This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference. I attended and it was the best one yet. Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.
It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing. I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef. Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.
He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have. Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA. It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now.
And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out. I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan). About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).
Interesting poll especially because the US and Obama are ‘leading from behind’ in Libya and don’t have a prominent role tactically. But that isn’t changing the fact that the majority of the public, according to this PPP poll, don’t support even that role:
Our most recent national poll found that only 27% of Americans supported the military intervention in Libya to 40% who were opposed and 33% who had no opinion. Democrats only narrowly stand behind the President in supporting the action in Libya, 31/28. Meanwhile Republicans (21/51) and independents (29/42) are considerably more unified in their opposition. [emphasis mine]
As I’ve mentioned many times, the group I always zero in on in any political poll are independents. They are the swing vote in this country. The 13 point difference would say that on the whole Indies are not happy with the venture. Somewhat surprisingly, Obama only enjoys very narrow support from Democrats – 3 points.
So all-in-all, Libya is a loser politically.
PPP makes an issue about American’s “not knowing” where Libya is, but still not liking it:
Libya is definitely proving to be a political loser for Obama which is interesting because only a little more than half of Americans, 58%, can actually correctly identify that it’s in northern Africa. 27% think that it’s in the Middle East, 4% think it’s in South Asia, 2% think it’s in South America, and 9% don’t offer an opinion. Voters may not be terribly informed when it comes to Libya but they know they don’t like what they’re seeing.
I take a little exception to that – Libya has and can be considered a part of the Middle East. As a commenter on their site points out, it has been considered a part of the ME for decades:
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles defined the Middle East as "the area lying between and including Libya on the west and Pakistan on the east, Syria and Iraq on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia."
So in reality 85% of those who were polled were correct. It is in N. Africa and is considered a part of the ME. As for the other 15% – public school scholars I assume.
Finally, even though Libya is unpopular, it may not be much of a game changer in terms of votes:
Libya doesn’t seem likely to be a big vote shifter next year- 52% of voters say it won’t make a difference in their decision on whether to support Obama for reelection or not. But for the voters who do say it could be a game change it’s a negative- 31% say what’s going on in Libya right now make them less likely to vote for Obama compared to only 17% who say it makes them more likely to vote for him.
Libya is one more negative to add to the pile.
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Obama has to do something he’s never done before – run on an actual record. Libya becomes another negative to add to that record.
You probably remember it – it was to have a coalition of UN members establish a no-fly zone to keep the Libyan government under Gadhafi from using aircraft to kill civilians. Right? Then it was to hit tanks and artillery that were being used to kill (or endanger) civilians.
And what did Gadhafi’s forces do? Adapted. Made it much more difficult to do by using similar vehicles as the rebels and by moving into the urban areas.
So, now where are we? Well, NATO’s having a bit of a problem. In fact, NATO has discovered what any good infantryman could have told them:
NATO Brig. Gen. Mark van Uhm said his forces have destroyed more than 40 tanks and several armored personnel carriers in Misrata. However, there’s always concern of inadvertently harming civilians in such airstrikes, he said.
"There is a limit to what can be achieved by airpower to stop fighting in a city," said van Uhm.
Ya think? I have to wonder what they expected Gadhafi’s forces to do.
So, what’s a defensive alliance chartered to come to each others defense in case another members is attacked to do? Oh, here’s a good idea:
“We need a force from NATO or the United Nations on the ground now,” committee member Nouri Abdullah Abdulati told reporters Tuesday.
Abdulati said that the Judicial Committee’s signed request had been sent to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, the de facto capital of the opposition-controlled east, but that no reply had been received. The council, the only link between Misurata and NATO commanders, has said that it does not want foreign troops in Libya.
“We did not accept any foreign soldiers on our land. But that was before we faced the crimes of Gaddafi,” Abdulati said Tuesday. “We are asking on the basis of humanitarian and Islamic principles for someone to come and stop the killing. The whole Arab world is calling for the intervention of the West for the first time in history.”
What a deal. But here’s my question – where’s the Arab League? Surely they could send in soldiers. In the past they were able to whip up any number of Arab forces to attack Israel. What, do “rebel” Libyans fear them more than the West? Is this a case where the West is actually the lesser of two evils?
Of course now, if the West and NATO don’t respond it will be because the West chose to desert these people and let them die. And if they do help, it will only be a matter of time before the same people demanding their presence to save their bacon are demanding the infidel soldiers quit their country post haste.
