France is also wrestling with getting around the UN’s prohibition against sending in troops without calling it an intervention. A foreign ministry official in France’s lower legislative house proposed sending in 200-300 non-combat troops to help spot targets for NATO warplanes. But France’s foreign minister said he opposed the idea.
“Mission creep” also appeared in another announcement earlier this month. Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief, offered to have NATO soldiers protect aid workers and humanitarian shipments in Libya. A Gaddafi official immediately said such a deployment would be regarded as a military action that would cause fighting. So far, the UN’s humanitarian organization responsible for the aid programs has not requested the EU’s military assistance.
The reason for NATO slowly reversing its position regarding a ground troop deployment is that the rebel forces are weak, untrained and disunited. They can barely hold on to their own territory in Eastern Libya and are definitely not strong enough to conquer Western Libya or take Tripoli, Gaddafi’s stronghold. Both the rebel forces and NATO want Gaddafi gone and are now facing up to the fact NATO “boots on the ground” are the only way to bring this about. It is also the only path to a short war that does not drain their treasuries and will get the oil and gas flowing again as soon as possible.
In the end, the restrictive and weak UN no-fly zone measure will cost many Libyan non-combatants their lives, contradicting its purpose. While well intentioned, it has created the worst possible scenario. U.S. Army General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said NATO air strikes may have prevented a Gaddafi victory, but they created a stalemate, in which the fighting will go on for many months. Such a prolonged conflict will see thousands of casualties and the country’s ruination. Already, the dead in the Libyan war are estimated to be between 2,000 and 8,000 with the toll climbing daily.
If NATO intended to intervene militarily, it should have done so in full force in the first weeks of the rebellion when the Gaddafi regime was shocked and off balance, and rebel forces held towns and cities in Western Libya only 30 miles from Tripoli. Instead, led by Obama, NATO countries waited three weeks to get a UN resolution before acting, allowing Gaddafi to recover. By that time, the rebel forces had been driven back to Benghazi and Gaddafi’s forces almost captured the city. Since then, with their hands tied by Resolution 1973, Western governments have been twisting themselves into knots, trying to figure out how to end the stalemate without violating the UN’s mandate.
War is a serious business that requires strong measures. The great British military analyst Sir Henry Basil Liddell-Hart said war is also only profitable when victory is gained quickly. The UN can produce neither. As a result, the killing in Libya will go on for a long time yet.