For the sixth straight day, the U.S. and its allies attacked military forces loyal to Libyan Col. Muammar Gaddafi as part of the no-fly zone that the White House said was intended to protect Libyan civilians . By Wednesday, the coalition had reportedly decimated the bulk of Gaddafi’s air force as well as his air-defense systems. Yet government loyalists did not appear to be pulling back, and as the allies shifted their attention toward Libyan ground troops, which are trying to capture various rebel strongholds, some analysts told Newsweek that the no-fly zone would not be enough to oust Gaddafi from power. Others said the coalition had not prepared adequately for the potential fall of the regime, an outcome that would likely lead to prolonged chaos in the already war-torn country. Here are several reactions to the latest developments on the ground:
Senior fellow for national-security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
The offensive is having an impact. The question is whether it’s going to be a decisive impact and whether it will be enough to allow the rebels to retake the towns that Gaddafi had previously conquered and march on Tripoli. I think at this point we need to oust Gaddafi. We can’t live with this indefinite crisis going on with the no-fly zone and airstrikes and rebels controlling eastern Libya and Gaddafi controlling western Libya. Aside from the humanitarian cost, aside from the cost to us of maintaining the no-fly zone, which is considerable, there is also the cost to the world economy of keeping Libyan oil production off the market. It’s not going to come back on the market until Gaddafi is out of power and the crisis has ended.
I am not suggesting that we land ground troops, but I am suggesting that we follow the model that we used in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 and in Kosovo in 1999. In both cases we used NATO air power to help rebels on the ground achieve their military objectives. All we really need to do is to send some Special Forces teams to work with the rebels to… coordinate their actions… with those of the… air forces flying overhead. History has shown that it’s almost impossible to topple a regime purely through the air. You need to have ground action. We need to increase the capacity of the Libyan rebels to act on the ground.
“Ultimately, I don’t see the rebels forming into a force that either can oust Gaddafi or govern Libya,” says George Friedman of Stratfor.
I think we also need to think about what happens in Libya after Gaddafi. There’s a real danger of chaos. There’s a real danger of a protracted war between the tribes, with al Qaeda and other extremist groups getting into the middle of it. So I think we do need to think about the need to dispatch an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations, the Arab League, and NATO, but that is something that would obviously take another Security Council resolution to authorize.
Deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Security Network
The no-fly zone has achieved its goal of protecting civilians in Benghazi from a bloodbath. It also has decimated Gaddafi’s air force, rendering him incapable of attacking Libyans from the air and clearing a path for the U.S. to hand over enforcement of the no-fly zone to one of our allies. This matches the intent that the president laid out when he authorized force and that both the United Nations and the Arab League called for.
Ousting Gaddafi was never the goal of the no-fly zone, which was about protecting civilians. So from a military mission perspective, the goals… are being achieved. It’s clear that the Libyan rebels on the ground also are taking heart from this turn of events and that they now have the space and time to organize themselves for a counteroffensive against Gaddafi. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but for now, the pressure—military, financial, and political—that the U.S. and its allies, with international backing, has exerted has really boxed Gaddafi in.
Chief executive of the global intelligence firm Stratfor
In the end, the operation has not caused Gaddafi to capitulate, but it appears to have stopped his offensive. No-fly zones can never oust governments unless the insurgents have a powerful military force contained only by the air force. But in this case the rebels are disunited, many are hostile to each other, and they are untrained for the most part. Gaddafi has a lot of support in the west, a more motivated and capable military, and therefore he will not be ousted by a no-fly zone alone. In fact, he will defeat the rebels. The alliance will have to do a lot more than simply create a no-fly zone if they want to oust Gaddafi. They will need to strike at his artillery and armor. Ultimately, I don’t see the rebels forming into a force that either can oust Gaddafi or govern Libya. To achieve this, there will need to be intervention on the ground and a round of nation building, not something the West is very good at.
Defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The no-fly zone has completely eliminated the regime’s use of air power against the rebels. Air power was important in terms of the psychological element in the fighting in that the rebels felt exposed and vulnerable to air attack, and even poorly conducted air attacks could disrupt rebel movement and scatter rebel forces in the open. The population of rebel-held towns and cities also felt vulnerable to attack from the air.
Air operations against Gaddafi’s ground forces have had significant effect in terms of protecting the civilian population. This was most obvious in Benghazi, where the regime’s offensive seemed poised either to take the city outright or subject it to prolonged siege and reduction. This was stopped in its tracks and regime forces withdrew to the Ajdabiya area. It also seems that the coalition has now begun attacks on regime ground forces in the Ajdabiya area and in the west, near Misrata. If pressed home, these coalition actions will likely force the regime to abandon Ajdabiya and perhaps other exposed areas in the east, and could prevent the fall of Misrata.
