This story of an American plane crashing in Libya – not due to enemy fire, but mechanical problems of all things – is very concerning and a gigantic example of what could go wrong. As it is, the intervention force has had to send ground forces into Libya in order to extract the pilots safely. Rebels got to them first, thank God. If it had been Gaddafi loyalists, it would have been a Somali-esque situation.
This is the sort of thing that the NFZ supporters, those who couldn’t have been louder in their calls for the UN to do something, just cannot comprehend. Libya might be a backward country, with an unsophisticated military, but it doesn’t even matter. Western planes can still go down without any help from Libyan AA. And that is trouble. Military personnel, American, French, British, are in danger every day this NFZ is in place.
And they are in danger for an operation that is a command mess. It is astonishing to realise that the involved nations committed to attacking Libyan ground forces before working out an effective command structure. Now, we see clashes between the UN, NATO, the US and Italy over just who is in charge, just who is going to be in charge next week, where the planes for the NFZ are going to be flying out of, just how long the mission will be.
And Italy, a nation far closer to Libya then most of the others who are involved, looks close to cutting and running from this operation. And who can blame them? It isn’t their fight.
The Arab League as well, one of those groups who called for an NFZ, is now horrified at what that NFZ entailed, strikes on Libyan AA capability. What, they didn’t consider that? They thought that French planes could curb Gaddafi just by their mere presence? The worm turns, as praise becomes condemnations. Turns out the Arab world isn’t a big fan of American missiles falling on their soil. Go figure.
And the mission, such as it is, remains unclear and ill-defined. What is the end goal and how long is it going to take to get to that point? Is this intervention designed to overthrow Gaddafi? If so, will it be by direct action (the strikes on his residence would indicate this is the case) or indirect action (diplomatic pressure backed up by more limited military strikes)? Is is just to protect the rebels? Where? Are we creating a new state in Eastern Libya, just as modern Kurdistan was largely born from the Iraqi NFZ? That option will require the commitment of ground forces at some point.
And, the question none of the pro-NFZ guys want to even touch: What the hell do we do if the rebels lose? If, a week from now, Benghazi falls, or the rebels disperse?
The United Nations rushed into this war. And that is what this is, war. The United Nations is using military force to enact a political end when peaceful methods have failed. This war will, in its current course, either end with a whimper a few weeks from now as the various nations and groups give up and think better off it (and when the media finds a new thing to be outraged about) or it will escalate into a peacekeeping/enforcement mission, with troops in place to either end Gaddafi’s regime at the point of a gun, or secure a new, Eastern Libyan state at the point of a gun.
The operation to this point has been an embarrassing mess politically. Civilians have died, Gaddafi is still in power, and the rebels are still weak. In the long game, as Gaddafi has threatened to play, there will be only one winner without escalation. Is that escalation worth it?
The people of Syria and Bahrain might think so, but the west does not care about them. No, we only care for Libya. No one is able to tell me why. They tell me we have to send a message to the Middle-East. That message appears to be “Don’t be the main headline and you can crackdown all you want”. They tell me Libya is too close to Europe to be ignored. I say this is very logical and ask when will we commence operation against Belarus, which is actually bordering the EU?
The trust being put into the hands of the rebels is immense by the way. The western militaries trust them to mark targets with laser pointers and the like, for air forces to bomb. That is all well and good, a requirement if the west will not commit to having their own land forces to mark those targets. But I am reminded of a conversation from Generation Kill, on the subject of giving local Iraqi civilians such power on a whim:
“How the hell do we know if these people will just mark the houses of those they owe money to?”
How do we know the Libyan rebels are marking the right targets?
Lastly, if there is one thing that strikes me about this whole debate, it’s how little both sides of the divide know about the rebels. I’ll ask each and every person who reads this post, right now, without typing a quick Google search: What is the name of the rebel leader?
I’m sure some will know. Many won’t. Many of those are the ones who want us to support the rebels anyway, without even knowing who is giving them orders. The mind boggles.
It’s this guy by the way.