploy couple of squadrons – one F-16 Block 60 and another Mirage 2000-9 – the Saudi Air Force can deploy a couple of F-15S squadrons and Egypt a couple of F-16 squadrons out of Mersi Matrouh Air Base in western Egypt,”

    Report link:

    Turkey is also mounting a relief convoy to Benghazi which will dock in the rebel held port city Monday night. For the last week there have been reports that shops in Benghazi have been running low on food. Everyone knows that an army marches on its stomach so sending in food aid would be a good non controversial way of helping the rebels.

    “The ships contain 32 tons of medicine, 388 tons of food, 2,000 tents, 20,000 blankets, 72 tons of water, two mobile kitchens and a mobile oven, the ministry said, adding that a 13-member Turkish Red Crescent team and a 16-member team from the Gulf state are also on their way to the North African country.”


    Also of course intelligence sharing would be a discreet way of helping the rebels I doubt to much people would be upset if the US or EU handed the rebels a few folders with spy satellite imagery of the front lines to the rebels.

    All in all, while I’m against a NATO NFZ, an Arab-led one would be fairly non-controversial. Doubt anyone would protest about nations giving the rebels all the food and medical supplies they need and Benghazi being a port town is ideal for resupplies. Plenty of ways militaries can give assistance to the rebels without a visible footprint like passing along intelligence.

  4. M. Smith

    Excellent points, Colm.

    And I agree the “Empire” segment is informative and of course raises as many questions as it answers re US led NFZ. Panelists mention the many times NFZ fail to stop onslaughts. Which could certainly be true in Libya. Then what? Up the ante? To what?

    I wish Paul would address these and other issue you and I have raised here about the specifics of getting in and… OUT.

  5. Dieter Heymann

    Two essential questions dominate the Libya conundrum. One: should the Obama administration, hence our nation be involved? Two: should the Obama administration, hence our nation choose sides? My answer to the first question is yes but only very patiently and together with Europe, China and Russia for a long haul to assist in bringing about the badly needed divorce of the shotgun marriage of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in this oil-rich land.
    My answer to the second question is an emphatic no. The despotic rule of a unified Libya by a Tripolitanian dictator with its sham of local autonomy for Cyrenaica has failed. I can absolutely guarantee that the rule of a united Libya by a Cyrenaican ruler, who cannot remain in power without dictatorial means and a sham of local autonomy for the Tripolitanians will turn out to be an equally dismal failure, so why even entertain and encourage such Quixotic nonsense? In fact, the rebels recklessly overplayed their hand by attempting to capture the city of Tripoli for which they are now suffering the consequences.
    Any interference by outsiders must have as its goal the ultimate division of Libya, a sort of Cyprus-like solution (I hold that a Lebanon-like solution cannot work in a united Libya) and not the removal of Gadhaffi. If the Tripolitanians want to continue to have Gadhaffi as their ruler so be it and the outsiders must not prevent that.
    The very first blunder of the Obama administration was therefore to make the removal of Gadhaffi a major objective. The establishment of a no-fly-zone which is choosing sides will only throw more fuel into the Libyan fire hence will become a second blunder. In fact the current policy of the Obama administration is steering again towards a Quixotic failure. It strives to “work together with the international community” towards a pie-in-the-sky solution. It must be turned around before it is too late.

  6. Christopher Hoare

    The best hope for the lives and safety of the Libyan uprising (mostly civilians, remember) would clearly be an all-Arab intervention. This site seems to have many participants whose eyes don’t see beyond Long Island, but at least they recognize that US intervention would most likely be another disaster.
    Unfortunately, while the Arab League seems to be making up its mind to do something — which I believe they can do under the terms of that political institution – the African Union has too many Qaddhafi cronies to accept their resolve (M.K. Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online). The world urgently needs implementation of the UN “Responsibility to Protect” resolutions before the Mugabes and Gbagbos of Africa are handed a veto over our international institutions.

  7. Norman

    As I wrote my comment about Bahrain, let this be a lesson to the American public if they dare challenge the Plutocracy here in the U.S.A. At least that’s what the power people would like to believe. But I’m not so sure that the Government can muster the American troops to fire on their own here? Through the General staff’s bungling of just the 2 conflicts in the new century, the governments treatment to the over 2 million vets of these 2 conflicts, and the other untold vets that have conveniently fallen through the cracks, there doesn’t seem to be the numbers needed to control, let alone start slaughtering said uprising if it does take place. Of course, I guess the DoD/Pentagon can recruit mercenaries, but not sure that they would want to come here to fight.

  8. Mike 71

    There is no question that any U.S., or other Western intervention, i.e. NATO, would irrevocably taint the Libyan Revolution! This must be exclusively an Arab League R2P operation in order to insure that the people of Libya “own” their revolution, free of American control, or influence! The primary advantage to sole Arab League operation is that it would establish the League’s commitment to democracy and opposition to butchery, as presently conducted by Gaddhafi. It will also establish the League as a force for defense of the Arab world, just as NATO has been for Europe.

    Perhaps, my only dispute is waiting for the UAE and other GCC nations to act, when Egypt due to its proximity to Libya, could act promptly and decisively; Egypt is in a far better position to respond quickly and coordinate this than the GCC states!

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