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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Realities of a "No-Fly Zone" – from someone who has been here before

Photo from the LA Times

PhotobucketWe’ve seen calls for a no-fly zone from several fronts ~ both at home and abroad.  It seems to be the favored form of intervention of British PM Cameron, US Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Kerry as well as any number of twitterers.  We have seen calls for a no-fly zone in Libya, too, to be sure.  On the flip side, Gaddafi has vowed to use whatever military he has to fight a no-fly zone.

Me?  I don’t mind the idea (those three years I spent as a Data Processing Technician in the Navy made me a military expert) as long as the US does not take the lead.  I firmly believe, as SoS Clinton has said recently, the UN and/or NATO and/or the Arab League should take the lead.

What I find intriguing are the thoughts of SecDef Gates who, as you know, is a holdover from the Bush Administration and former CIA deputy director for intelligence during the Reagan years.

In his 1996 memoir From the Shadows, Robert Gates recalls that the Reagan administration “wanted [Muammar Gaddafi’s] hide in the worst way.” The Defense Department even drew up a contingency plan for a U.S.-Egyptian attack on Libya, Gates remembers in the book.


He worried about the consequences; namely that such action could spark a global outcry against American imperialism, and an upsurge in terrorism against U.S. citizens and installations. The Daily Beast

Twenty-five years later, Gates, now Barack Obama’s defense secretary, is confronting a similar zeal for action against Gaddafi, amid international revulsion against the strongman’s brutal attempts to crush an uprising by Libyans fed up with his 40-year rule. Gates remains worried about the likely fallout from Western intervention in Libya-in particular, the probability of a storm of protests throughout the Arab world, bringing with it terrorist attacks against Americans.

That’s what many of us have been saying for days if not weeks.  There may be tremendous satisfaction in bringing Gaddafi down using the military but there are long-term possible repercussions to be considered.

Gates is wary of calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, a suggestion being pushed by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Pentagon planners say establishing a no-fly zone probably would accomplish little. And with Washington already having effectively declared war, the inevitable next step would be calls for expanded air operations to attack Gaddafi’s land forces, as Gates foresees it. Step by step, the U.S. would find itself committed to the military overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime. Gates wants everyone to realize that such a commitment would almost certainly require sending in U.S. ground forces.

We may have the best of intentions from the outset by limiting our interaction to a no-fly zone and supporting other countries.  But how often do we find ourselves supplying the bulk of the assets?

From the Shadows describes in detail the outcomes of “limited” U.S. engagements in crises around the world. Some turned out better than others: America’s covert arming of UNITA rebels in Angola, for example. But most-the doomed 1982-83 peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, the funding, arming, and training of Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the entire misbegotten Iran-Contra scheme-had consequences that were utterly unanticipated when the interventions were planned.

Insanity has famously been defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  So let’s do this in an area of the world in which we’ve already been grossly insane over and over again.

A quarter-century on, Gates says U.S. military action in Libya could spur more anti-American terrorist acts, and he is convinced America should not act alone. Those convictions explain why Gates has been so dismissive of proposals for a no-fly zone over Libya. “There is a lot of loose talk, frankly, about some of these military options,” he told the Senate on March 2. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses… That is the way it starts.” Gates could allow himself to be so blunt because the idea had been publicly advocated by a foreign leader, British Prime Minister David Cameron. Britain has nothing close to a capability to mount a no-fly zone on its own.

That’s an interesting point about Cameron’s desire for a no-fly zone.  If Britain lacks the resources whom does Cameron expect to make up that lack?  Hmmm, the US perhaps?  We’ve been gung-ho in the past so why not?

NATO apparently isn’t really interested in a no-fly zone and the UN faces potential vetos from Russia and/or China.  The Arab League so far seems to support a no-fly zone and is meeting Saturday.  Meanwhile, SecDef Gates will be meeting with NATO defense ministers on March 10..  These meetings combined with Gaddafi’s latest diplomatic maneuvers, whatever they are, could prove decisive.  Or not.

Whatever happens in the coming days Gate has helped cement his place as one of my favorite cabinet members.


  1. HappyinVT

    (which apparently has been on the market for 10 million pounds).

    Describing the house, Mr Jones said: “It looks relatively nondescript from the outside but when you get inside you realise it is full of huge rooms and all the trappings of his status.

    “It’s palatial, it’s got five storeys, it is full of marble and glass and other expensive materials. It’s got a flat-screen TV in almost every room.”

    A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said it was called to reports of unknown people entering an address in Hampstead Garden Suburb at approximately 1250 GMT.

    “At this time this is being treated as a civil matter. There have been no arrests. Police are monitoring the situation,” she said.…  

    There’s a bit of video at the link.

