June 5, 2011
Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi has stood his grounds, prompting NATO to look for more specific military means to deal with his resistance. NATO has begun using attack helicopters to inflict more harm on his command-and-control facilities (which couldn't be reached by missile attacks from a height of 20,000 feet) as well as pro-Gaddafi forces embedded in civilian population.
By this approach, NATO hopes to effectively deal with the Gaddafi problem while limiting civilian casualties. Certainly, Gaddafi's resistance has sent NATO tail-spinning into top gear in its military campaign. With its mission now extended for another 90 days, NATO should be expected to continue fighting this war on behalf of the rebels.
The sole aim of the helicopter attack is to find a solution to the stalemate in the war against Gaddafi. In pursuing its determination to fight this war on behalf of the Benghazi-based rebels, NATO has taken over the planning and execution of war tactics as if the insurgency against Gaddafi is its brainchild. Indeed, from what NATO has been doing all this while, its real agenda for being in Libya is no more questionable. That agenda is regime change.
Both Cameron and Sarkozy described the move as intended to increase the military pressure on Gaddafi. NATO leaders, including President Obama, have called on the Libyan leader to abandon power and leave Libya, demands that he has repeatedly rejected.
Getting rid of Gaddafi is a costly venture that NATO will have to brace itself for. In no way should anybody think that mere military bombardments will solve the Libyan crisis or that the cost of this campaign will reduce. The New York Times has already given us an insight into this aspect:
“With the costs of the air campaign mounting, and the stresses growing on air crews, finding a way of breaking the stalemate has become a priority for NATO, and particularly for Britain and France, which are carrying the brunt of the campaign.”
The Libyan crisis seems to be destined to defy an easy solution, which implies that the fighting between the pro-Gaddafi forces and the combined force of the Benghazi-based rebels and NATO will drag on till one side makes significant gains to break the current stalemate.
That is why NATO is ratcheting up its attacks by using all means possible—attack helicopters and the deployment of military advisers/experts on the ground to assist the rebel forces. This latter aspect of the anti-Gaddafi measures has attracted a sharp criticism from Russia, which sees the development as the beginning of a “ground campaign”—something that falls outside the mandate of the UN Security Council's Resolution 1973.
In assessing the situation within this context, Russia says that it is concerned that NATO is exceeding that mandate and introducing an approach that adds a different complexion to the military campaign in Libya. A top Russian diplomat is expected in Libya soon to begin peace-brokering efforts. He is expected to visit Benghazi as part of the Russian initiative to end the hostilities.
It is not yet clear whether the Russian initiative will have any bearing on the South African President's failed mission to broker peace under the auspices of the African Union's “political road map”; but the choice of diplomatic and political means to attempt ending the conflict appeals more to me than the military option being used by NATO.
This diplomatic approach by Russia is in sharp contrast to the NATO one, which is solely militaristic. Even when Britain sent its Foreign Secretary to Benghazi yesterday, his mission had no room for diplomacy nor was he slated to interact with Gaddafi in Tripoli. His visit was purely one-sided and geared toward boosting the moral of the rebel leadership.
Additionally, the UK has already said it could use "bunker busting" bombs, capable of penetrating reinforced buildings in Libya.
For the first time, NATO has used attack helicopters provided by the UK and France to destroy the Libyan government's control and command facilities in Brega (which is the only city in the east still under Gaddafi's control) as well as armed checkpoints mounted by pro-Gaddafi forces. This is the beginning of NATO's reinforced attempts to break the deadlock which has left the rebels in control of eastern Libya and the government running most of the west.
Indications are clear that the scale will in the long run tilt in favour of the combined force of the rebels and NATO, not only because of their superior military capabilities but also because of other factors (favourable public opinion and support in the international community for NATO's actions) that put them streets ahead of Gaddafi and his fighters.
With NATO's control over Libyan air space and persistent aerial attacks on anything considered pro-Gaddafi, it is clear that Gaddafi's forces cannot launch fresh attacks or defend pro-Gaddafi territories without becoming easy targets. Morale level is likely to fall in the pro-Gaddafi camp while more defections or desertions by the troops or Libyan government officials cannot be ruled out.
In the current circumstance, the advantage lies with Gaddafi's opponents. So, why should Gaddafi not accept the proposal to step down as a pre-condition for any peaceful means to resolve the country's crisis? Is it because he is stepping on something that he can use to counteract NATO's efforts? Is he being the proverbial blind man threatening to stone the one irritating him—because he knows that he is stepping on that stone?
We are beginning to see how Gaddafi is being isolated for eventual elimination. Beginning with the declaration by the political leaders of countries banded together into NATO that he has lost legitimacy to continue in office as the leader of Libya, a second phase of this strategy of isolation is manifesting itself in the diplomatic niceties being accorded his opponents in the rebel political grouping, the Transitional National Council.
In addition to the military support that the rebels' Transitional National Council (TNC) has received from Britain, the US, France, and Italy, the rebel leadership have also benefited from oil shipments and procured weapons with the assistance of Qatar. Access to Libyan oil and money seems to be emerging even though nothing concrete is yet on the horizon.
The US has begun moves to defreeze Libya's 30 billion dollars, part of which it intends to give to the rebels. But no one should trust the West on such intentions. Dribbling sessions can't be ruled out; and the rebels may be wiser not to begin counting their chickens before they hatch.
While the rebels are receiving all that support, Gaddafi faces sanctions and an arms embargo, meaning that he cannot replenish his arsenal or supply essential services and arms to his forces to continue to defend territories in the hands of the Gaddafi government. The process of strangulation will take its fullest toll on Gaddafi and his administration.
As if that is not enough, it is becoming clear that the rebels are gaining a foothold in the diplomatic circles. Although the US hasn't yet official recognized the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya, it is cooperating with it in all senses, one of which is to invite the TNC to open an office in Washington. The European Union already has its mission in Benghazi, which is a boost for the rebels.
Some African countries are also in favour of the rebels, which is ominous for the Gaddafi government, in particular, and the African Union's image, in general. This approach from the diplomatic perspective will have its own impact on the crisis.
Despite all these happenings, Gaddafi has remained adamant. Some of his government functionaries and military officers and troops have defected; but he is still unfazed. As NATO intensifies its attacks, we wait to see how it will influence the military situation.
Unless these attacks by NATO are extended to territories in the West still under Gaddafi's control, which will prompt a renewal of the offensive on a different scale in new territories, there is no immediate indication that the war will take any new turn for the stalemate to be settled.
Obviously, if NATO begins attacking the West on behalf of the rebels, it will open up new pockets of fighting and draw pro-Gaddafi forces out of their shells to be eliminated. It is only then that the fight can be taken to Gaddafi and his sphere of control narrowed for his back to be pushed to the wall. Otherwise, the rebels should forget about defeating Gaddafi.
Libya will then be partitioned into two as we have all along been predicting. The rebels will satisfy themselves with control over Eastern Libya while Gaddafi settles on the West, however diminished his domain may be. He will still have a swathe of territories under his command and control.It can't be ruled out that NATO already knows this fact and will want to stoke the fire so that it can continue bombarding anything it considers as an asset to Gaddafi. After all, that is why it rushed into the Libyan conflict, in the first place. NATO will not leave Libya until it has accomplished its tasks of eliminating the Gaddafi threat.