In the meantime, the UK is actually considering sending in troops to escort humanitarian relief convoys to Misurata. What happens when Gadhafi forces pop one of them?
Yeah, this is looking much like a “days not weeks” campaign.
Oh, one other little quote that caught my eye:
Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of NATO’s military committee, said that even though the military alliance’s operations have done "quite significant damage" to the Libyan regime’s heavy weaponry, what Gadhafi has left is "still considerable."
Asked if more airpower is needed, Di Paola said any "significantly additional" allied contribution would be welcome.
Any question as to what ally Di Paola is referring?
Not much new to report – stalemate continues. However what we seem to be finally learning is that the so-called “rebels” aren’t organized enough to do much of anything to force the situation:
Too little is known about Libya’s rebels and they remain too fragmented for the United States to get seriously involved in organizing or training them, let alone arming them, U.S. and European officials say.
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies believe NATO’s no-fly zone and air strikes will be effective in stopping Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from killing civilians and dislodging rebels from strongholds like Benghazi, the officials say.
But the more the intelligence agencies learn about rebel forces, the more they appear to be hopelessly disorganized and incapable of coalescing in the foreseeable future.
However, that hasn’t stopped the rebels from asking for a $2 billion dollar loan from the West. They’re never too disorganized to demand money, are they? Hey, this is the Arab League’s baby – let them front any loans. Oh, and check out this photo for a little picture of the reality we’re talking about.
Meanwhile, NATO could use a few more aircraft:
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has told a foreign ministers’ summit the alliance needs "a few more" aircraft for its mission in Libya.
Mr Rasmussen said he had received no offers from any ally at the meeting in Berlin to supply the extra warplanes, but he remained hopeful.
I’m sure he does. Of course, this situation has little if anything to do with the stated mission of NATO (a defensive pact), but it is an organization in search of a mission. One of the reasons it has to beg for other participants is there’s nothing binding about war’s of choice on NATO members and, as you might expect, a good number of them ore sitting this one out.
Finally, our leaders fight back with a NYT editorial. Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy have an op/ed there addressing Libya. This particular paragraph caught my eye:
We must never forget the reasons why the international community was obliged to act in the first place. As Libya descended into chaos with Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi attacking his own people, the Arab League called for action. The Libyan opposition called for help. And the people of Libya looked to the world in their hour of need. In an historic resolution, the United Nations Security Council authorized all necessary measures to protect the people of Libya from the attacks upon them. By responding immediately, our countries, together with an international coalition, halted the advance of Qaddafi’s forces and prevented the bloodbath that he had promised to inflict upon the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.
Tens of thousands of lives have been protected.
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but think “jobs created and saved” when I read all of that monkey poo.
Meanwhile in Syria, they’re issuing instructions not to kill over 20 protesters a day because apparently that’s a threshold they know the great protectors of certain civilians will ignore. Besides, some Democrats think Assad is a reformer, and don’t forget, he hasn’t used airplanes on the protesters – yet.
As we watch the politicians dance around about government shut down and play their political games, a little aside for the quickly forgotten war in Libya.
This week NATO managed to take out 13 more … rebels. Apparently NATO didn’t know the rebs planned on using some captured tanks and paid the price.
That’s led to a little friction between NATO and the rebs:
Outside Ajdabiya, rebel fighters slapped peach-colored paint on their vehicles to try to distinguish from the pro-Qaddafi units.
"We are painting the trucks so NATO won’t hit us," said Salam Salim, a 29-year-old rebel militiaman.
Tensions between the rebels and NATO were flaring even before the latest accident, with the fighters criticizing the alliance for doing too little to help them.
A NATO official, meanwhile, said there is growing frustration with the rebels’ perception that NATO is acting as their proxy air force. The U.N. mandate calls only for international air power to enforce a no-fly zone and prevent attacks on civilians — although Qaddafi’s ground forces remain a primary target.
"We’re trying to get messages back to them about what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under standing NATO regulations.
I can just see Gahdafi’s men slapping peach paint on their vehicles now.
Meanwhile, the promised “no boots on the ground?” Not so firm apparently:
The United States may consider sending troops into Libya with a possible international ground force that could aid the rebels, according to the general who led the military mission until NATO took over.
Army Gen. Carter Ham also told lawmakers Thursday that added American participation would not be ideal, and ground troops could erode the international coalition and make it more difficult to get Arab support for operations in Libya.
