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The Libyan rebels do not have the time needed to craft a properly trained military. If they are to have any chance, they will need to compensate for a lack of training and experience with firepower. Such a strategy has many risks, and will exact a high cost in blood. But against trained troops and professional mercenaries, with no time to prepare a proper army, what else can be done other than to hope that firepower rules the day?
In truth, they will likely require more than that. Libya’s air force is outdated and not particularly large, especially by the standards of the region. But the rebels, who have no aircraft and virtually no anti-aircraft weapons, are hopelessly outclassed by Libya’s otherwise unimpressive air arsenal. Ever since the first reports emerged of Gaddafi using his aircraft against helpless citizens emerged, there have been calls for the West to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, while not ruling the plan out, was clear from the outset that imposing a no-fly zone would require military strikes against Libya’s defenses first. In other words, it would commit the United States and its allies to one side of a Libyan civil war.
Some of America’s European allies, notably France, are hawkishly calling for a zone to be established, fully aware that such a step would be to take a side in a civil war. France has also recognized the Libyan rebels as the official government of “Free Libya,” as have the Portuguese. Canada is considering such a step. But no country other than the United States is capable of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya unilaterally, meaning some international body would need to provide legitimacy. The dysfunctional UN, with Russia and China holding veto power, is unlikely to authorize military action against Libya. The G8 has deferred to the UN, as has NATO. Put bluntly, no one cares enough about Libya to get involved. America has shown little interest, leading to speculation that it prefers the stability of a hostile ruler to the uncertainty of taking sides in a civil war.
In short, the Libyan rebels, however brave, are likely on their own. It is nearly impossible to predict in advance how a civil war will unfold, particularly one taking place in a society with the tribal complexities that Libya must contend with. But militarily, Gaddafi holds the advantages. Unless his fortunes change dramatically at home or the Western world chooses to intervene abroad, Libya’s rebellion might soon come to a tragic end.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.
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