May 28, 2011

Obama's puzzling military strategy in Libya

During his recent European trip, U.S. President Barack Obama revealed some puzzling aspects of his military strategy in Libya. After meetings with the leaders of key allies France and the United Kingdom, the President stated that there will be "no let up" in the military operations supposedly focused on forcing Libyan dictator Mu'amar al-Qadhafi to step down.

President Obama's words:
"...Qadhafi and his regime need to understand that there will not be a let-up in the pressure that we are applying. I believe that we have built enough momentum that, as long as we sustain the course we are on, he will step down. Ultimately this is going to be a slow, steady process in which we are able to wear down the regime forces."

Interesting. When the President agreed with France and the United Kingdom and ordered American forces to participate in operations against Libya and to take the lead initially, he stated unequivocally that the purpose of the operation was to protect innocent civilians from Libya's armed forces, and not to remove Qadhafi from power. At that time, he appeared to directly contradict his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The Secretary had stated that it was U.S. policy that Qadhafi should be removed.

Now we are told that NATO and allied forces will continue to attack Libyan military forces and government installations until Qadhafi steps down. So it seems that Mrs. Clinton was right - we are using military force to remove Qadhafi from power.

Mr. Obama's employment of American military power is confusing. I understand that the President has no military experience and probably feels uncomfortable in the military environment. That said, he does have generals who know how to conduct effective air operations. I would venture to say that he is disregarding their advice. No rational U.S. Air Force officer would recommend the kind of operation that the President is pursuing. I also believe that the Europeans are going along with the President because they do not have the military capabilities to do this on their own.

This entire Libyan intervention should have been completed in weeks. Qadhafi should have been gone, either dead, in prison or in exile weeks ago. The bloodshed on both sides should have been stopped. By adopting his strategy of a "slow, steady wear down the regime," the President has certainly prolonged the fighting and likely increased the number of deaths.

Had I been advising the President, I would have recommended a fast, massive air campaign to quickly eliminate Libyan air defenses, then introduce significant numbers of AC-130 gunships, A-10 attack aircraft and possible AH-64 attack helicopters to destroy the Libyan army. If the goal of the operation was to remove Qadhafi, concentrated attacks on his centers of gravity should have been considered.

By not using overwhelming force, we have put American, NATO and allied forces at greater risk by prolonging the period of the operation. This "slow, steady process" is exactly what led us to a commitment of over a decade in Southeast Asia.

Get in, use massive firepower to achieve the objective, then get out.