The United States’ top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said initial Western air strikes on Libya yesterday had made significant progress against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and effectively established a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone.
Now comes the hard part.
As Western military planners conduct battle-damage assessments and launch further strikes after unleashing more than 100 cruise missiles and waves of air strikes, analysts cautioned against expecting a quick or easy outcome.
While the early stages of the campaign were likely to be declared successful, the conflict could become far messier, with a risk of the Western allies getting mired in a long standoff.
Analysts stressed the limitations of air power once initial, easy targets were destroyed and said the power base Gaddafi has built up in more than four decades of rule could prove far more resilient than many would hope.
As the campaign becomes more complex, there is a significant risk that Western forces could cause casualties among the very civilians they are mandated to protect, eroding support for their mission.
“In terms of the mission to enforce a no-fly zone, they are likely to be extremely effective,” said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Service Institute think tank. “They will already have destroyed the preponderance of Libyan air defenses.
“But the question is, even once you have established a no-fly zone ... what happens next?
Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said air strikes “took out” Gaddafi’s air defenses and hit Libyan air fields while Western forces established air patrols over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
“But this is the beginning of the war,” said STRAFOR’s head George Friedman. “Gaddafi’s primary capabilities are conventional armor and particularly artillery. Destroying his air force and isolating his forces will not by itself win the war. The war is on the ground.”
Civilian deaths irk Arab League
TRIPOLI – Western forces’ day-old intervention hit a diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the “bombardment of civilians.”
Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment.
Arab backing for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for Western action to stop Gaddafi killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his rule.
Gaddafi hit, vows to keep fighting
Tripoli. Western air strikes pounded Muammar Gaddafi’s defenses and allied warplanes patrolled Libyan skies yesterday, lifting the siege of Benghazi and allowing rebels to surge forward.
The aerial assault stopped in its tracks the advance by Gaddafi’s troops into Benghazi and left the burned and shattered remains of his tanks and troop carriers littering the main road outside the rebel stronghold.
Gaddafi said the raids amounted to terrorism and vowed to fight to the death. “We will not leave our land and we will liberate it,” he said on state television. “We will remain alive and you will all die.”