Ham said the operation was largely stalemated now and was more likely to remain that way since America has transferred control to NATO.
He said NATO has done an effective job in an increasingly complex combat situation. But he noted that, in a new tactic, Muammar Qaddafi’s forces are making airstrikes more difficult by staging military forces and vehicles near civilian areas such as schools and mosques.
But back to the point – why would we consider “sending troops into Libya?” I mean we’re there to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civvies, right?
Only one reason to even be considering troops on the ground and that is the real end result desired – regime change- doesn’t look like it will happen without them.
Like I said before, “mission creep”.
Worth noting – SecDef Gates said there’d be no US boots on the ground “as long as I’m in this job.” He may be leaving sooner than we think.
Guantanamo was going to be closed and Obama planned on bringing the accused terrorists to trial in Federal Court. One of the things he said was he believed they were entitled to a day in court and that the Bush administration had held the detainees way too long. “Speedy trial”, etc.
Now, two years after assuming office, the Obama administration and Attorney General Holder have completely reversed themselves and decided that not only is Gitmo the proper venue for such trials, but that military tribunals, a means which they both savaged, was also adequate for the job.
Predictably the left is out to spin it in such a way that it is everyone else’s fault but Obama and Holder.
John Cole in a post entitled “Cowards”:
And no, I’m not talking about Obama and Holder. I’m talking about the clowns in Congress who apparently don’t have enough faith in this nation and who are so afraid of one man that they have to try him in secret in another country.
Simply said and as usual, mostly wrong.
Jeralyn Merritt also wants to blame Congress but is more specific about it:
I was really hoping Obama and Holder could think outside the box and come up with a way to defeat the Republican-created ban on federal criminal trials. It’s not the trials that were banned, just funding for getting them to the U.S. to stand trial.to lay the blame on Congress –
Republican created? Merritt clarifies that a bit, but again, for the umpteenth time I want to point out that from 2008 to 2010 Democrats enjoyed huge majorities in Congress and could have done just about anything they wanted to do with the funding of federal trials or moving the venue of the trials to a city in the US.
It didn’t happen not because of Republicans, but because of one of the few bi-partisan moments in those two years. For the most part no one wanted those trials in the US. For example:
Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who objected to holding the trial anywhere in New York State, hailed the administration’s decision Monday.
“This means with certainty that the trial will not be in New York,” he said. “While not unexpected, this is the final nail in the coffin of that wrong-headed idea. I have always said that the perpetrators of this horrible crime should get the ultimate penalty, and I believe this proposal by the administration can make that happen.”
It was a “wrong headed idea” from the beginning. There were two reasons. One, most didn’t see the detainees as “criminals” and thus they were not deserving of a “criminal trial”. They are accused terrorists who had committed acts of war against the US, so military detention and military tribunals seemed much more appropriate. Two, moving them to the US put whichever city hosted the trials in the crosshairs of terrorists. It would be an unnecessary risk for what were basically to be show trials. However, the other risk was, given the sensitive nature of some of the intelligence used to apprehend them and prove their guilt, revealing it in civilian court would compromise the methods used. So there was (and is) a distinct possibility that they’d get off in a civilian trial even though enough evidence of a secret nature existed to convict them handily.
The perfect venue then was the tribunal system where such information could be introduced in a venue that would protect that information.
And let’s be clear about a couple other things.
There was no desire to see justice done by either Holder or Obama – it was mostly about trying to back up campaign rhetoric, which this decision finally points out was wrong, with action.
The White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, for instance:
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he’s going to meet his maker," said President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs. "He will be brought to justice and he’s likely to be executed for the heinous crimes that he committed in killing and masterminding the killing of 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of."
Really? If the idea is to show the “American criminal justice system works”, it’s hard to see that with words that are really just screaming “show trial” from the spokesperson for the President of the United States. Gibbs took a lot of heat for that, as he should have, but it was a moment of truth that said they weren’t really interested in justice so much as having their way. And it was the President himself who also made such a “prejudgment”:
In an interview with NBC News, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Mohammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won’t find it "offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."
Also remember that the Obama Administration and the Justice Department endorsed indefinite detention regardless of the outcome of trials. So had any of the detainees managed to get a verdict of “not guilty”, they might have been detained anyway. Again, that screams “show trials” – if the verdict comes out the way we want it we’ll execute it. If not, and we deem it necessary, we’ll keep the detainee for as long as we wish.
