Monday, March 28, 2011

US is sliding into long-term military involvement in Libya

Despite protestations to the contrary, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources find the American role in the operation against Muammar Qaddafi heading only one way: Instead of a transition “in a few days” to NATO i.e. Europe - which US President Barack Obama will no doubt reiterate when he addresses the nation Tuesday, March 29 - the United States is sliding deeper day by day into a third war in a Muslim country.

In the last three days, US air strikes have beaten Qaddafi’s forces into tactical retreat from all its conquests in the rebel-held eastern province of Cyrenaica. This operation rescued the rebels from the certain defeat they faced in the middle of last week, allowed them to retake the strategic oil towns of Ajdabiya, Brega and Ras Lanuf and opened the way for them to drive forward to Qaddafi’s home town of Sirte, the key to Tripoli.

In the view of debkafile’s military experts, the Libyan opposition’s gains are no more than a victory on paper, not the battlefield. Qaddafi and his commanders executed tactical retreats from those towns - not because they were beaten in battle but to avoid being ground down by superior US sea-based and air power. That power opened the door for the opposition rebels to recover the towns they lost in the last three weeks and pose as victors.

For Washington, the implication is clear: Continuing rebel momentum against Qaddafi’s forces depends on United States commitment to two steps:

1. Keeping up the aerial and sea-based bombardment of government forces. Nothing, otherwise, will stop Qaddafi’s troops turning around and heading back east to recapture the towns they left. Containing Qaddafi’s army cannot be left to the limited capabilities of France and Britain or any other members of NATO which has assumed token command of the Libya operation.
2. Organizing the rebels into regular combat units and furnishing them with arms, funds and military instructors. The other alternative would be for the Americans to invest increasing numbers of ground forces into Libya to defend the eastern provinces against Qaddafi reasserting control.