Opinion: Libya – Where now?

In my second article on the Libyan conflict (read the first one here) I want to look at possible solutions and answers and creative ways that the international coalition can ensure that the war is brought to a quick and decisive conclusion.

The central problem is that Resolution 1973 is not up to the task at hand and either needs to be circumvented or rewritten. Without the right mandate it will be very difficult to win this war. Creative thinking and diplomacy are urgently required.

Supporting the Rebels
One hundred days in it is shocking that this amateur and brave army has not received more support from the international community. Reports indicate that they still lack the most basic of equipment including cars, binoculars and medical supplies.

We need to ensure that that the rebels are supplied with the weaponry and basic equipment that they need. This irregular army needs proper training and leadership. Too many assaults are ill planned and executed. This army acts as a series of small isolated groups rather than any coordinated fighting force.

We need to provide training to improve their fighting effectiveness. The rebels need proper radios for communications and training in how to provide NATO forces with accurate and timely coordinates of Libyan heavy weaponry. The integration of targeting from the ground with use of air power must be a key priority. The use of National Technical Means, satellites and drones alone will only get you so far. Already Libyan Army forces are using gaps in the air coverage.

While some military advisers have been deployed, they are very few and far between and they are apparently not playing any front line role. There is no real evidence that international forces are actively training the rebels. While some equipment has been supplied it is far from the minimum that is required.

The coalition needs to find ways to build the international will to strengthen 1973 to allow military advisors to help train the rebels and supply them with proper equipment. Experience from Afghanistan and Iraq shows that even when training is supplied it takes a very long time to transform irregular units in to professional fighting forces. While some equipment is coming in from the land bridge opened up between the rebels and Tunisia this is not enough.

It is clear that the Libyan army are also changing their military tactics in response to the air war and are now copying the rebels. They now use ‘radicals’ or pickup trucks with RPG’s, machine guns, and rocket launchers both to be more mobile and to circumvent coalition air strikes. Already, the coalition has wrongly attacked rebel forces on at least two occasions. It must be possible to provide GPS transmitters to be fitted to the rebel’s vehicles so the rebels can be identified to airpower and are seen on the battle field in real time. The British army regularly uses hand held laser guided sights too ‘illuminate targets’ to air power. This technology either needs to be made available to the rebels or we need to deploy spotters to the field of battle. This kind of technology would help to prevent the movement and any effective deployment of heavy weaponry while minimising ‘collateral damage’.

More airpower?
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies of the 10,000 sorties flown since mid March, one-third have been strike sorties against ground targets. In comparison that is about one-third of the rate achieved over Serbia and Kosovo in 1999. The US withdrew from manned combat missions in early April; more should be done to encourage them to return to the fray.

Greater use of Propaganda and Intelligence
The Coalition could be making better use of propaganda such as using naval vessels to broadcast a rebel radio station across the costal towns of Libya to encourage further opposition and to reassure the population. This would help to undermine the regime.

While some high level members of the Gadhafi regime have left, more should be done to undermine the regime from the inside out using intelligence operations with the aid of the Arab nation’s intelligence services.

More needs to be done to build and develop the rebels and opposition forces and to train and promote them on the international stage so they are seen by ordinary Libyans as a real and credible alternative government.

Targeting Gadhafi should be resisted
The coalition appears to be operating the ‘not exactly targeting’ Gadhafi strategy, as a way out of this mess. This should be resisted. It is illegal to assassinate a head of state. Such targeting sets a bad precedence and undermines the international anarchic system and the universal notion of state sovereignty. Instead, the coalition should be working with Arab intelligence services, helping persuade him to exit the stage. Unfortunately, the decision of the ICC to indict him with war crimes may make this harder to achieve.

After 100 days of conflict it is clear that the rebel forces are too weak and are too disorganised to have a decisive strategic impact. NATO air strikes are beginning to have some impact but not a decisive one. The biggest problem is that rebel ground forces and NATO air strikes are effectively operating as two distinct and separate military campaigns, happening in parallel-but not in tandem. The air and the ground wars must be integrated. Training the rebels will take time, perhaps too long. This means that some coalition military personnel must be deployed in low numbers to ensure this integration is achieved.

