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The political dance choreographing who takes lead against Libya

Mark Urban | 17:55 UK time, Sunday, 20 March 2011

The campaign unleashed against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces is a two tier effort.

That underlines deep political differences among Western nations about how much force should be applied and what the "end state", or aim of the violence, should be.

Watching the way that the initial strikes against Libya have been mounted, the existence of this dual approach to the problem has become quite evident.

It has also conditioned the types of weapons, and bases employed.

UK, French and US forces have started a "coalition of the willing" operation against Col Gaddafi's forces that has included bombing air defences and at least one ground column heading for Benghazi.

Several of the other countries that met on Saturday in Paris to discuss "support to the Libyan People", do not wish to drop bombs on that country or, in some cases, allow their bases to be used for that purpose.

So the offensive that began yesterday has involved the use of long range attacks and avoided the Nato chain of command. It is being co-ordinated by the US Africa Command, under General Carter Ham.

US briefings suggest that this wave of strikes has been sufficiently effective to allow patrolling of the skies over North Africa to begin soon, and this will mark the second stage or tier of the operation.

The wider international operation to enforce the no-fly zone will be done through the Nato chain of command, and will be managed by US Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, as we revealed on Friday's Newsnight.

Both commanders are Americans - the general operating through a national headquarters, and the admiral through an alliance, ie a Nato, one.

The use of Gen Ham's headquarters for this purpose is sufficiently sensitive for the French to be denying they are under US operational control.

The methods used to attack the Libyan leader's forces during the first 24 hours relied upon flights from France, the UK, and the US, as well as cruise missiles fired from the high seas.

In other words, they did not involve launching lethal attacks from the territory of that wider club of nations that met in Paris, or indeed of other Nato members.

Military commanders believe that the "coalition of the willing", will be able to bring sufficient combat power to bear in order to cause the fall of Col Gaddafi; the aim that the US, UK and France share.

But if that does not happen relatively quickly there could be growing pressure on other countries to allow their bases to be used for attacks, since the methods used during the initial wave of strikes were relatively inefficient.

The flight of RAF Tornado GR4's from Marham in Norfolk to hit Libyan air defences has been lauded as an impressive feature of airmanship - but it soaked up much of Britain's air-to-air refuelling capability and evidently would have been more efficiently conducted from bases in southern Italy.

France too has stretched its limited refuelling capability in order to hit targets from its own national territory.

Sources suggest that although many RAF and French aircraft were in action during the first 24-hours of the conflict, the number that actually dropped bombs or launched missiles against Libyan ground targets was fewer than one dozen.

US B-2 bombers, and 112 naval cruise missiles were needed to add weight to attack.

If Col Gaddafi does not fall quickly, this level of pain will have to be raised. Instead of hitting a few dozen military objects each 24 hours, the coalition will need to strike many times that number.

Anticipating this, France has ordered its aircraft carrier strike group to sea. The Charles de Gaulle, with its embarked air wing including 18 fast jets, will be able to sail close to the Libyan coast where in-flight refuelling needs will be minimal and the aircraft will be able to reach fleeting targets far more quickly than those launched from France itself.

Although the US has not yet used carrier aviation in this offensive, it is moving to be able to do so. Britain, having recently retired the Ark Royal and its Harrier force, lacks a similar option.

Italy could become a vital part of this operation. However it is not yet clear that the Italians have allowed their bases to be used for bombing attacks (as opposed to patrolling the no-fly zone once it is firmly established, flight refuelling, surveillance, or electronic warfare missions). Reports that some Italian seamen have been seized in Tripoli make their government's dilemma all the harder.

As for the wider coalition effort, including possible arrival of combat aircraft from Arab countries, it has not yet begun.

France in particular is anxious that the Arab public does not see this as a similar US-led operation to the ones which invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, so it has strained every diplomatic and political sinew to take a leading role in the initial phase.

