The war against Libya is all wrong. Britain has the wrong military equipment and no understand of Libyan society. If we must get rid of Colonel Gaddafi, he must be replaced with another member of the Gaddafa tribe, namely Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Harry Raffal reports.
The recent revelations from the foreign office that Britain would be willing to countenance an outcome in Libya which did not require Colonel Gaddafi’s exile has inevitably raised questions as to how Britain became mired in Libya.
The first mistake seems to have been to adopt the hard-line towards Gaddafi’s regime which has been missing, or was originally missing, in countries such as Egypt and Syria. Unlike other uprising in the midst of the ‘Arab Spring’ the Libyan rebels are not motivated by economic dissatisfaction. By applying the right kind of pressure behind closed doors we may well have been able to secure greater measures of freedom in Libya and put in place a timetable for the succession of Colonel Gaddafi. Almost certainly this successor would have been Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who might appear unsatisfactory if it occurred in Westminster, but who is fundamentally in line with the tribal nature of Libya.
By failing to understand the internal situation within Libya with any kind of accuracy, Britain became trapped in a situation where it thought it could demand the ousting of the Gaddafis. This was never realistic because the Gaddadfa tribe, to which Gaddafi belongs, essentially owns the government. What of the other tribes? Firstly there has not been, and certainly was not before Britain and the West became entangled in the situation, a great deal of drive against the Gaddadfa tribe from the leaders of the other tribes except in the far east of the country where his authority has never been complete. The rebel government is not made up of a universal mix of tribal leaders but of a small American-supported clique of academics, prominent businessmen and self-interested types.
There have been calls for Gaddafi to step down by the other tribes but not a great outcry for a revolutionary break in the ruling of Libya under the Gaddadfas. This is partly due to the strong economy of Libya. Gaddafi has ensured his country and people see some of the benefits of the country’s wealth. Next time you see footage of a rebel soldier being treated in hospital observe the wards. They are modern, well supplied and up-to-date. In Egypt original dissatisfaction sprang from the rising price in bread, not so in Libya. There have been mass protests in Tripoli in support of Gaddafi but little in the way of dissent despite the continuing efforts of the BBC and other press outlets to find it. In part this is due to the repressive regime that Gaddafi rules but it also because this is the Gaddafa heartland of power and influence and they have skilfully co-opted the other tribes into benefits of a Gaddafa led Libya.
Gaddafi has studiously learnt from the history of the past regime. He keeps the other tribes content but also limits their power. The Libyan army has been greatly weakened under Gaddafi and been replaced by paramilitary groups, reinforced with mercenaries, who are loyal to Gaddafi alone. This has ensured that the other tribes have limited access to weaponry, training and no means to use existing aspects of the state as part of their power base in a rebellion.
More importantly Gaddafi is aware of the key strategic weakness of any push by the rebels into his heartland, logistics. In most countries it would be impossible for a regime to continue its existence in the limited zones currently under Gaddafi’s control. Not so Libya, a fact we should be uniquely aware of having fought in Libya during the Second World War where we faced the same problems the rebels now face.
Most of the key populated areas of Libya are along the coast, along a single road which presents only one line of advance. It is conspicuously easy for a defender to oppose an advance along this route because there is no possibility for large outflanking manoeuvres cutting off the bulk of the defensive force. Moreover, as the defender is repelled, he falls back to his supply base whilst the attacker is pulled further away from his. Every bullet and shell has to be driven to the front.
The Technicals used extensively by the rebels require fuel and the longer the supply line the greater the amount of fuel needed to deliver this fuel and weaponry not to mention the amount of food, water and other kit required. We routinely hear that the rebels are short of supplies particularly ammunition. This is of course not helped that the rebels are undisciplined and as irregular as any force imaginable. Reports of enemy forces nearby? Fire blindly in the general direction until all ammunition is gone. A journalist filming in the area? Fire blindly at imaginary Gaddafi forces until all ammunition is gone. Reports of a rebel advance? Fire in the air until all ammunition is gone. Reports of more ammunition arriving? Fire in the air until all ammunition is gone.
This indiscipline has cost both the rebels and NATO dearly as the ground forces present have been incapable of capitalising on the air support provided and exploiting even prolonged disorder in the Gaddafi forces.
Another mistake has been to assume that the destruction of Gaddafi’s heavy weaponry, air support and tanks would render his forces incapable of withstanding the rebel fighters. This thinking was always likely to be faulty as Gaddafi has a record of adaptation and his forces quickly adopted the rebels’ tactics of using fast-moving forces. This rendered NATO air support largely futile at times as we could not determine whether fighting units represented friend or foe. More over the sharp-end of the British contribution in the Libya mission is being conducted by jet interceptors completely unsuitable for ground attack and interdiction. Some may object to calling the Typhoons completely unsuitable but given they require Tornados to fly with them and mark up targets because they are not capable of doing so I feel it is probably justified.
It is astounding how quickly the ridiculous decision made by the R.A.F. to keep the Typhoons and get rid of the Harrier has been exposed as folly. We are unlikely to require a force of fast jet interceptors in future wars, the strategic defence review pinpointed flexibility as the key force structure required for the future. One must ask why the government would allow the R.A.F. to maintain interceptors ditch the Harrier and then embroil itself in a war of the nature of the Libyan conflict where flexibility is the key. Gaddafi has excelled in producing a fluid stalemate, where the lines do not remain fixed but ebb and flow over the same territory, knowing that to win the war all he has to do is draw out the conflict.
By admitting that we are prepared for Gaddafi to stay we have produced an outcome where Gaddafi will know that the Gaddadfa tribe will rule Libya at least until the end of his days. One can not help but that feel with a little foresight and with our politicians actually studying the history of Libya we could have avoided the hundreds of millions of pounds in expenditure, secured a less repressive regime in Libya and kept Gaddafi in our camp and on our side merrily pumping oil out. Instead all we have achieved is to once again reveal the futility of air action when the ground forces capable of exploiting its benefits are absent.
To read Harry Raffal’s other articles visit Harry Raffal’s Politics On Toast blog. This article is (C) Politics on Toast and Harry Raffal.