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President Obama has approved the use of Predator drones for offensive military action in Libya, according to defence Secretary Robert Gates. The drones were scheduled to strike targets in Libya today, but bad weather forced them to return to base. “President Obama has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Secretary Gates said. “And in fact he has approved the use of armed Predators.”
Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright elaborated on why the drones were important. “What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions,” Cartwright said. “They are uniquely suited for urban areas.”
Although Pentagon officials remain optimistic that all this firepower will eventually lead to the collapse of Col. Qaddafi’s regime. That optimism seems….optimistic. The fact is that Col. Qaddafi’s forces are winning the “ground war.” And the best that can be hoped for at the moment is some kind of “political settlement.”
Max Hastings of the Financial Times has an excellent analysis of the present situation:
Intelligence now suggests that the insurgents represent the coastal tribes of Cyrenaica, while the inland tribes remain more or less loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. The rebels are a rabble, facing better armed and organised regime forces. Allied bombing delays a rebel defeat and perhaps massacre. But NATO cannot provide close air support, especially in urban areas, without forward controllers on the ground. To deploy these with appropriate protection would be a significant escalation.
US and European senior officers are baffled about why the three western governments emphasised their commitment to regime change last week, when the problems already looked so stark. Insistence on Col. Qaddafi’s removal apparently rules out a negotiated settlement, or de facto partition.
It is hard to see how regime change can be achieved, and its consequences managed, without committing ground forces, at least in a stabilisation role. This would be a huge step, threatening an open-ended entanglement, though Libya’s population is only a fraction of Iraq’s or Afghanistan’s. It would split the Nato alliance, many of whose members are unwilling even to join the bombing campaign. It would engage Britain, France and the US in a deployment to arbitrate the future of Libya, while Iraq and Afghanistan remain unfinished business.
You can read Mr. Hastings’ full analysis here.