On March 19th, American, British and French armed forces launched military strikes on targets throughout Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn.
The military strikes follow the passage of Resolution 1973 by the UN Security Council on March 17th. Part of the Resolution reads, “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 to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi.”
The military operation, Odyssey Dawn, began with French air sorties on ground and air targets near the besieged rebel held town of Benghazi. This was soon followed by the launch of 112 U.K. and U.S. cruise missiles. These missile attacks targeted approximately 20 sites outside of Tripoli and Misrata. The USS Barry, USS Stout, USS Providence, USS Scranton, USS Florida and the British sub, the Westminster took part in the operation. The cruise missile attacks have continued throughout the evening. It will be unclear what effect the attacks have had on Libya’s integrated air defense systems until coalition flights can be conducted in daylight.
The opening military strikes against Libya had many glued to their television screens for most of the day. The military operations are undoubtedly going to become much more involved as the operation moves into its next phase. Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon, “I want to stress that this is just the first phase of what will likely be a multiphase military operation designed to enforce the United Nations resolution.” American involvement will focus on disabling Libya’s integrated air defense systems in order to enable coalition air forces to safely enforce the no-fly zone over much of Libya. Specifically, coalition forces are focused on destroying Libya’s surface to air capabilities that would put coalition fighter jets in jeopardy.
Vice Adm. William E. Gortney stressed to reporters that Libya’s integrated air and missile defense system is largely based on the system that protected Baghdad in 2003 and it uses Soviet technologies. With these systems disabled the no-fly zone can begin in earnest and would possibly include attacks on Libyan ground units that pose a threat to civilians and armed rebels.
As the no-fly zone comes to fruition and a greater number of aircraft are needed, the U.S. undoubtedly will take on a larger role with the possible introduction of the A-10 Thunderbolt, the F-35 Lightning and the F/A-18 Hornet. The British are likely to commit the Eurofighter, the Tornado, the Nimrod and the Sentinel, the French, the Dassault Rafale and the Mirage 2000 and the Canadians have already sent 6 F-18 Hornets. Obama, while touring Brazil, spoke for the first time about the operation, “I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it.” Obama continued, “I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we can’t stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking outside of 10 Downing Street, said, “[coalition action] is necessary, it is legal, and it is right.” Mr. Cameron continued, “It is necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him using his military against his own people…It is legal, because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council and also of the Arab League and many others…And it is right because we believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people.” The U.K., U.S. and the French are eager to stress the legality of the military strikes. The past no-fly zone over Iraq has been criticized for being conducted without the approval of a UN Resolution.
What remains to be seen is what the overall mission of the coalition forces will resemble in the days and weeks ahead. President Obama has placed great emphasis on the need for the international community to confront Col. Qaddafi. Speaking from the White House earlier in the week, Obama said, “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”
Airstrikes are to intensify once the Libyan air and missile defense system has been disabled. Coalition forces will then be able to ground Qaddafi’s air assets during the no-fly zone portion of the operation and shoot down any Libyan fighter jets in violation of UN Resolution 1973. The French destroyed several armored vehicles outside of Benghazi.
As coalition forces make a hard push on Qaddafi’s military it is not at all clear what the end goal is. There has been speculation that the military strikes will likely target Libyan command and control apparatus including Qaddafi himself. While this development would likely end the need for a long-term continuation of a no-fly zone and other coalition military attacks, this would constitute a mission creep by the U.S., U.K. and France. The larger goal of the coalition forces must be to insure that Libyan air assets do not pose a further threat to rebel groups and civilians and it must insure that UN Resolution 1973 is enforced.