Analysts say Libyan war could drag on with Gadhafi's tactics
Share with others:
PARIS -- France and Italy said Wednesday that they would join Britain in sending some liaison officers to support the rebel army in Libya, in what military analysts said was a sign that there would be no quick and easy end to the war in Libya.
The dispatching of the liaison officers -- probably fewer than 40 of them, and carefully not designated as military trainers -- is also a sign, they said, that only a combination of military pressure from the sky, economic pressure on the government and a better-organized and coordinated rebel force will finally convince Moammar Gadhafi that he has no option but to quit.
"Some countries thought the Libya operation could be over quickly," said a senior NATO ambassador. "But no military commander thinks so."
Sending advisers to Libya is the latest in a series of signs of trouble for the NATO campaign, which began in earnest with a stinging, U.S.-led attack but has seemed to fizzle since operational command was transferred to NATO on March 31. After that, a rebel offensive was smashed by Gadhafi forces, which sent the rebels reeling toward the eastern city of Ajdabiya.
New tactics used by the Gadhafi forces -- mixing with civilian populations, camouflaging weapons and driving pickup trucks instead of military vehicles -- have made it hard for NATO pilots to find targets. At the same time, loyalist artillery and tanks have hammered the rebel-held city of Misrata, reportedly with cluster bombs, which have been banned by much of the world, making a mockery of NATO's central mission of protecting civilians.
But as much as the new Gadhafi tactics, divisions within NATO seem to be harming the strategy, said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Only six of the 28 member countries are participating in the airstrikes, and France and Britain are doing half of them, while Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Canada are doing the rest.
Prominent nations such as Italy and Spain are hanging back, and others have sent planes only to support the no-fly zone, or are helping to enforce the arms embargo.
The Obama administration, which has ruled out deploying U.S. troops in Libya, announced Wednesday that it would authorize as much as $25 million in military surplus supplies, though not weapons, to the Libyan opposition forces.
"You want to send Gadhafi a message of collective will, that there's no way out, that he's facing a determined and unified opposition," Mr. Niblett said. "And he's seeing a European-led NATO that is not sufficiently cohesive. If I were him, I would look at European disagreements and take heart from them, especially when the opposition appears so weak."
To convince Col. Gadhafi and his sons to leave, he said, "we need both the political and military track, and we have bits of the military and a fractured political situation, and we're not giving the strategy the best shot."
To some extent, the problems in NATO can be traced to changes since the end of the Cold War. With the end of the Soviet threat and its expansion to global missions outside Europe, NATO has become less an alliance than a coalition of like-minded nations, analysts say.
Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the London-based Center for European Reform, compared NATO to a U.S. political party, "a coalition of countries with broadly the same interests, but with different views."
NATO officials say the alliance has done a good job in a short time, and that the air campaign is working well. "There is no question about the collective will in NATO" to carry out the U.N. resolution on Libya, said alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. She said in the three weeks since NATO took over command of the operation, "we are steadily degrading Gadhafi's ability to carry out and sustain attacks on his own people and gradually squeezing the regime's forces."
But just about everyone agrees "that there can't be a military solution to the crisis as such," Ms. Lungescu said. "This mission keeps up the pressure for a credible political solution."
While Col. Gadhafi's foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, defected to Britain three weeks ago -- where he was treated leniently, as an encouragement to others around the Libyan leader to change sides -- there have been no prominent defections since.
The current political debate, the senior NATO ambassador said, is not about whether the Libya war will end in negotiations, but the nature and context of the talks.
Some countries would like to begin negotiations with Col. Gadhafi before he leaves power, with the clear aim that he must leave. But others, particularly the rebels, say negotiations can begin only after the colonel and his sons are safely out of the country.
For now, Mr. Valasek said, the problem is that both Col. Gadhafi and the NATO-supported opposition think time is on their side. "It may take everyone longer to realize that this is as far as military force takes us. But unless we want a divided Libya, we need to sit down and negotiate."
First Published April 21, 2011 12:00 am