  2. HappyinVT

    Though the Obama administration hasn’t yet decided whether or how to aid the Libyan opposition, the White House is working to stop the flow of mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi entering the country from countries surrounding Libya like Chad and Niger.

    “We’ve been working to ensure there isn’t a flow of people into Libya,” said Samantha Power, the National Security Council’s senior director for multilateral affairs, on a Wednesday conference call with non-governmental groups. The call was off the record, but a recording was provided to The Cable.


    Power also said that the administration was increasingly reaching out to opposition groups in Libya, with the goal of setting up reliable communications to better understand the situation on the ground.

    “Our contacts with the Libya opposition are expanding,” she said, but added that the opposition leaders the White House was speaking with were having problems setting up reliable ways to keep in touch.

    That’s complicating the administration’s drive to provide assistance to civilians trying to leave Libya and also to prevent potential fighters who are trying to get in, Power said.


    Ambassador Gene Cretz, the same U.S. diplomat who was forced to leave Libya after WikiLeaks released cables signed by him referring to Qaddafi’s “voluptuous” blonde nurse, met with Libyan opposition leaders in Rome and Cairo this week, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday.


    Earlier that day, senior U.S. defense officials warned senators that the no-fly zone would be a full-combat operation, requiring extensive commitments of manpower and resources. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that a no-fly zone means “you would be entering into combat operations there.” http://thecable.foreignpolicy….  

  3. HappyinVT

    BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 9 (UPI) — Egypt, still grappling with a revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February, is reported to be quietly aiding rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.


    While the United States and the international community debate whether to intervene in the civil war raging in Libya to support the ragtag rebel forces holding the east of the country, Egypt apparently has sent around 100 Special Forces troops to help the insurgents.

    Read more:

  4. After all, they’ve got lots of shiny jet fighters of their own, right?  That both we and the other Great Powers have been busily selling them for decades.  The Arab world resents us interfering (rightfully so), so let them handle this themselves. Or not (which I think more likely), but it’s their chunk of the planet and their choice.

  5. HappyinVT

    On paper, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has an army of 76,000 soldiers and 40,000 paramilitary troops. He also has 260 attack aircraft (mostly MIG 25 and 23s), 650 tanks, 2,300 artillery pieces and more than 100 helicopters (figures from Israeli site Middle East Military Balance).


    A significant number of towns (including most of the country’s eastern coastal strip) have fallen to the opposition without fighting, attack aircraft have been missing their targets (by considerable margins) and Libyan soldiers have deserted in droves.

    “It’s impossible to have a precise estimate of the strength of those forces still loyal to Gaddafi,” said to Jean-François Daguzan of the Paris-based Fondation de Recherche Strategique. “But if the official estimations of the forces at his disposal were correct, there wouldn’t be any insurgents left in Libya right now.”

    A second factor is that that most of Libya’s heavy equipment was bought from the former USSR in the 1970s (the country was subject of an international arms embargo for most of the last four decades). Most of this equipment can now be considered obsolete compared to other modern armies.


    Ever since he came to power Gaddafi has looked to reduce the strength of the regular Libyan army in order to reduce the risk of a potential rival emerging from his own forces.


    “The opposition has yet to build up sufficient force to launch an attack on Tripoli,” according to analysts at STRATFOR. And experts at the IISS say satellite images indicate that the bulk of Gaddafi’s forces are strategically located about 50 kilometres south of the capital, just waiting for such an attempted assault.  

    Gaddafi is reportedly down a dead general and colonel from today’s fighting as well.

  6. Shaun Appleby

    Isn’t inspiring, I’m afraid.  That’s a Soviet PKM and the volunteer apparently doesn’t have any ammunition; it’s either belt-fed from the right or uses a large box magazine which is not evident.

  7. Shaun Appleby

    In their fascination with shiny objects and breathless reporting of the “devestating” attack on the Sidra oil facility that the only reason Qaddafi’s forces would destroy it is that they have given up any hope of retaking it any time soon.

    I agree with John, there is desperation in the air.  Of course the media is reporting this as a sign of Qaddafi’s strength, poor dears.

  8. HappyinVT


    Broadcaster BBC says three of its staff have been detained, beaten and subjected to mock executions in Libya.


    The three said they were repeatedly assaulted, and held in various locations. They were released after 21 hours and have left Libya. Chris Cobb-Smith, one of the staff, said a solider fired a gun close to his head.…  

  9. HappyinVT

    shoot.  It is rather graphic so be forewarned.  There is also one guy alive but the video is rather grainy so it’s hard to tell the extent of his injuries.