So while it may feel good to those on the left to blame Congress for this decision, I actually have to agree with Democrat Chuck Schumer – which pains me a bit – this was a “wrong headed idea” from the get-go and it has finally collapsed under the weight of reality.
We’re at war with these people, not fighting “crime”. They are “enemy combatants” until proven otherwise. They should be treated as we’d treat any such prisoners – and have treated them in previous wars – through trial by military tribunal.
And finally, after a two year delay (so much for the “speedy trial” complaint by Obama) we’re back where we were in 2008.
Oh speaking of 2008, by the way:
The defendants indicated in December 2008 that they were inclined to plead guilty without a full trial. But in one of his first steps after taking office, Mr. Obama halted all the commissions under way at Guantánamo while he reviewed the detainee policies he had inherited.
He just endorsed what he “inherited” and also managed to delay justice for two more years.
Interesting story from Glenn Thrush at POLITICO. And, of course, it is about pure politics. It seems that Obama’s decision to go to war with Libya has caused a distraction from the most pressing domestic issue – the economy. And just when some half-way decent news on unemployment is evident.
But in the view of his closest allies, Libya is drowning out his attempts to portray himself as an economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery, especially the devastating and politically poisonous rise in gas prices.
The most recent example: On Friday, press secretary Jay Carney hoped to spend quality time with the White House press corps discussing an upbeat March employment report showing the economy added 216,000 jobs, outpacing analysts’ estimates.
But he was asked a grand total of two questions about the report. He fielded 16 about Libya and at one point had to sneak in a plug for the positive job numbers when a reporter asked a question about budget negotiations with Congress.
“Don’t tell me Libya is not a distraction,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Dealing with a military operation of this complexity, with this many moving parts, takes an enormous amount of the president’s time. We’re talking about hours and hours a day dealing with his national security staff. … It has an impact on everything else.”
Now obviously, it we have to go to war for a good reason – an actual imminent danger or threat to our national security – then you don’t worry about how it will effect the political agenda. You do your duty as CiC. In fact, a President can normally expect it to help him politically – to get a pretty good bump in the polls – as the nation comes together behind them.
But when the war is perceived as a “war of choice” or a “dumb war”, such a bump may not be forthcoming – as in the case of the war against Libya:
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 37% give the president good or excellent ratings on his handling of national security issues. Slightly more voters (40%) say the president is doing a poor job when it comes to national security.
Rasmussen isn’t the only polling service to have those numbers:
Just 39 percent of Americans think Obama has clear goals in Libya, while 50 percent think he doesn’t, according to poll results released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Just 47 percent of Americans support the U.S. airstrikes, while 36 percent don’t and 17 percent don’t know, according to the Pew poll.
The Gallup Poll found similar results, the lowest level of initial support for a U.S. military action in at least three decades, and the first time in 10 interventions dating to the 1983 invasion of Grenada that a majority of Americans didn’t support the action at the onset.
Translation? This is a political problem of Obama’s own making. And on the eve of launching his re-election campaign to boot. Not smart politics – not smart at all. He’s literally “created” a story by his decision to wage a war of choice that will dominate the news and any other message he tries to spin. What is clear is that despite the announced hand-over or pullback in US participation, the press continues to treat it like it should be treated – a war instigated and started by the US (and others) and continuing to have US participation whatever the level.
And we’re starting to hear about how overtaxed our coalition partners are now. The UK for example,. Says the head of the RAF:
With the RAF playing an important role in Libya, where bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft have all been involved over the past fortnight, he admitted the service was now stretched to the limit.
[Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen] Dalton, 57, said the RAF was planning to continue operations over Libya for at least six months. His assumption is that planes will be needed "for a number of months rather than a number of days or weeks".
Did you catch that last sentence? Months instead of weeks. So we can expect to see this remain in the news for some time and we can most likely expect to see more and more of the coalition members whining about their level of participation and attempting to get a higher level of US participation. Already, this weekend, the US flew more sorties in the NFZ than previously planned.
So here you have a classic example of not only a dumb war, but dumb politics. That’s usually what happens when you make snap-decisions without any planning while apparently completely underestimating the reaction of the American people.
Not that anyone on the left will admit that or anything.
