Libya What next?

18 March 2011 : Updated 19 March 2011

Colonel Gaddafi may well be &lsuqo;mad’, at least in the colloquial sense of the word, but he certainly isn’t stupid. I suppose it’s true to say that no dictator would be able to survive long if he were stupid. His plan seems to consist of stalling military intervention from the outside by complying partially to the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to give him sufficient time to capture Benghazi without using the air force. Even if that were not to happen, Colonel Gaddafi’s regime may survive in the western half, splitting the country in half.

A ‘ceasefire’ has been announced, and the Libyan air force seems to have been grounded to comply with the resolution, however, there are reports of Colonel Gaddafi’s ground troops still approaching Benghazi. No doubt Colonel Gaddafi’s side would claim that it was the opposition who continued to attack, and that they had to defend themselves. The resolution:

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory [...]

As such, it does allow for military intervention from the air to protect civilians, even if Libyan air force planes are grounded. However, as this policy has been talked as implementing a no-fly zone, this partial compliance throws a spanner into the works. Can the Libyan air force infrastructure and assets be attacked, if the no-fly zone is observed, even if there are ground troops still in operation? Such may well be within the scope of the resolution, but that may hand a propaganda victory to Colonel Gaddafi, who will paint such as examples of western colonization / invasion.

If the air strikes were to be carried against ground troops on the move, it brings its difficulties. It’s usually much harder to hit mobile units on the ground, than targeting immobile or semi-mobile air force infrastructure. If Colonel Gaddafi’s ground troops were to capture more opposition-held areas, it will become more difficult to conduct an effective aerial campaign, since they may well be in an area with a large number of civilians. Bombing civilian populated areas to protect civilians is not an easy task, and it will not be an easy task to explain to the public.

In case Colonel Gaddfi decides to pull his troops out from the opposition-held areas, and observes ceasefire punctiliously, then what can the ‘international community’ do? Splitting the country may be an option, though the resolution reaffirmed the Security Council’s ‘strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’.

Ideally Colonel Gaddafi’s regime will go, and I hope his regime will collapse from within, but it’s best not to underestimate his and his regime’s ability and tenacity to hold on to power.

[Update] 19 March 2011

Colonel Gadaffi’s forces are entering Benghazi, according to some reports. He is trying to retake Benghazi, before an effective military intervention led by Britain and France starts.

Earlier, a fighter jet was shot down, but it was operating for the opposition.