Tuesday, August 23, 2011
NATO's Role in the Libyan Revolution
Several factors contributed to this change. The sudden collapse of Qadhafi's forces in late August was preceded by steady attrition through months of air strikes and squeezed supply lines. The NATO air campaign, which conducted over 19,750 sorties, inflicted considerable damage on the military capability of the Qadhafi forces. The relentless bombardment of armor and artillery east of Zawiya greatly weakened government defenses and contributed to breaking down much of the resistance that could have halted the rebel advance.
But much more important work was done behind the scenes. Judging from available reports, foreign special forces—primarily from France, Great Britain, and the United States, but also from Qatar and Jordan—played a major role in training the inexperienced rebel forces, providing weapons and serving as forward air control to guide air strikes. Over the last few weeks, the rebel groups appeared to be better armed and forged a closer and more effective working relationship with the NATO jets above them. While most of the world’s attention had focused on Brega and Misrata, the turning point of the campaign seems to have take place in what had hitherto been considered a sideshow, the Nafusa highlands in the west, where the NATO trainers and regular deliveries of arms and equipment fused the disparate rebel elements into a fighting force. The offensive that began from this region in early August delivered a breakthrough in the stalemate as the rebels scored a major victory at Zawiya. It demonstrated better preparation and coordination among the rebel forces while an amphibious assault on Tripoli clearly revealed the extent of planning that underlay rebel operations. One cannot but suspect considerable Western involvement in this planning. This detracts nothing from the efforts that the NTC has undertaken in its struggle against the Qadhafi regime, but it does underscore the decisive impact of NATO's decision to serve as the rebel air force.