  10. Shaun Appleby

    Reporting is reaching a new nadir this morning, which is saying a fair bit.  Never mind CNN and even BBC.  It defeats me that the AJ English and AJ Arabic news are basically reporting two different, mutually exclusive, narratives.  Does that make any sense?

    The rebels have apparently retaken Bin Jawad, which you would have thought was the ‘story’ but they are obsessed with the smoke rising from the bombed port of Sidra, I guess it makes for better television.  And the simple thought that Qaddafi would only have destroyed it having abandoned regaining it has not been mooted.  Seems pretty basic to me.

    And they keep rebroadcasting the Libyan State TV footage of Zawiyah with a blurry crowd of Gaddafi supporters chanting and dancing when practically every other source seems to confirm that the Qaddafi loyalists have once again been driven out.  And what a compelling story that is, as ALex Crawford of SKy has repeatedly demonstrated.  Beats me.

    And as far as the “useful idiots” in the press corps in Tripoli I guess the theory was that if locked in a hotel with only Libyan state sources of information they would obligingly report it, giving the Qaddafi regime international reach.  It certainly has seemed to work.    Sheesh.  It’s not so much news as just filling up the schedule with whatever footage you have with an unqualified “Dunno” for analysis.  Qaddafi may be crazy but he’s hoodwinked this bunch.  Honestly, is this the best we can do?

  11. Shaun Appleby

    Apparently these talks are at the invitation of the West, EU and so forth.  Guessing that Qaddafi is willing to threaten to demolish Libya to strike the best deal he can.  Using the threat of oil chaos and refugee crises to cower the Europeans.  Not saying that isn’t a potent strategy, either.

  12. Shaun Appleby

    On the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad:

    Starting to see sensible deployments and mutual weapons mixes with covering fields of fire and dispersal in the face of air superiority.  The gentleman firing the RPG-7 is using it at maximum range as “poor man’s artillery” even though it is intended for line-of-sight anti-armour work.

    Looks like a SPG-9 or B10 recoilless gun in similar application behind with 14.5mm quad AA or anti-personnel defence on the horizon.

  13. Shaun Appleby

    That didn’t go very well:

    @ajenglish: A plane carrying Ali Abdul Salem Treki, #Gaddafi’s new ambassador to UN, was denied landing rights in US & sent back to #Libya.

    Hope they had plenty of fuel.

  14. Shaun Appleby

    On AJE just spoke of Qaddafi’s “substantial military victories” in Libya recently.  Could someone explain to me what he’s talking about?  Twenty-four hours of images of an oil storage tank burning?  Is that all it takes?

    Man, we are addicted to that stuff.  It’s like a pusher tearing up a packet of smack before a junkie’s eyes.

  15. Shaun Appleby

    Just had a live interview with Alex Crawford, the incredibly brave Sky News reporter who was in Zawiyah in recent days, and it was quite moving.  He is now diligently cross-questioning the entire CNN complement in Libya and challenging them to rise to the same standard of journalistic excellence.

    Is there a UK equivalent of the Pulitzer, Peter?  Alex Crawford, and her crew, is my nominee, hands down.  I’m relieved to know she is in Dubai now but wonder who will speak for Zawiyah in her absence.  Give ’em hell, Anderson, I guess you’re getting pissed off now too and good an ya’.

  16. Shaun Appleby

    This is an Armageddon shot if I ever saw one:

    Anyone else feel like they’re in a dodgy grade ‘B’ spaghetti-apocalypse pilot following this stuff sometimes?

  17. Shaun Appleby

    “Is only half of what is going on.” Anonymous telephone interview by Anderson Cooper with a Libyan in Misurata.

  18. HappyinVT


    Associated Press news agency reported that president Barack Obama’s top national security aides emerged from private talks Wednesday with a growing sense that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya would have a “limited impact” on halting the kind of violence raging in the North African nation, senior administration officials said.…  

  19. Shaun Appleby

    With a former British diplomat, a US national security “expert” and a spokesperson for the Libyan National Council and nothing has made me feel inclined to take some kind of unilateral action than the weak, self-important, obscure and unsupportable “realpolitik” arguments of those two apologists against the notion of aiding the people of Libya.

    Crikey.  I’m starting to change my mind after hearing that amount of vacuous, pompous air freshener.

  20. Shaun Appleby

    I missed this.  The people who we have been arguably fighting for a decade, who have ruthlessly killed innocent thousands on seven continents, in late February released an “official” statement on the slaughter:

    DUBAI, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has asked his deputy to remind Islamic militants they should avoid attacks on civilian targets, the group’s No. 2 said in a message posted on the Internet on Thursday.

