PARIS - France, Britain, the United States and its Arab allies will have to choose between several scenarios for their military operations in Libya, following the UN Security Councils vote in favor of a no-fly zone and air strikes against Gaddafis forces.
(On Friday, the Libyan government announced an immediate ceasefire and a halt to all military operations against rebels following the UN resolution. The move was widely seen as an attempt by Gaddafis regime to buy time as Western military leaders prepared to act.)
The no-fly zone element of the resolution -- suggested by diplomats -- seemed designed to avoid a Russian or Chinese veto, masking in language acceptable to everyone the reality of military intervention.
When a no-fly zone was imposed in Bosnia in the early 1990s to stop the Serbs from shelling civilians, it did not prevent the Srebrenica massacre. A no-fly zone implemented over Iraq for 12 years did nothing to influence Saddam Hussein. By the time the no-fly zone is put in place over Libya, Gaddafi's troops could have regained control of the last rebel-controlled areas.
Instead, because Thursday evenings UN Security Councils draft resolution promises to protect civilians "by all means", the Allies could decide almost immediately to launch targeted strikes against strategic objectives in Libya, such as its air defense, command centers and airports, in a bid to ground its air force.
At the same time, electronic warfare could be employed to neutralize Libyan radar systems. Under that scenario, France could participate with planes stationed at the Solenzara airbase on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. It could also send its AWACS radar planes. Such military action would send a strong signal. Some hope it could have a strong psychological impact on Gaddafis entourage, prompting it to abandon the colonel.
If the goal of the intervention is to bring down the regime, as some diplomats have suggested, the allies could also decide to attack Gaddafis tanks and infantry, striking in the desert, along the road once travelled by the British Eighth Army and the German General Erwin Rommel. This would be a particularly intense act, both politically and militarily," warns one high-ranking French military source, who has doubts that it would suffice in unseating the regime.
Faced with the threat of air strikes, Gaddafi will not fail to disperse his forces on the ground, as Saddam Hussein did in March 2003. It will then be difficult to avoid collateral damage on civilian populations. Another military source underlines that air power alone can never win a war. "To destroy an army, you need to go the whole way, he says. The draft resolution, however, excludes the use of ground troops.
Although weakened, Gaddafi can still count on the loyalty of 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers and additional African mercenaries, as well as surface-to-air missiles and significant numbers of tanks and artillery also still under his control.
The last option would be to directly attack the regimes center of gravity, Gaddafi himself, by striking his bunker, or other shelters where he is known to take refuge. In 1986, U.S. air strikes launched by President Ronald Reagan against Gaddafis residence narrowly missed him.
Since then, military satellite technology and strike systems have become much more sophisticated, which should make such an operation easier. But w should remember that in March 2003, the very first air strike on Baghdad was aimed at eliminating Saddam Hussein. It missed its target.
Read the original version in French
Photo Credit - (Mashley Morgan)