Libya - April 2011
Airpower and nothing on the ground - oops No clear objective, no clear mission stated; an emotional response hoping that things would sort themselves out but without putting in place the plan and resources to make sure it happens. You have to worry about the intelligence estimates, and the judgment of our leaders. Every platoon commander is brought up to identify clear missions and stick to them. What happens to that obviously sensible approach once you get crossed batons on your shoulder? Politicians? Pensions? Gaddafi is a legitimate target – and he is the mission. We should have got that out of the way at the start. There is a tradition of not targeting opposition generals (cf Wellington refusing permission for his artillery to fire on Napoleon at Waterloo – or was that just in the movie?) and the US has eschewed the practice ever since its crass attempts at regime change 40 years ago. But this world needs this rabid dog put down and to exclude him from the target list whilst we incinerate his soldiers verges on the immoral – it’s certainly ludicrous.
As for the DARE (Deploy, Accomplish, Rapid Extraction) model – why are politicians and generals not bright enough to cotton on? The Turks felt compelled to invade Cyprus in 1974. They allowed themselves 3 days to achieve their aims and consolidate before world opinion could mobilize and protest – a brilliant piece of political militarism. After some months of political and military manoeuvring they achieved 40% ownership of the island. But out of all this the salient factor is the first 3 days – clear mission, clear timescale. If you stop, calls from the international community to stop will be a touch late. Obama is right to be skeptical and dismayed by being drawn into this probable fiasco. It might still work out well but, if it does, it will do so through luck not judgment. We need to be very, very clear about limited missions and timescales. We need to put in place the resources to achieve our objective. Once the mission has been launched, success or failure, we need to withdraw, and fast. Have we done any of that? Nope. Will we ever? Probably not. The solution? Elect Prime Ministers who understand history, then there’s a chance the fiascos of history will not be so regularly repeated.
Post script: Two things that may well play out as this all develops: one tactical, the other strategic. Tactically, without troops on the ground, who is coordinating the Land/Air bit? Who is implementing combat identification? Who is making sure the right targets are being hit, both to achieve maximum effect and to make sure “blue on blue” and “collateral damage” – with their inevitable political fallout, to say nothing of human tragedy - are minimized? This is hard enough between the army and air force of a single nation, but between a rabble rebel army speaking one language, and pilots speaking another!? Presumably we have special forces’ forward air controllers in there – it usually takes a bit more than that.
Strategically, if our limited commitment to Libya does succeed, false lessons are likely to be learnt. During the Polish uprising of 1944, the first wave of RAF dropped supplies were successfully retrieved by the Poles. This encouraged further drops against the wise counsel of some senior airmen. Subsequent waves dropped supplies predominantly into German hands and at a very high cost in aircrew killed; and did nothing to change the outcome. If Libya works out, what odds on further adventures in the region?
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