    “There are certain operations attributed, rightly or falsely, to the mujahideen, in which Muslims are attacked in their mosques, market places or gatherings … I and my brothers in al Qaeda distance ourselves … from such operations and condemn them,” Ayman al-Zawahri said in an audio recording.

    Firouz Sedarat – Bin Laden against attacks on civilians, deputy says Reuters 24 Mar 11

    Somebody’s been drinking their own Nescafé, methinks.

  21. Shaun Appleby

    Resident of Az Zawiyah says Gaddafi’s forces have won control of the Libyan town after intense fighting

    Shame on something.

  22. Rashaverak

    France Becomes First Country to Recognize Libyan Rebels


    PARIS – Moving ahead of its allies, France on Thursday became the first country to recognize Libya’s rebel leadership in the eastern city of Benghazi and said it would soon exchange ambassadors with the insurgents.

    The move was a victory for the Libyan National Council in its quest for recognition and a setback for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi who has been seeking whatever international support he can as NATO members in Brussels began a debate about the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

    The French announcement came as loyalist forces in Libya claimed new successes against the rebels west of the capital in the town of Zawiyah, while, to the east, loyalist forces renewed ferocious assaults on the key oil town of Ras Lanuf. [….]

  23. HappyinVT

    13:27 Guardian correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is missing. His last known whereabouts were on the outskirts of Az-Zawiyah. He was last heard from on Sunday. Earlier on a Brazilian newspaper said its reporter Andrei Netto (who Ghaith Abdul-Ahad had been travelling with) has been missing since Sunday. They have unconfirmed reports that he had been arrested. Read the Guardian’s article here.


  24. HappyinVT


    NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen tells reporters following a summit of the 28-member bloc:

    It is clear the international community is united in condemning the outrageous violence against the civilian population … This course of action requires close international coordination … time is off the essence.

    Today we have made two decisions: First, to increase the presence of NATO maritime assets in the central Mediterranean. These ships will improve NATO’s situational awareness, which is vital, and will contribute to surveillance and monitoring, including with regard to the arms embargo.

    There is more to the statement, including that a no-fly zone is not happening at this time.

  25. HappyinVT


    More from Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, whose vehicle was hit by gunfire on the road outside Ras Lanuf. Je descibes the scene:

    We were travelling with one of the commanders who told me that all of his men were killed by pro-Gaddafi forces when they came into the town, so its pretty heavy fighting there.

    A lot of them have run away, but there is a hard core of opposition fighters who are going back in to fight. There are dozens that have been killed, and many more wounded, but a lot of the bodies still remain behind in Ras Lanuf.

    We actually stood on a hillock and watched the operation in progress. Pummelling by artillery, mortars, and then by the air force. And then the attack came from both the sea and the west of the town, and it was quite brutal when it came. We were told that patients in the hospital, which had already been shelled earlier, were shot. Of course there is no independent corroboration of that, but it sounded like it was pretty ugly in there.

    The difference has been with this attack they tried to hit the main crossroads where the main concentration of opposition forces was. But they followed the road in, and we actually saw the attack in motion, and they dropped two bombs. They missed the crossroads slightly, and missed the ammunition dumps which are nearby … and pretty soon afterwards the main offensive was launched.

    It showed the professionalism of Gaddafi’s troops and it shows that … he’s hitting back. So this is a warning. And also his air force has hit Brega which is further east, it seems a major offensive is underway.

  26. Shaun Appleby

    @shaistaAziz: ITN: #Gaddafi forces in Zawiya, rounding up young men they suspect might have been involved in uprising. #Libya

    Out of sight of the media the regime will no doubt exact a terrible revenge.

  27. Shaun Appleby

    The revolutionary vanguard retreating from Qaddafi loyalists:

    One report on Thursday said that as they advanced on Ras Lanuf, tanks driven by pro-Gaddafi forces had moved to their easternmost position since the conflict began.

    A witness in Ras Lanuf said he had seen dozens of dead bodies in the residential part of the town.

    A BBC reporter said the Ras Lanuf hospital had been evacuated due to the bombardment, and a mosque had been hit in a residential area where the families of oil workers live.

    “Gaddafi is attacking us with planes, tanks, rockets and heavy weapons, we are unarmed civilians and there many families and kids were hit,” one Libyan told the BBC.

    Continue reading the main story

    “We’ve been defeated,” a rebel fighter told AFP news agency. “They are shelling and we are running away. That means that they’re taking Ras Lanuf.”

    Rebels forced from Libyan oil port BBC 11 Mar 11

    It’s hard to see how the revolutionaries recover from this reverse.  If the loyalists move past Al Geila, halfway to Mersah Brega, the way theoretically lays open to Benghasi, Tobruk and the eastern border without any static defence positions worth holding.