The no-fly zone alone probably will not bring Gaddafi down, or at least not bring him down quickly. The regime has shown some substantial degree of resilience and the ability to adapt to changes in the situation. What is needed is a broad campaign against its ground forces, including attacks on garrisons, logistics facilities, deployed forces wherever they can be found, and interdiction of movement by combat forces or logistical elements. Such a campaign would likely cause regime ground forces to break or dissolve. Even if they remained somewhat cohesive, their ability to maneuver, conduct operations, deploy over any distance, and be sustained would be sharply limited. This should be backed up with information operations aimed at undermining the cohesion of both the regime and its forces.
The coalition also should be providing military assistance to the rebels in order to increase their offensive capabilities, including: intelligence, anti-tank weapons, medical supplies, communications gear, and advisers. These actions also would likely hasten Gaddafi’s fall.
Senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
One of the scenarios that is [being] painted [is] that the regime will weaken and there will be defections and under the stress of international opprobrium, embargoes, and some military intervention, [and that] there will be some sort of palace coup or negotiated settlement for Col. Gaddafi’s departure. I think his departure voluntarily is less likely just due to the nature of his personality. There is really no place that he can go where he’s exempt from prosecution from war crimes.
I don’t know if a stalemate on the ground is as unsustainable as suggested. Saddam Hussein hung out for a long time, and it was hoped in 1991, if you recall, that the situation was created where there were no-fly zones protecting the Shia in the south and eventually the Kurdish population in the north, and there was sort of a sanctions and so forth. And it was anticipated by the first Bush administration that sort of pressure would lead to a regime change. He managed to stay in power. This is isn’t to suggest that Col. Gaddafi will similarly stay in power, but it’s just to point out that that scenario may not necessarily come to fruition.
I would [also] just draw attention two events that are happening: There is a sort of an Arab awakening taking place throughout the Middle East and… of course, the Libya situation. The danger is that the Libya situation will force us to make compromises on the Arab awakening because in order to get the funding that would be required to rehabilitate postwar Libya, one of those places you would go to is… the Persian Gulf. What sort of compromises are we prepared to make in our call for political reform in Bahrain in order to get Saudi support? What kind of political compromises are we willing to make if we need Saudi funding about the Saudi behavior, which is repression at home and repression abroad? I am concerned about how the Libyan situation could cause us to take our eyes off the most important prize in the Middle East: Namely, how do we usher in transition toward more representative and more accountable rule… which requires us to pressure our allies? If we are distracted from that in order to receive Arab support for Libyan rehabilitation… then I think the Libyan situation would have done damage to the Middle East.
Senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies
In the narrow sense, the no-fly zone is delivering on the stated aims of denying the regime the ability to use what remains of its air power against civilians. In securing the ability to do this, the initial strikes appear to have substantially degraded the regime’s air-defense ground environment, including fixed surface-to-air missile sites, associated radars, and command and control infrastructure. The removal of much of the air threat also allows coalition aircraft to be used to engage tactical ground targets—such as armor and artillery—within the remit of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
In and of itself, the no-fly zone is unlikely to be decisive. The outcome of the civil war will be determined on the ground, though the denial of the air to the regime, and tactical airstrikes in support of [the resolution], are of benefit to the opposition. Direct involvement on the ground carries significantly greater political risk, and there is scant indication on the part of Washington it is interested in this.
Senior research fellow at the New America Foundation
The no-fly zone in Libya is weeks too late but has certainly turned the tide. It can continue to hinder Gaddafi from re-taking critical parts of the country such as Benghazi. Furthermore, more Western airstrikes can be decisive in destroying Gaddafi's military infrastructure. While U.S. military officials disclaim any effort to assassinate Gaddafi, it is clear that this will be necessary, even if he has not been directly targeted yet. The pursuit of capturing or killing Gaddafi himself is not urgent enough to require that more U.S. special forces get put on the ground, however, it is still a goal that can be encouraged and supported through rebel proxies who already share that mission and agenda. Also, maintaining Arab League support is paramount as operations carry on in the coming days and weeks. Keeping the Arab League on our side will require avoiding civilian casualties from Western airstrikes and appearing to be supporting rebel forces from behind rather than leading too far out in front. Ultimately, Libya is a unique situation, and doesn't touch the core interests of countries like Saudi Arabia, which is far more concerned with unrest in Bahrain and Yemen. Provided the U.S. does not reverse course on Bahrain and continues to allow Saudi Arabia to carry out its heavy-handed intervention there, the balance that has enabled this remarkable example of Western-Arab cooperation in Libya ought to continue.
R.M. Schneiderman is a reporter for Newsweek.