Intensify Attacks in Libya
France’s admission last week that it has been arming the Libyan opposition was met with intense criticism. The move, logical and appropriate given the inadequacy of air attacks, should be welcomed. Yet, it is still not enough. Nato must now intensify its attacks to finally defeat Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Four months after the international community convened to protect the Libyan population, Nato is still yet to utilise its military capacity to full effect. For example, the deployment of attack helicopters last month was supposed to have dramatically tilted the balance in the opposition’s favour and help them build on their progress at the frontline. Attacks, however, have hardly materialised.
It was precisely this dithering in the early stages of the uprising that allowed Gaddafi to regain lost territory from the protesters, consolidate his position and thus remain defiant to this day.
Now, suggestions are that Nato is unwilling to take that extra step. The Economist magazine, for example, says Nato powers hope “the rebels will not capture Tripoli after a headlong advance from the east”, apparently because of the “risks of retribution being inflicted on Gaddafi loyalists” in a rebel advance.
Instead, Nato seeks an implosion of the Gaddafi regime from within, so that the eventual result is a peaceful and negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition, in the absence of Gaddafi and his sons.
That strategy is flawed for a number of reasons. Firstly, delaying the offensive toward Tripoli will allow Gaddafi to try and consolidate his position, thereby prolonging the conflict and increasing the death toll.
The strategy is also based on hope rather than logic. The only way an implosion of the Gaddafi regime might be provoked is to actually help the opposition embark upon Tripoli and put them in a position to liberate it. In other words, elements within the regime must have a reason to betray Gaddafi. In any case, and thirdly, retribution can and is likely to take place irrespective of whether certain state apparatus’ are kept intact, and there is little the outside world can do about it.
Finally, keeping traditional regime elements intact, in particular the inner circles of Gaddafi and his sons, may end up proving counter-productive. These groups generally tend to be an extension of their masters, rather than independent of them. If left intact, they can continue to undermine any transitional phase and essentially operate to create instability, create a stronghold for themselves in the country and perhaps try and force the return of Gaddafi and/or his sons – with the support of arms and funds from existing external backers.
In other words, a military push toward Tripoli should be promoted and not discouraged. If Nato wants to avoid instability and bloody retribution then it should instead aim to swiftly end the Gaddafi regime and focus efforts on the post-Gaddafi transitional period, with a particular emphasis on representation.
That means ensuring both opposition and regime elements – like the army, police, as well as any key tribes, groups and individuals who are yet to side with the opposition – are given a seat at the roundtable and assured that they have a stake in the new Libya.
Iraq has taught us not to place too much emphasis on Libyan exiles, or those who constitute the core elements of the eastern-based opposition; previously underestimated or unknown elements are likely to emerge from the woodwork. As the conflict drags on, strong personalities are likely to emerge, not least from within the ever-powerful military on both sides. It is during war and conflict that new and powerful leaders are often born.
The least attention has so far been given to ways in which the people of Tripoli can rise up, so that the journey toward liberation is smoother and avoids a bloody, arguably unavoidable show-down in Tripoli once the opposition gets there.
The regime has a vast network of spies and informants, lurking on the streets and cafes of the capital. There is little that can be done to shut this down. However, what can be done is give Gaddafi more than one battle to fight.
Civil unrest in Tripoli, as a result of fuel and water shortages, combined with opposition advances in areas outside of Tripoli, will be too much to bear for the regime. The aim here is essentially to target the manpower and resources Gaddafi needs to sustain his regime and survive; in other words, shut off the supply lines and make conditions so unbearable and unmanageable that Gaddafi and his inner circle either have the choice of leaving the country or succumbing to defeat as a result of the significant drain on their resources.
It is clear now that the question should no longer be how long the military campaign will go on for but, rather, how long Gaddafi and his regime can survive. The West has another two months until its current mandate for air attacks expires. But it cannot afford to wait; Gaddafi recognises the impossibility of winning this conflict military, so he hopes Nato’s resolve for carrying on will end.
In other words, Gaddafi believes he can wait it out, divide the coalition and force the international community to settle for the prized ceasefire lifeline. He should be given no such opportunity. It is the regime that has its days numbered. Once the international community accepts and capitalises on this by expanding and intensifying its attacks, then the sooner it and the Libyan people will achieve the end-game of liberation.