  28. Shaun Appleby

    Regarding radical Islamism in Libya will be perhaps most likely if the secular, populist revolution is defeated by a vengeful, tyrannical and ruthless regime.  We may have fumbled this one quite badly.

  29. Shaun Appleby

    Libyan authorities are taking laptops and SIM cards from journalists as they leave the country.

  30. HappyinVT


    Since the Libyan people have started to rise against Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime, the world is witnessing on a daily basis an unacceptable continuation of violence and repression in Libya. Ignoring UN Security Council resolution 1970 demands as well as calls from regional organisations and the whole international community, Gaddafi’s regime continues to attack his own people including with aircraft and helicopters. It is clear to us that the regime has lost any legitimacy it may have once had.

    This deliberate use of military force against civilians is utterly unacceptable. As warned by the Security Council, these acts may amount to crimes against humanity. All those involved in deciding, planning or executing such actions must know that they will be held accountable.

    France and the UK are committed to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya. We support the Libyan peoples desire to choose their own leadership and to decide their own political system. We welcome the formation of an Interim Transitional National Council based in Benghazi and we are engaging with the Council and its members to develop a cooperative dialogue.

    When the Libyan people win their fundamental rights, we should be ready to support them with the necessary assistance and cooperation, in order to promote stability and development in Libya, for the benefit of all Libyans.

    Today’s priority is to cope with the political and security situation.

    To that end, we propose to our European partners, our Allies, and our Arab and African friends to undertake the following steps:

    continued in next comment…

  31. Shaun Appleby

    Weighs in:

    March 11 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. should support a no-fly zone over Libya to help underequipped insurgents fighting to topple well-armed and well-paid troops loyal to dictator Muammar Qaddafi, former U.S. president Bill Clinton said.

    “They are not asking for ground troops, they don’t want us to get in the fight,” Clinton said of the insurgents at a conference in New York yesterday on the status of women. “Nobody wants to see an arms race in Libya, but it’s not a fair fight.”

    Peter S. Green and Nicole Gaouette – Bill Clinton Says U.S. Should Support a No-Fly Zone in Libya Business Week 11 Mar 11

    He’s got a point there.  It seems tragic that the world would no nothing whatsover to prevent the crushing of a just revolution by a despotic regime.  But it has happened before more often than not.

  32. Shaun Appleby

    Wondering what today will bring and bracing for the worst.  If the revolutionary forces retreat to Brega the way is open for a breakout by loyalists and little opportunity to halt them.

  33. Shaun Appleby

    It will be difficult now to give blowjobs to dictators in the Arab world.

    Bernard-Henri Lévy


  34. Shaun Appleby

    Tweets from a stringer for one of the news agencies for a few days and he describes the situation among the revolutionary militias as pretty chaotic at the moment in the Ras Lanuf area.

  35. Shaun Appleby

    Still clinging on to the refinery:

    12:24am While foreign journalists are facing significant hurdles on getting information out of Ras Lanuf, but Libyan state television aired footage on Friday of people fleeing the city and of pro-Gaddafi searching houses for weapons.

    Rebels lost their control of the residential areas by late morning on Friday, but were reportedly holding on to part of the strategic oil port, Ibrahim Said, the deputy director of the hospital in nearby Ajdabiya, told the Associated Press.

    Libya Live Blog – March 11 AJE 11 Mar 11

    Not exactly a rout, they seem to be holding ground where they can.

  36. Shaun Appleby

    About all those journalists in Tripoli.  Does providing hundreds of millions of dollars of free propaganda to ICC suspect individuals of a regime under UN embargo amount to a breach of sanctions?

  37. creamer

    If they don’t succeed now in a classic military sense maybe this will plant the seeds for Gadaffi’s overthrow in the near future.

     If the rebels do fail, I will have no regrets about our non intervention. Gadafi is not a threat to American security anymore than Sudan or Somalia are. While the death and reprisals that a failed revolution will bring will be heart breaking I refuse to feel guilty. If Eygypt wants to use our money to intervene fine, if Sarkosy wants to send if air force in I will not complain. If our President directly involves us militarily I will not support him and I will rethink my support for his re-election. Two active wars is two too many. You do not go play global cowboy while you lay off teachers by the thousands and have inner-city unemployment rates at + 50%.

  38. Rashaverak

    Arab League backs Libya no-fly zone

    The Arab League has backed the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya, as rebels continue to be pushed back by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

    A special meeting in Cairo voted to ask the UN Security Council to impose the policy until the current crisis ended.

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