In the coming days though the limitations of the UK and France to apply their military power, such as it is, in pursuit of the Libyan regime change agenda could become clearer if Col Gaddafi's people cling on.

All manner of political tensions might then result, from pressure on other Nato allies to join the strikes to a growing sense that American might may be necessary to finish something that the White House was for weeks very reluctant to get involved in.


  • Comment number 1.


    Many in this country are forced to live in the knowledge that, a few doors down, an oppressive regime is installed at No 666. But even if a coalition of the neighbours are 'willing', they are not allowed to apply sanctions - escalating to violence - and killing. They just have to live with it. WITHIN THESE SHORES, CARING CONSERVATIVE DAVE, PRESIDES OVER UNMITIGATED OPPRESSION.

    It is so glaringly apparent that KILLING FOR THE GREATER GOOD is only enacted, at a distance, inflicted on cheap foreign lives, anonymously.

    If Dave, Liam, (Nick?) and all those squaddies 'doing the job they love' cannot see the truth of this, we are a cerebrally bankrupt nation.

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 3.


    Well - if that isn't a GREAT WAR LEADER I don't know what is.

    It reminded me of when Tony was leaked calling for 'High profile Initiatives with my name on' (or similar). Tony also said: "Every PM needs a war".

    But (as above) it is always anonymous Johnnie Foreigner (and hero British mercenaries) who get killed. Maimed foreigners are simply lost to sight and media, but I would like to see Dave move his desk into the corner of a hopeless 'rehab' ward, for de-limbed, half brained semi-heroes, who did not quite die.

    There you go Cameron: A small corner of a tragedy that is FOREVER 'Dave'. "They shall never be forgotten" - at least by you.

  • Comment number 4.

    well the fog of war is a blessing that is a worry that the UN has desided is a risk nato has calculated many many times and if it is to be used to aid lybia's people then it is a honorably use of that damed calculation :(---- sorry bit upset at the moment

  • Comment number 5.

    Tonight's guest list shaping up well.

    SKY has just deployed the '.. facing questions...' media weasel for 'we need to ratchet up the controversy at home, so have gone out and found an opportunistic pol to whinge without much clue as to what they do instead'. Cue yet another Labour pol. Dougie's cred bolt well shot, so now it's Jim Murphy.

    Speaking of opportunism, in terms of what makes some nice ratings the 'news' has a nice young Libyan Govt. spokesperson in a suit claiming 'Women & children and families have come from far and wide to protect this military compound'. As you do.

    Media lapping up the Arab League thinking wars don't involve warlike stuff, and proving to be as trustworthy as yer average tribal despot and simply trying to wangle a petty political brownie point with nutters who can usually be found firing AK's in the air.... and united against nasty Allied... er... Coalition... er... Westeners.

    One presumes that... inevitable... collateral civilian casualties will suddenly result in vast Libyan cooperation with an MSM who needs images more than anything, with emoting 'reporters' suddenly getting upset with the consequences of conflict and teleprompter readers asking daft questions about why civilians are getting hurt when stuck in front of military targets whilst trying to catch folk out when the farce of war outstrips scrutinising para. 3, subsection 3iii of a resolution.

    Meanwhile this was interesting, 'sources say' wise:

    Someone in Misrata yesterday said in a tweet or some such ‘I bet they are digging up the corpses in Zawiyah and taking them to Tripoli to show journalists’. This morphed into someone on BBC world being told that this was the rumour, and then on to a wire report.

    Questions may well be asked.

  • Comment number 6.