The international community either needs to stretch the terms of 1973 to allow some coalition troops on the ground or NATO and other pro intervention countries need to find the political stomach to go and get a new and stronger mandate from the Security Council.

NATO military personnel and the rebels deserve a clear and workable mandate for conducting military operations, without this in place there can never be a really effective military strategy.

John Russell is a former Lewisham Liberal Democrat councillor and has a Masters Degree in International Politics and Strategic Studies from the University of Wales Aberystwyth.

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  • The UN has not supported regime change.

    In general the UK should not go around over-throwing the governments of other countries.

    There is not an overwhelming moral case to use force to replace Gaddafi with the Benghazi rebel leaders.

  • You call the Libyan Rebels “brave”. Are theses not the same Rebels the U.N accused of committing war crimes? Sending more death and destruction to the conflict will only result in more civilian casualties. Look at the pictures on your TV screen, it is not just Gadaffi firing rockets wildly. The rebels point some “Stalins organs” in the general direction and hope for the best…!
    What is needed is a ceasefire, not more death and destruction.

  • So what you are suggesting is an illegal incursion into a sovereign country currently led by a brutal dictator by circumventing the authority of the UN or at least pushing a resolution of the security council beyond it’s intended use. Unless of course you believe that both Russia and China will support a second one.

    Iraq 2003 all over again only this time it is a Lib Dem War…………..

    Frankly we should never have become involved because we are not the worlds policeman. If we were Mugabe would be higher on the list. We have no plan for post Gaddafi, and nor do you suggest one. We have no knowledge of what will fill the power vacum if he is removed, or whether it will be hostile to the West. Having forced Gaddafi to stop sponsoring Terrorism we are now entering the unknown.

    If he stays in power what incentive is there for him not to return to weapons of mass destruction or sponsoring those who would directly attack us?

    If he loses will we be better off ?
    What about the inevitable rerisals against regime supporters ? How do we protect them ?

    The Lib Dems rightly criticised Labour for a lack of planning for post conflict, and yet have done the same in power. It’s a mess.

  • John Russell 1st Jul '11 - 7:33am

    @ Richard This is a very valid point of view but this was a decision to take before 1973 was put forward and we started military intervention. Now that we have intervened we have a duty of care to protect civilians and leaving them besieged in a divided country is not doing that.

  • John Russell 1st Jul '11 - 7:38am

    @ Ivan yes a ceasefire would be welcome and if negotiations are possible they should be undertaken but I see little sign that this will happen. I would hope that more military help and advisors on the ground would to prevent any war crimes or random firing on civilians by the rebels. I feel these kinds of acts are more likely if we leave the rebels fighting on the ground alone particularly the longer the fighting goes on an the more protracted the conflict becomes.

  • John Russell 1st Jul '11 - 7:47am

    @ Steve yes this is a mess. I guess that this is my central argument. I am suggesting that we stretch the limits of the resolution or we get a stronger one. To be frank, I feel we should have never started intervention with the mandate we have. Intervene in hast repent at leisure. There are some interesting legal arguments about the legality of supplying arms and which resolution carries the trump card between 1970 and 1973. There is an argument which says that supplying some arms to the rebels can be a means of protecting civilians. This is certainly the line that the French have taken since they admitted that they are supplying arms to the rebels after I wrote this article. The legal situation is not clear and continuing legal disputes are a recipe for international division which is not what the Libya people need from those who are meant to be protecting them.

  • @Geoff Payne
    “In hindsight we should not have attacked Libya, it has caused more problems than it has solved.”

    There were plenty of voices speaking out against the extent of the military intervention in Libya (see for example the thread below from 21st March). I suggest, therefore, that there was plenty of foresight.


    Some day I think I might join the crowd, just to avoid the experience of being repeatedly trampled on.

  • “There is an argument which says that supplying some arms to the rebels can be a means of protecting civilians.”

    Apart from the civilians on the other side. The west should have learnt this lesson from arming Bin LAden and co in the 80’s….

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