So far the “No-Fly Zone” is going swimmingly. Yesterday we had a report of 40 civilians killed in coalition air strikes in Tripoli (remember, the coalition’s mission is to protect civilians) and today we learn that the coalition managed to kill 10 rebels in a strike yesterday (they’re supposedly helping the rebels, remember?).
Fog of war? Eh, yes and no. Mostly just a piss poor war. As I’ve mentioned before, any competent army will learn to adapt and overcome when possible and that’s apparently what pro-Gadhafi forces are doing.
First they went to vehicles similar to the rebels making it very hard to sort out who is who on the ground. Then they took it a step further, according to Reuters:
A Western coalition air strike hit a group of rebels on the eastern outskirts of Brega late on Friday, killing at least 10 of them, rebel fighters at the scene said on Saturday.
A Reuters correspondent saw the burned out husks of at least four vehicles including an ambulance by the side of the road near the eastern entrance to the oil town.
Men prayed at freshly dug graves covered by the rebel red, black and green flag nearby.
"Some of Gaddafi’s forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air," said rebel fighter Mustafa Ali Omar. "After that the NATO forces came and bombed them."
Rebel fighters at the scene said as many as 14 people may have died in the bombing, which they said happened around 10 p.m. local time (2000 GMT)
Meanwhile it appears the possible, or should I say anticipated end state may be – stalemate? Really? That’s what all this effort is about?
U.S. officials are becoming increasingly resigned to the possibility of a protracted stalemate in Libya, with rebels retaining control of the eastern half of the divided country but lacking the muscle to drive Moammar Gaddafi from power.
Such a deadlock — perhaps backed by a formal cease-fire agreement — could help ensure the safety of Libyan civilians caught in the crossfire between the warring sides. But it could also dramatically expand the financial and military commitments by the United States and allied countries that have intervened in the six-week-old conflict, according to U.S. officials familiar with planning for the Libyan operation.
Ya think? That’s always a sign of a well thought out, well planned strategy, isn’t it?
What you’re talking about then is a semi-permanent NFZ, because immediately upon its withdrawal, Benghazi would be under siege again.
What a great solution, no? Split the country, prop up and support some government in the east (an area that produced 20% of the suicide bombers for Iraq and has admitted jihadis in the governing councils and rebel fighters) and then fly cover for the next, oh, 10 years or so?
Paul Miller, writing in Foreign Policy’s “Shadow Government” gets to the crux of the problem with the Libyan intervention – something the liberal hawks don’t want to admit:
Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the "responsibility to protect" to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient. Qaddafi has certainly committed crimes against humanity in this brief war, but R2P was designed to stop widespread, systematic, sustained, orchestrated crimes. If Qaddafi’s barbarity meets that threshold, the administration hasn’t made the case yet, and I’m not convinced. If R2P justifies Libya, then it certainly obligates us to overthrow the governments of Sudan and North Korea and to do whatever it takes to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in Kabul.
In effect, Miller is accusing the administration of using R2P as cover to do what they want to do, regardless of whether or not it fits the so-called principle. As he points out it is a selective application that, if it is indeed a “principle”, should be rigorously applied in other countries now. It won’t be, of course (and that’s fine with me), but it is important to understand that in the list of priority applications of R2P, Libya should be way down on the list and it could even be argued the country shouldn’t even be on that list. What we’ve actually done is insert ourselves in a civil war.
Speaking of the civil war in Libya, it appears the “rebels” or opposition, which ever you prefer, are a pretty rag-tag crew with little hope of success without an enormous amount of help. Among the things I’ve read is the fact that there is no real unified single rebel command structure or shadow government. There are 3 competing factions.
At the courthouse on Benghazi’s battered seafront promenade, the de-facto seat of the Libyan revolution, a group of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals have appointed one another to a hodgepodge of “leadership councils.” There is a Benghazi city council, and a Provisional National Council, headed by a bland but apparently honest former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who spends his time in Bayda, a hundred and twenty-five miles away. Other cities have councils of their own. The members are intellectuals, former dissidents, and businesspeople, many of them from old families that were prominent before Qaddafi came to power. What they are not is organized. No one can explain how the Benghazi council works with the National Council. Last week, another shadow government, the Crisis Management Council, was announced in Benghazi; it was unclear how its leader, a former government planning expert named Mahmoud Jibril, would coördinate with Jalil, or whether he had supplanted him.