    So the offensive that began yesterday involved the use of long range attacks, co-ordinated by the US Africa Command, under General Carter Ham. So, this is why the Americans fought for and so dearly wanted "Africom" - so that it would have a power base to attack African countries. I said at the time "Don't allow it!", but who listens to me?
    The wider international operation (the no-fly zone) will be handled by Nato's Coalition of the Willing since several Nato countries wanted no part in this fiasco that has stretched UN R 1973 beyond any possible recognition. Nato's componnent will be managed AMERICAN Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear.
    BOTH COMMANDERS ARE AMERICAN. I guess they understand American objectives better than foeigners.
    But very owrrisome were the ninitial attacks by The Coalition of the Willing - killing 48 and wounding another 150. Since then of course the collateral damage has been less and less reported.
    Military commanders believe that the "coalition of the willing", will be able to bring sufficient combat power to bear in order to cause the fall of Col Gaddafi...Hold on a second! I thought that the "fall of Gaddafi" was not part on UN R-1973. I thought Gaddafi was not to be targeted.
    This is a contravention R 1973!
    The heart of the attack is American: B-2 bombers, and 124 naval cruise missiles.
    If Col Gaddafi does not fall quickly - Here we go again. R-1973 does not talk about the fall of Gaddafi. It calls for the protection of civilians, no occupation, and no targeting of Gaddafi.
    As for the wider coalition effort, including possible arrival of combat aircraft from Arab countries, it has not yet begun, and likely will never begin because as the Arab League has said; THIS IS NOT WHAT WE INTENDED. THIS WAS NOT WHAT WE WANTED.
    And then there are the great bears, shaking their heads and speaking words of caution. I mean of course: Russia, China, and India - most of the BRIC countries. These countries are displeased. What if these countries were to unit in defence of Gaddafi, what then?

  • Comment number 7.

    it's worrying that "Armchair Warrior's" are urging ground deployment of "advisor's" to train the rebels, the papers are full of speculation of special force involvement (probably unlikely),
    Mission creep is beginning to occur, where's the end game?, when can we declare victory?.
    Is it's weeks, months or Years!
    Is MoD playing the bills or is from the Treasury's Reserves?, if not it's going to wreck the Defence budget.
    We have entered a operation without any idea of a medium or long strategy.

  • Comment number 8.

    good debate in the commons this afternoon...watched in on the parliament channel on BBC, if the cuts go through we may lose this valueable feed...

  • Comment number 9.

    After Haigues' update on the Libyan situation and other middle east matters I'm sure that anyone watching and listening must be more confused than ever over who is doing what and why.

    In his own mind he seems to have a wonderful vision of sorting out the whole of the middle east rather than the middle east being modern and grown up enough to sort itself out.

    In Libya he insists that Gaddafi's people should hold a ceasefire but it takes two to have a ceasefire. Is he asking one side of the civil war in Libya to roll over so the other side can take over and obliterate them?

    I've heard some crazy things but this one really takes some imagination.

    Now we hear that foreign mercenaries have and are entering the country but no-one seems to know which side they are fighting on so who does anyone know who they are shooting at?

    Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers are supposedly trapped in the country unable to get out so what is happening to them while rockets bullets and missiles are flying all around? The UN resolution protects Libyan civilians but there is no mention of foreigners.

    For some unknown reason the west always seems to think they can sort everything out but end up making things more complicated and much worse.

    This will take its course and will last many years over the whole of the Middle East and Africa and is not a place where anyone not understanding the muslim world should be trying to get involved.

    William Haige's vision of the new world order has a long long way yet to go. Perhaps he should concentrate on the protection of out own people here who could well suffer unintended consequences of any further meddling in other states' affairs.

  • Comment number 10.

