Anatoly TSYGANOK – Independent analyst and researcher
The conference held on March 29 in London made it clear that the initiators of the Libyan war are going to continue it. At the same time, the experience of the previous wars in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Persian Gulf shows that air operation is only the first act of the campaign.
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From the very beginning the Western coalition (namely the forces of the US, France and Britain) chose strange targets for the attacks. It would have been a different matter if they had destroyed only the headquarters of Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli but the air attacks also hit a hospital for elderly people. On the next day when the Libyan mass media reported that 48 peaceful citizens had been killed and 150 wounded several countries slammed the coalition’s attacks.
In the Arab world the public opinion is more and more taking sides with Tripoli. The position of the Arab League has also changed. Three days after the first air attacks Moscow and Beijing demanded stop to the military operation in Libya. In its statement Beijing warned the coalition that the attacks may lead to “humanitarian catastrophe”. On March 20, the African Union joined China condemning the military actions of the coalition. The African Union's Committee on Libya issued a statement in which it called for an "immediate stop" to the air attacks. Earlier Venezuela and Cuba voiced the same demands.
Now the following countries are taking active part in the campaign against Libya: the US, Great Britain, France, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Norway, UAE, Qatar. As for Germany, Greece and Italy they are only providing their air bases to the coalition forces.
At the meeting on Libya in Paris Germany has confirmed its unwillingness to provide aircraft for the operation against Libya. Nevertheless, Angela Merkel made it clear that Germany would provide its air bases. According to her, Bundeswehr is ready to do more in Afghanistan taking part in reconnaissance operations using the planes of long-range radar spotting aircraft, electronic reconnaissance and AVAX system.
Cyprus has informed London that it would not like the British air bases located on its territory to be used in the operation against Libya, (British military bases occupy about 2% of the territory of this former British colony and are independent from the authorities of Cyprus).
Poland said that it would not take part in the military operation against Libya but was ready to consider participation in the “common European humanitarian campaign”. Though the Polish air forces won’t take part in the military operation, Warsaw has agreed to provide transportation and logistic support to the operation against Gaddafi.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, he had ordered sending two warships with 400 marines onboard to the Mediterranean coast of Libya. Besides that Britain’s frigates HMS Westminster, HMS Cumberland, a Trafalgar-class submarine and France’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle have already been deployed near the Libyan coast.
The beginning of military actions by the anti-Gaddafi forces has led to redistribution of weapons and military equipment between the rebels and the governmental troops. However, as we could conclude, most of the offensive arms are still in the hands of the governmental forces.
Gaddafi disposes of nerve agents, which had been produced at the Tabta factory since 1980. This chemical weapon was tested in 1987 against the rebels in Chad during the Chad-Libyan conflict which lasted for 10 years. Then Gaddafi decided not to use warfare poisoning agents on large-scale and lost. Reportedly, in total about 100 tons of poisoning substances had been produced. Besides that in early 1990-s Libyan was building a plant to produce chemical weapons. In 2003, Washington and Tripoli agreed that in exchange for normalization of the bilateral diplomatic relations Libya would stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Libya still has 9.5 tons of mustard agents. The governmental forces have more than half of 1,300 tons of mother substances, which can be processed into warfare agents. In addition to it the army has about 500 short-range attack missiles (their range is up to 500 km). For your reference: the distance from Tripoli to Italy’s Sicilia is less than 450 km and from Libya’s Tobruk to Crete is slightly more than 300 km.
At present, more than 20 military ships and submarines are taking part in the blockade of Libya from the seaside.
NATO officials understand that without a land operation it is practically impossible to defeat Gaddafi. The marines’ landing operation will begin as soon as the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and three US aircraft carriers reach the Libyan coast. Now the 22nd Marine Regiment is heading to the Mediterranean Sea from Virginia (Norfolk and Little Creek bases). In order to cover 5,900 miles from Norfolk to Gibraltar the US marines need 12-13 days and four more days to cover 1,800 miles from Gibraltar to Napoli.
It is likely that the US marines will land near the port of Benghazi controlled by the rebels. The landing will start with the seizure of the oil terminals on the coast. Reportedly, British special troops SAS have already been deployed in Libya. They are providing the support to the warplanes by pointing targets for the attacks. It is likely that part of these troops will be redeployed by military transport planes to Italy and Crete.
NATO’s landing operation in Libya is expected to start not earlier than in late of April – early May. Task forces will be trained by Brits and Frenchmen while Arabs will be used as cannon fodder. Libyan rebels, which robbed the arsenals, are nothing but anarchic gangs incapable of fighting against Gaddafi’s troops and without a land operation the intervention is bound to fail.