Monday, March 21, 2011

Aviation can only do so much

The current no-fly zone in Libya brings the topic of air power and it's effectiveness into relief once again.  Watching several international news feeds i have seen several "experts" who opined that the Libyan military and it's mercenaries would simply melt away once airstrikes started to hit them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Air power alone in incapable of winning a fight on its own.  There are plenty of examples of this from recent history.  The no-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq that existed from about 1993 until Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced in 2003 did not stop the Iraqi regime from attacking Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north.  Total control of the air over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's, including targeted airstrikes, did not stop some of the worst massacres in history from happening at Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia.

Gaddafi's military obviously still has a significant number of loyal commanders and soldiers.  I would assume from the lack of reports of any exodus of sub-Saharan Africans that his mercenary force is still intact as well.  Commentators have a very low opinion of these forces and have almost discounted them altogether expecting them to turn tail and run at the first airstrikes.  While it has not been made public where these mercenaries are from, we can look at the conflicts in the past 10 years in sub-Saharan Africa to get an idea of their experience.  These fighters have been exposed to some of the most brutal and close quarters fighting in recent memory.  Many also have grown up surrounded by war from their childhood.  It is not realistic to expect these forces to run away from bombs.

These air strikes do set a condition for the possible success of the anti-government forces it is far from a fait accompli.  The rebels still have a very long hard fights ahead of them, one it is hard to see them winning outright any time soon without some outside help.  Without more loyalist military units defecting the rebels will need more arms and equipment and communications to prevail.

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