    The war campaign unleashed against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces is a two tier effort
    - covert and
    - Nato.
    UK, French and US forces are all complicit in contravention on UN R 1973 which gave no authorization for the straffing & bombing of infrastructure, including the Capital of Tripoli.
    Thank God for the sanity of people who don't want to drop bombs because bombs always cause collateral damage. All significant commanders of Nato are American' the main push behind this Libyan effort is American. Like it or not, this is truly an American affair and is about imperialism.
    Military commanders believe that the "coalition of the willing", will be able to bring sufficient combat power to bear to cause the fall of Col Gaddafi; an aim that the US, UK and France share, but that is NOT included in the UN R-1973 resolution, which demonstrates to the world the games that can be played using the United Nations as the front. US B-2 bombers, and 124 naval cruise missiles were what really sppoke for the UN.
    NATO has taken command of the war in Libya but kid yourself not: the US has deployed covert CIA operatives to the field to work the ground, identify fly-by targets, and coordinate with the rebels.
    Didn't US President Barack say clearly that the Unuted States would not be operating on the ground in Libya. The CIA has allegedly been on the ground for weeks in an effort to infiltrate the Libyan military.
    In addition to the CIA, British officials confirmed that members of the British Special Forces and MI6 intelligence officers are actively working within Libya to direct airstrikes, collect intelligence about the whereabouts of the Libyan army, their supplies and Libyan officials. And don't forget that some rebels have been using Israeli weaponry, and that speaks MOSSAD.
    Wow, this is mighty power for Col. Gaddafi to fend off; in fending Gaddafi is beginning to look mighty wise, persistent and brave.
    Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola argued in a public statement that the presence of foreign intelligence personnel like the CIA did NOT violate the UN resolution which called for the protection of civilians. Di Paola noted that the resolution only explicitly forbid occupying forces and said nothing of intelligence operations. Can these guys play semantics or what? Semantics must be a prim etopic in military education, right next to obfuscation.
    The CIA assisted in the rescue of one of the two American airmen whose fighter jet crashed in Libya on March 21. In addition to courting the opposition, intelligence officials are working to learn just who the rebels are. Little is known about them, what they think and what they want. Yet, yet...the west has juimped into the melting pot to asssist & arm this unknown quantuty! Does this seem terribly bright to you? It must to the CIA, M16 and the MOSSAD...
    Apparently, Obama signed a secret order authorizing the CIA to provide arms and additional support to Libyan rebel groups. The administration claims no weapons have yet to be transferred (I guess they mean by the United States and that other countries like Saudi Arabia don't count.).
    Republican Congressman Mike Rogers: “We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them.” Now, here is an intelligent comment at last!
    According to NATO, Operation Unified Protector, consists of a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and vaguely, all “actions to protect civilians and civilian centers” citing the authorizing UN’s resolution allowing all means necessary to secure civilians in Libya.
    However, arming rebels would CLEARLY VIOLATE THE RESOLUTION because it requires coalition forces to become actively involved in the ongoing civil war above and beyond protecting civilians by preventing Libyan forces from killing the people.
    This whole Libyan affair is about one thing: American imperialism, the building up the American military industrial complex.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank goodness for BRICS. The future of our world could very well depend on these five MAJOR emerging powers.
    BRICS have stood united in their criticism of the West for waging a war on Libya, which has caused civilian casualties in the North African state.
    In their summit meeting in southern China, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa unanimously condemned the Libya bombings. The entire group rejected the use of force in the Middle East and North Africa.
    In part: "We maintain that the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of each nation must be respected." These BRICS represent more than 40% of the world's population. They also voiced concern that the NATO-led campaign is causing civilian casualties. The leaders of BRICS nations said their joint presence on the UN Security Council in 2011 offered a unique opportunity to bring peaceful resolution to Libya and other matters.

  • Comment number 12.

    Mr. Hague is certainly dancing. Hague: “We should be fortified today by the knowledge that the action we are taking is necessary, it is legal and it is right.”
    Says who?
    Hague's rhetoric in which he claimed to have saved lives, helped Libyans choose their own future...raises serious questions about his sincerity in the context of the recent defection of the Libyan Musa Kusa to Britain. MI6 helped the former Gaddafi foreign minister known as his “envoy of death”, escape to Britain last month. You read that right: M16! London didn't send any signal for a trial for the Libyan suspected of being involved in several acts of terrorism in the UK (and elsewhere). In fact, it allowed him to leave for Qatar in time for "The Contact Group" meeting. Further, Kusa has been offered a six month UK asylum seeker's visa.
    The British seem to have a lot of questions to answer.


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