Libya: what's next?



This could be the turning point in the civil war which ravages Libya.



Tonight, shortly after 05:00 PM local time, the U.N. Security Council decided to impose a No Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya and calls the U.N. members to use “all means to protect civilians”.



This is a victory for London and Paris, the two European capitals the most engaged in the diplomatic ballet to isolate colonel Gaddafi’s regime during the last weeks.


It is also and foremost a personal victory for French President Nicolas Sarkozy who was isolated last week when France decided unilaterally to recognize the Benghazi Council as the only legitimate representative of Libya (see our March 10 Briefing).




1)    What are the military implication of the UNSC decision



A NFZ is not only forbidding the flights over a country. It involves various military tactics and means: strike to destroy airport runways, attacks on anti-air defence, strikes on radar etc. And, of course, it authorises the engagement of jets defying the ban on flights.



But the UNSC resolution goes far beyond this. The text authorises the use “all the means” to protect civilians. Clearly speaking, it allows members of the UN to attack military convoys, tanks, engage the Libyan navy, bomb military facilities and conduct classical C3I attacks (attacks on Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence centres and facilities) which are the key to modern war and  for the installation of military supremacy and exclusion.



The only thing not allowed under the UNSC resolution, is a military occupation of Libya. In other words: “No boots on the Ground”.



Arming and training the rebels could also be an option, a fact which was underlined Thursday afternoon by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.




2)    Which countries will be involved in military actions?



France and the United Kingdom will be involved and will, very likely the first to strike, probably this night as the clock is ticking for Benghazi.



The United States will certainly participate.



Al-Arabiya global TV network said tonight that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are ready to participate in the operation. Even if this is purely symbolic, the participation of Arab countries is politically crucial to underline that this is not a “Western against Arabs war” neither is it a “war for oil”, as Libyan propaganda says.



It must be underlined that the Arab League voted in favour of the imposition of the NFZ a few days ago and that the text adopted by the UNSC was submitted by Lebanon. 




3)    What effect



Gaddafi’s control on the country relies on three main elements:



-          Air supremacy (if not exclusivity as the rebels have no jets)



-          Clear superiority in heavy artillery and tanks



-          Huge number of well trained fighters (The Libyan army (land, air and navy) counts 75 000 men, not all of them reliable as this is a conscription army. To have an exact figure, we must also consider special forces, security forces, foreign “mercenaries” and revolutionary Committees. The total comes to approximately 150 000 fighters…)



Destruction of air-capacity, attacks against coordination centres and possible bombing of the troops, artillery and tanks on the ground will forbid colonel Gaddafi's forces from taking (and probably, even attacking) Benghazi. It could also reverse the course of the war and allow the rebels to fight back successfully.




4)    How Colonel Gaddafi could react


Some countries fear – and the U.S. clearly said so tonight – seeing Libya returning to terrorism and violent extremism.



Al-Arabiya said tonight that colonel Gaddafi threatened to attach air transport and civilian ships in the Mediterranean if the NFZ was imposed.



The Libyan General Interim Defence Committee said Libya will “retaliate” against any foreign military operation. It openly threatened maritime and air navigation in the Mediterranean and “all civilian and military activities” [in the region and in the Middle East].



Apart from non-conventional operations (terrorism action in North Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and maybe other parts of the world), colonel Gaddafi's forces will very likely use the remaining time, and the forces they still have, to try to crush the rebellion. An escalation in violence is, thus, to fear…


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