Libyaâs Oh-So-Familiar Exit Strategy: âAs They Stand Up, We Stand Downâ
litary might not know when itâs getting out of the war in Libya. But its plan for ratcheting back its role there sounds straight out of Iraq and Afghanistan: as U.S. partners do more, the U.S. will do less. And like those wars â which, you might notice, have gone on a loooooooong time â the details are still up in the air. Stop us if youâve heard this before.
NATO agreed on Thursday toÂ take charge of the no-fly mission. But with that all but sewn up â Moammar Gadhafiâs air defenses are wrecked and the French justÂ shot down the rare Libyan aircraft flown this week â the lionâs share of the effort is now protecting the beleaguered populace from Gadhafiâs ground forces. At the Pentagon on Friday afternoon, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney of the militaryâs Joint Staff said the U.S. still awaits word about NATO taking over the so-called âno driveâ mission.
Gortney said he expected the âcoming daysâ to bring clarity â as itâs now being reported thatÂ NATO is set to take on the whole spectrum of the Libya war, down to appointing a Canadian general,Â Charles Bouchard, to run it. Apparently thatâs not been settled yet. Gortney showed reporters charts listing âTBDâ â to be determined â for when NATO will take control of the no-fly and if itâll take control of the no-drive.
More bizarrely, Gortney pledged that U.S. planes and ships would go from a âhighâ to âmediumâ or âlowâ operations tempo over time â not just combat jets, but surveillance, command and refueling aircraft as well, the supposed enduring U.S. contributions to the Libya war. But âdepending on capacity of the coalition forces, in order to do both logistics and surveillance, how much capacity theyâre going to need to do the mission, weâre going to have to make up that mission, so itâll be high to medium in that regard,â Gortney said.
Huh? Asked if he could provide hard figures to quantify and distinguish âhigh,â âmediumâ and âlow,â the admiral declined. And just because the planes and ships eventually get more downtime doesnât mean theyâll leave: âAt this particular point [the U.S. doesn't envision] fewer ships, but the level of effort will go down, and then the number of ships will go down.â Needless to say, Gortney didnât put a time frame on that assessment.
All that depends on the other members of the coalition assuming a greater role â like in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those trends are positives: Norway and Qatar are now active parts of the coalition, with two Qatari jets joining aÂ French patrol on Friday. In fact, over the past 24 hours, all the missions to support the no-fly zone were flown by non-U.S. pilots â that is, those that didnât target Gadhafiâs ground forces.
But during that time, the U.S. still flew âslightly more than halfâ of the 96 missions to strike those forces. And the U.S. is digging into that mission, striking loyalist units outside Misurata and Ajdabiya, though not enough to see âa change in behavior,â Gortney said. Since airstrikes inside the cities poses too great a risk of civilian casualties, the hope is that the more aircraft strike loyalist command and logistics lines outside the cities, the loyalists will lose their ability and will to fight â the classic airpower gamble, with its decidedly mixed track record.
And now with a new command possibly maybe kinda standing up, the U.S. is hoping to say that overseeing that effort will be a different nationâs responsibility. When it comes to the need to protect civilians, âwhoever ends up taking it over, I can assure you that we will continue to support our allies and partners with our unique capabilities,â Gortney said, âand that we will continue to work hard to make sure the transition is seamless.â If Iraq and Afghanistan provide any instruction, thatâll be easier said than done.
Photo: Flickr/U.S. Africa Command
- Gadhafi Forces in Disarray (ricojr2010.wordpress.com)
- Coalition Air Operations Take on Gadhafi’s Forces (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- NATO deal leaves U.S. still commanding Libya strikes (reuters.com)
- NATO deal leaves US still commanding Libya strikes – Reuters (news.google.com)
- Pentagon may add air power in Libya conflict (cbsnews.com)