Add to that two competing military chiefs:
One is General Abdel Fateh Younis, who was Qaddafi’s interior minister and the commander of the Libyan special forces until he “defected” to the rebel side. Younis has been publicly absent, and he is distrusted by the shabab and by many council members. The other chief, Colonel Khalifa Heftir, is a hero of Libya’s war with Chad, in the nineteen-eighties; he later turned against Qaddafi and, until recently, was in exile in the U.S. Unlike Younis, he elicits widespread admiration in Benghazi, but he, too, has kept out of sight, evidently at a secret Army camp where he is preparing élite troops for battle.
Uh huh … elite troops that have yet to make their way to the battle.
As to the battle, it’s semi-competent troops against a disorganized rabble. And, as you might imagine, since the Gadhaif faction has adapted its tactics to mitigate the effect of airstrikes, it is beginning to show:
Many of the idealistic young men who looted army depots of gun trucks and weapons six weeks ago believed the tyrannical 41-year reign of Col. Moammar Kadafi would quickly collapse under the weight of a mass rebellion.
Now those same volunteer fighters, most of whom had never before fired a gun, have fled a determined onslaught by Kadafi’s forces, which have shown resilience after being bombarded and routed by allied airstrikes a week ago.
Some exhausted rebels capped a 200-plus mile retreat up the Libyan coast by fleeing all the way to Benghazi, the rebels’ de facto capital, to rest and regroup. Others remained at thinly manned positions at the strategic crossroads city of Ajdabiya on Thursday.
There’s really no one in charge on the rebel side and of course, that means that they’re simply ineffective. Indicators of how ineffective they are are obvious. Also obvious is the lack of discipline which will, in the end, cause their complete and utter defeat:
For many rebel fighters, the absence of competent military leadership and a tendency to flee at the first shot have contributed to sagging morale. Despite perfunctory V-for-victory signs and cries of "Allahu akbar!" (God is great), the eager volunteers acknowledge that they are in for a long, uphill fight.
"Kadafi is too strong for us, with too many heavy weapons. What can we do except fall back to protect ourselves?" said Salah Chaiky, 41, a businessman, who said he fired his assault rifle while fleeing Port Brega even though he was too far away to possibly hit the enemy.
Retreating rebels paused only to wolf down lunches provided by volunteers supporting their cause. Two in mismatched military uniforms took time out in Ajdabiya to sneak into a blown-out police post and smoke hashish.
There are reports that one of the rebel factions has negotiated a deal with Qatr to exchange oil for weapons. They can trade for all the weapons in the world but without the training and discipline necessary to make them into a competent fighting force, that means nothing. For instance:
Few, if any, T-72 tanks and BM-21 rocket launchers recovered from government forces who abandoned the weapons during Western-led airstrikes have been brought to the front. Opposition leaders, who say defecting government soldiers are qualified to supervise rebel volunteers, say those same regulars aren’t trained to operate the tanks and rockets.
Operating them is obviously important. But so is employing the in accordance to some strategy also apparently lacking. As you can imagine, rebel morale is starting to really sink badly. No one should find that surprising.
Of course another aspect of the rebels is their makeup. As SecDef Gates said yesterday it’s a “pick up game” for that side. There are approximately 1,000 trained fighters according to rebel sources. But there are also other fighters within the mix (and probably some overlap). As one admiral said in testimony before the Armed Services Committees, there’s a “flicker” of jihadis.
In fact, it seems more than a flicker:
A former leader of Libya’s al Qaeda affiliate says he thinks “freelance jihadists” have joined the rebel forces, as NATO’s commander told Congress on Tuesday that intelligence indicates some al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists are fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who renounced his al Qaeda affiliation in 2000, said in an interview that he estimates 1,000 jihadists are in Libya.
Obviously such an estimate has to be taken with a grain of salt – the number, not the fact that AQ jihadis are involved. We know al Queda is involved:
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited "around 25" men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are "today are on the front lines in Adjabiya".
Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters "are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists," but added that the "members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader".
Al-Hasidi fought in Afghanistan against NATO and for the Taliban until he was captured in 2002 in Pakistan. He was released in 2008 in Libya.
Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, "including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries".
We’ll see, if that’s true, if they begin popping up in Gaza and Afghanistan. In the meantime, given the above, who again is our enemy?
Finally, amid a couple of high level defections, it is reported that the Gadhafi government has sent a special envoy to the UK for some secret meetings. Speculation has it that he’s there to negotiate an exit strategy.
