Thursday, April 21, 2011

Act of Desperation--or Calculation?

A Predator UAV firing a Hellfire missile during a weapons test. The U.S. has authorized the use of armed drones in Libya, providing a modest increase in support to anti-Qadhafi rebels (U.S. Air Force photo).

Earlier today, the Obama Administration unveiled its latest, incremental move in the Libya conflict. According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the U.S. will soon begin using armed Predator drones again pro-Qadhafi forces. Until now, UAVs have been limited to a surveillance role, in support of NATO operations in Libya.

The move came as rebel forces continue to lose ground to the Libyan dictator. The insurgents have also complained that NATO isn't doing enough to protect civilians in the city of Misrata, the scene of heavy fighting in recent days. Addition of the armed Predators, carrying Hellfire missiles, will (at least in theory) allow NATO to identify government armored forces and artillery positions, and target them more quickly.

But the move left many military analysts scratching their heads. Bringing in a few missile-firing UAVs won't add much to the NATO arsenal. Hellfires are fine for taking out a terrorist hideout in Afghanistan, or vehicle carrying Al Qaida operatives in Yemen. But if you want to eliminate a tank company or a small formation of tube artillery, you'll need more Predators, or some follow-on airstrikes from fixed-wing aircraft.

And there's the rub. While there's been a lot of talk about France and Great Britain flying more attack missions over Libya, there has been no significant increase in their combat sorties. Meanwhile, the U.S. has refused to send its most capable CAS platforms (the A-10 "Warthog" and the AC-130 "Spectre" gunship) back into the fight. Qadhafi is reportedly resupplying and repositioning his forces under the cover of darkness, with relative impunity (did we mention that the U.S. has been pushing its NATO allies to improve their night-strike capabilities for more than a decade).

Some have described the armed Predator deployment as an act of desperation, but it looks more like a carefully calculated move. Originally, President Obama wanted no part of the war, but he was forced into action by advisers like Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice. At that point, it looked like the rebels might actually win, so many in the administration saw an opportunity for a quick foreign policy success.

You know what happened next. Qadhafi and his military forces regrouped and the rebels folded like a cheap suit. Western military action was necessary to "prevent a massacre." We're not sure if that was a reference to Libyan civilians, or the death of NATO's remaining credibility in the matter. Since then, the fighting has continued, with Qadhafi's forces slowing gaining ground in Misrata, the rebels' last remaining stronghold in western Libya.

Without the introduction of more NATO military power--including manned, U.S. attack aircraft--Misrata will likely fall in the coming weeks. But Mr. Obama has calculated (correctly, we're afraid) that most Americans aren't paying attention and really don't care what happens in Libya. Sending in the drones is little more than a sop to the rebels and our NATO partners. When the drones prove insufficient, the Obama team will start cobbling together some sort of exit plan, fully aware that no one will hold them accountable for the upcoming debacle.


Dave Rickey said...

Note that although everyone is talking about Predators, we might be actually fielding the Reaper. That would mean more than just a few Hellfires.

Phil said...

Could this be a move to go after higher value targets?

sykes.1 said...

By "higher value targets," I presume you mean Qadhafi and his family. This, of course, would incite Qadhafi to launch assassins against against Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy and their families. He is fully capable of such an escalation, and he has the means already positioned in place.

Qadhafi also has a history of terrorist attacks against civilian aircraft. Lockerbie anyone? A truly desperate Qadhafi might begin a civilian no-fly zone in Europe or the US. The Libyan intervention could get very ugly.

I am surprised that Britain and France do not have night attack capability. I thought the British Tornadoes at least had that capability. If NATO is not flying night missions, Qadhafi will defeat us.

Vigilis said...

Whether desperation or calculation, it may present a very unique gaming opportunity for very easy U.S. intelligence gathering.

To wit: How will our Reapers perform if/when Gaddafi's forces are provided with Russian countermeasures and Chinese intelligence? Hmmm?

MarkD said...

I think Gadaffi, if he survives, will remember. I'm guessing somebody, somewhere, is going to pay. I'm pretty sure it won't be Obama.

Funny how that works.

ck said...

I'm pulling for K-daffy. If Iran wants Libya, let them do their own fighting. Obama already helped out Iran in Egypt, why add Libya?

Alaska Paul said...

The US gas gone into this Libya op with no strategic goals and no overall plan. We do not even know about the so-called rebels, so there is a very good chance that we are aiding the Islamists. Yet we throw luke-warm support at best for the Syrian protestors.

The values of this administration are upside down, either by design, stupidity, or both.