Analyst View: Air strikes authorized against Libya

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:39 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council has authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians against Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Libya's foreign minister then announced a ceasefire.

Below is a roundup of analysts' views:

POLITICAL RISK CONSULTANCY STRATFOR

"Assuming Gaddafi follows through with the ceasefire, how it will affect his operations against the rebels remains in question. Gaddafi may feel the rebels have been suppressed such that he can mop up the remainder through police actions in urban settings. Alternatively, he may feel the rebels are so thoroughly entrenched in their stronghold of Benghazi that he cannot dislodge them under the threat of Western airstrikes -- and is therefore cutting his losses and preserving the integrity of his forces from potential Franco-British-American air attacks.

"Ultimately, the ceasefire could be a delaying action while Gaddafi builds a stronger position around Benghazi. This would not be without risks, however, as it will give French and British air assets time to deploy in air bases in the Mediterranean, better positioning them to enforce a no-fly zone."

JOHN DRAKE, SENIOR RISK CONSULTANT, AKE

On the ceasefire offer: "The Gaddafi regime may be willing to negotiate. In the past it has engaged in talks with those who rose up against it. "It may have realized that air strikes may be more wide-reaching than just attacks on the radar and surface-to-air defense infrastructure. With talk of strikes against military convoys he may be concerned about a significant attack on his military. "If the military is weakened it could spur on opposition fighters who could attempt to take back territory, including key energy towns such as Marsa el-Brega. "If a ceasefire is declared and wide-reaching aerial assaults still take place it could give Gaddafi more material for propaganda, so that he can criticize the international community for using violence."

GLEN HOWARD, PRESIDENT OF THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION

"We are likely to see a resumption of the 'highway war' that we have seen in North Africa just like we saw in the region in the to and fro of the Battles of El Alamein. By this I mean that with air support, or the perception of air support for the rebels by Britain and France, we are likely to see the momentum of the rebels shift again as they may renew their push to retake the cities they lost.

"At the same time the disjointed actions of the rebels, may take on the form of a conventional army instead of a rag tag group of rebels jumping into trucks rushing off to the front, only to be outgunned.

"With intelligence support from the UK and France the rebels are likely to have a better sense of where and who they are fighting so that they can plan their attacks. Basically you are seeing the birth pangs of a republic as the rebels learn from their mistakes and begin to accept military advice from the West."

"There are only 42 aircraft in the Libyan air force so a handful of Tornadoes patrolling eastern Cyrenaica should be enough to preserve the status quo..."

ANALYST AT SECURITY FIRM ADVISING FOREIGN COMPANIES

(SPEAKING ON CONDITION OF ANONYMITY) On the ceasefire offer: "I'm very skeptical - too many issues unaddressed, didn't respond to questions. The opposition is unlikely to buy it, (so) not much changes domestically. Perhaps (the statement was) aimed at an international audience."

HUGH POPE, SENIOR ANALYST AND TURKEY EXPERT AT INTERNATIONAL

CRISIS GROUP

Speaking after the ceasefire offer: "Turkey can play a valuable role. If there is somebody who has a communication line with Gaddafi and his group that is Erdogan. We know he has been talking with Gaddafi. If the Libyan ceasefire halts the advance of Gaddafi's forces there could be room for a settlement between the two sides. Somebody has to be able to talk to Gaddafi and Erdogan has maintained that channel of communication which can be helpful. There has to be at some point a stop in the fighting and a political settlement."

BENJAMIN BARRY, A LAND WARFARE EXPERT AT THE INTERNATIONAL

INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES.

On military action against Libya: "Will it be NATO-led, US-led, UK-France-led? And how quickly can the minimum force level be assembled to kick this off?

"Do you issue an ultimatum to Libyan forces - either 'go back to barracks', or 'keep 100 km from Benghazi'? Or do you neutralize the Libyan army?

"What isn't as clear as it should be is the political strategy. We've had general statements to the effect 'Gaddafi out, representative government in'. It may be that people are working on the hoof. To judge by the rhetoric it may be French led."

HENRY WILKINSON, SENIOR ANALYST AT JANUSIAN SECURITY

CONSULTANTS.

On the U.N. resolution: "This may have come a bit too late. Gaddafi's forces are reportedly close to Benghazi and he will probably try to press his advantage while he still can.

"(Despite the resolution) It looks likely that Gaddafi will stay in power in Tripoli for some time to come and a form of stalemate will emerge, bringing a partition between the east and west."

SHASHANK JOSHI, A FELLOW AT ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE

"I think the strategy now is regime breakdown rather than a rebel victory. You'll see simultaneous military and political pressure in hopes either that Gaddafi steps aside, or there's a coup from within his circle.

"At the same time Benghazi will be secured as a safe haven. We see signs that Egypt is already supplying arms to the rebels despite having voted against the resolution.

"Gaddafi can be expected to use human shields to try to complicate allied operations.

"I am extremely surprised by the resolution. It is a historic moment. It has etched into international law the responsibility to protect in a way that has not been seen before."

JOHN JAY LEBEAU, A FORMER CIA SENIOR OPERATIONS OFFICER AND

NOW PROFESSOR AT THE GEORGE C MARSHALL CENTER FOR SECURITY

STUDIES IN GERMANY.

"The celebrations in Benghazi on the announcement of the no-fly zone underscore that sentiment is positive about Western intervention, meaning that popular support is not flowing to the jihadis, for the moment at any rate. AQIM (al Qaeda's north African wing) has been sidelined and they can't be expected to like it. Still, they are committed jihadist ideologues and likely to try to continue to extend their influence and limit that of the West, including attacking Western interests, especially if Gaddafi is overthrown.

"Jihadis are not happy about Western intervention in the Libyan arena, especially the prospect of a U.S. role, which they regard with dread. This is clear from their social networking chatter, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is active in the region. The jihadists endorse the rebellion against the despised Gaddafi, but want the resistance to be purely Islamist in nature, resulting in eventual sharia rule.

"The idea of Western 'infidel' nations playing an important, perhaps even decisive, role in this conflict is utterly abhorrent to them. In point of fact, AQIM has modest resources and have demonstrated very limited ability to play a key role in the Libyan uprising, and are frightened at the prospect of Western powers demonstrating that this is not a jihadi-led or directed situation."

(Reporting by William Maclean, Peter Apps and Ibon Villelabeitia; Compiled by London World Desk)