High level defections usually indicate instability in a regime and the rats attempt to save themselves before the ship sinks. But Gadhafi has already survived a round of such defections. And with rebels falling back in disarray with low morale, the situation just doesn’t lend itself to a persuasive argument that Gadhafi would be trying to find a way out.
The envoy is a senior aide to Gadhafi’s son Saif. Here’s what some believe is being presented:
Some aides working for Gaddafi’s sons, however, have made it clear that it may be necessary to sideline their father and explore exit strategies to prevent the country descending into anarchy.
One idea the sons have reportedly suggested – which the Guardian has been unable to corroborate – is that Gaddafi give up real power. Mutassim, presently the country’s national security adviser, would become president of an interim national unity government which would include the opposition. It is an idea, however, unlikely to find support among the rebels or the international community who are demanding Gaddafi’s removal.
The argument is “anarchy is a distinct possibility” and would see the wholesale slaughter of civilians. So, the compromise position is we’ll put dear old Dad on the sideline, one of the sons will become an interim president and we’ll also include those rebels in the interim government.
Sounds like a stall to me. But then, the stall makes sense if you’re about to push the rebels back into Benghazi and you’d like to see if you can’t waive off NATO airstrikes for a bit by a little “good faith” negotiation, eh?
No cynicism there – just Gadhafi being Gadhafi. He knows that’s unacceptable but it may buy critical time.
Bottom line: the rebels are in trouble, I don’t think theGadhafii government is in danger of imminent collapse, NATO’s mission becomes more difficult by the day (and probably less effective) and this thing could drag on for months, even years.
Aren’t you glad we’ve inserted ourselves in the middle of this war of choice?
The building debacle in Libya grows even more absurd and funny in a sad sort of way.
As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.
“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”
Well that answers my question about ‘good’ civilians and ‘bad’ civilians although a Vatican representative in Tripoli reports that coalition air strikes have killed 40 civilians in that city. This is apparently one NATO can’t waive away as Gadhafi planting corpses to look like NATO is causing civilian deaths.
I love the line about “working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels” about the problem. I assume those would be the CIA agents in the country as a result of a secret order by President Transparency? Hello, Congress? Yeah, don’t worry about it, I’ll call you from Brazil.
Anyway, back to the point at hand – the NATO warning about civilians seems much more in the spirit of the UN resolution than does helping rebel forces by bombing opposition units as the rebels advance or striking Tripoli in an obvious (but denied) attempt to facilitate regime change.
So if NATO is so hot to ensure the rebs don’t kill civilians and doesn’t plan on letting Gadhafi do it, it appears NATO is the only one doing it right now.
Oh, by the way, if you haven’t seen it, Andrew Sullivan is having a melt down over all of this. He has a bad case of the vapors:
It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?
To answer Sullivan’s question – no. At least I can’t imagine a dumber one, but then there’s always the possibility that our leader may manage to find one. Expect it to happen the next time he decides on a foreign junket. As for Sully – that’s what blind and unquestioning love does for you, big boy. Maybe next time you’ll remove the blinders and ask some pertinent questions of your candidate of choice – like what in the world have you ever done that qualifies you for this job?
Wait, I’m talking about the left here, aren’t I?
Nah … not going to happen.
Anyway, back to the issue:
The increasing murkiness of the battlefield, as the freewheeling rebels advance and retreat and as fighters from both sides mingle among civilians, has prompted NATO members to issue new “rules of engagement” spelling out when the coalition may attack units on the ground in the name of protecting civilians.
It was unclear how the rules are changing — especially on the critical questions surrounding NATO’s mandate and whether it extends to protecting rebels who are no longer simply defending civilian populated areas like Benghazi, but are instead are themselves on the offensive.
“This is a challenge,” said a senior alliance military officer. “The problem of discriminating between combatant and civilian is never easy, and it is compounded when you have Libyan regime forces fighting irregular forces, like the rebel militias, in urban areas populated by civilians.”
Of course it is “a challenge”. It’s worthy of “Mission Impossible”. As this mess, this civil war ebbs and flows, telling red and blue from white is going to verge on impossible. And with reports of Gadhafi arming civilians (one assumes to enable them to defend themselves) NATO also gets to decide whether or not armed civilians are fair game.
This is the sort of situations you find yourself in when you commit to “dumb wars”. But then our fearless leader knows all about “dumb wars”, he doesn’t want to fight them. And yet, there he is, fighting one in Libya. You can hear Sully crying from here.