by Eric Hammer | FTMDaily Contributing Writer
TEL AVIV, Mar 21 – As the fighting in Libya continues to take a toll on the civilian population there, the United States and her allies are entering the third day of their offensive to enforce a no fly zone over parts of the North African nation. President Obama finally took the lead after wavering for several weeks and allowing Colonel Gaddafi’s forces to reach the outskirts of the rebel capital, Benghazi.
As of this writing, there have been no reported casualties amongst American or allied troops, though there are scattered and conflicting reports of civilian casualties in and around Gaddafi’s capital city of Tripoli. The United States and the other allies insisted yesterday that no civilian targets had been hit while Gaddafi’s state run television reported mass casualties with dozens of civilians dead in the cross fire.
Either way, the rebel forces seem to still be outnumbered and outgunned. While they managed to make some advances yesterday as the no fly zone entered its second day, they were repelled by superior loyalist forces at Ajdabiya, a town in the east of the country about 12 miles from Benghazi.
Meanwhile, questions continue to be raised in the United States about the objectives and the end game of the American led invasion of Libya. While President Obama has promised no ground forces will be committed and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took pains to explain to explain to Christiane Amanpour on Sunday that the mission is strictly to enforce a no fly zone, no clear exit plan was offered either.
The current plan however does have echoes of another no fly zone, which was enforced in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for 12 years, holding the dictator’s forces at bay and effectively carving Iraq into two separate nations even before the American led invasion in 2003. That no fly zone had been imposed by the first President Bush to protect Kurdish rebels in the north of the country and was only ended when the second President Bush ordered American troops to invade for a second time.
The situation today however is quite different than what it was then. The United States military is already stretched thin, with forces still committed to two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a new congress determined to trim the budget in the face of a $1 trillion deficit.
Therefore, the president has been stressing that American military might will be used only in the initial stages of the operation, with operational command and control being turned over to either a French or British command post as soon as those nations are able to fully mobilize their forces.
The problem facing the allies however is what to do next. Since the allies all seem to be against the idea of invading with ground forces of their own, there are some calls for arming the rebels so that they can defend themselves and possibly topple the Gaddafi regime.
This plan presents a number of very risky propositions for the allies however, since so little is in fact known about the rebel forces currently operating in Libya. It should be recalled that the United States and her allies helped to arm another group of rebels who were then called Mujahedeen or freedom fighters, against the Soviet Union. Those same freedom fighters later morphed into the Taliban regime, which persecuted the people of Afghanistan and allowed Al Qaeda to set up shop in the country.
Many observers of the current conflict have expressed concern that without a strong central government, a similar situation could develop in Libya if the fighting is allowed to continue and or if the rebels are armed by foreign forces. Therefore, the Obama administration is attempting to walk a tightrope, keeping their commitment to the UN on the one hand, to end civilian casualties, while at the same time avoiding altogether the question of what happens next.
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