NATO command to take responsibility for operations in Libya

Interview with Charles Heyman, UK independent Defence analyst.

My basic question concerns NATO’s assuming command of the coalition operation in Libya. How would you explain to our listeners what actually changes with that?

Well, when we explain what actually changes, the command of this operation has passed from the Americans to the NATO command structure – a structure composed of the armed forces of 28 nations. So, instead of one person making the decision in Washington, the decisions are now being made in Brussels and the person at the top of that tree in fact is the NATO Secretary General. So, it internationalizes the conflict in a way that absolves the Americans of the responsibility for it.

Does it mean that we get a precise goal and precise strategy for the operation?

No, because I think this operation has to be made up as it goes along. I mean you have a resolution from the United Nations which relates to the air exclusions and also relates to the assistance of civilians of the ground. So, that dictates the strategy. The actual tactics can be interpreted by the people who are taking part and NATO will now interpret the strategy and decide on tactics. But it looks as though inside that NATO structure, some nations will want only to be involved in the no-fly zone, the air-exclusion zone, and other nations, primarily France, Britain and the US, want to continue with air strikes on the ground to protect civilians when they think it is necessary. The NATO command structure actually allows for that.

Now there is a lot of talk about the prospects for ground operations. Do you think this could be the scenario?

It could be the scenario. The UN rules out an occupation force but it does not specifically rule out ground operations. And it would appear that some of the air strikes are now so accurate that most analysts believe that there are some what we call “tactical air control parties” on the ground who are directing these air strikes. But that is not confirmed by any means.

Is there chance that we are going to end up in Libya just as we have already ended in Afghanistan, which was also a NATO operation?

I think the Afghanistan analogy is the wrong one. But I think you’d be better looking at maybe the Bosnia analogy where a no-fly zone was, and the UN did have a resolution which allowed for the protection of civilians on the ground in safe areas for some considerable time. So, it is possible that we could see not necessarily a direct re-run of the Bosnian situation but something similar in some ways.

And my last question. How long do you think the situation might last?

My end-up feeling is that Gaddafi is going to go sooner rather than later, in a period of weeks, because of three things. The first one is the air exclusion zone which is making his life very difficult and the attacks on his armed forces which are making things very difficult for him. The second one is the UN sanctions against him, the members of his facility and the confiscation of bank deposits. That really makes life difficult as well. The third one is that there appears to be a split between the prime minister and Foreign Minister Musa Kusa and the Gaddafi family. The Gaddafi family is saying one thing and you are hearing things certainly from the foreign minister who is a very powerful figure. His group is saying something totally different. They are saying “ceasefire”, Gaddafi is saying “fight to the end”. There is a split there, with no doubt about that – I mean my own experience of the situation there. I was suspecting a split of some sort about two years ago. But the split is there and that is going to tell on him as well. I think in the end he is going to be forced out.

To find out more on the issue, read or listen to our Burning Point program from March 25, 2011 in Radio section.

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