Allied military leaders said the attack on Libya may end without dislodging Muammar Qaddafi, highlighting the risk of splitting the country and the absence of a clear exit strategy.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said Qaddafi’s ouster wasn’t the aim of the campaign, whose stated goal is to protect civilians from a potential onslaught.
“It’s like someone rushing to action in the movies -- It looks good but it doesn’t work in real life,” Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the NATO Defense College in Rome, said in an interview. “You can’t have an exit strategy without having goals, and we don’t know what the goals are in Libya.”
The coalition ordered Qaddafi to withdraw his forces from major cities after weeks of fighting with rebels that has left hundreds dead in the bloodiest of popular uprisings to have swept the Middle East this year. Mullen said a no-fly zone was in place as Qaddafi vowed to repel allied forces.
The priority is to stop Qaddafi “brutalizing” his own people and not to implement “regime change,” Fox told the BBC’s “Politics Show” in London yesterday, adding that the Libyan leader could well “hunker down” and remain in the country.
Mullen said “the goals of this campaign right now again are limited and isn’t about seeing” Qaddafi go. Asked in an NBC “Meet the Press” interview yesterday if the mission could be accomplished with Qaddafi still in power, Mullen said: “That’s certainly potentially one outcome.”
The conflict might lead to the division of Libya, the holder of Africa’s biggest oil reserves, between liberated parts and Qaddafi-ruled territory, said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
Iraqi Kurdistan achieved virtual independence after the first Gulf War in 1991, when the U.S. established a no-fly zone over the area that lasted until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
With Libya being pounded by Tomahawk Cruise missiles and bombing runs by U.S., French, British and Canadian jets, choking off Qaddafi’s finances and oil exports may be the quickest way to force out the Libyan leader.
“Cash and oil are the decisive screws that can be tightened to ratchet up pressure on the regime,” Perthes, whose institute advises the German government, said in a telephone interview.
“If this happens, it’s a matter of months and not years,” Perthes said. “Qaddafi needs dollars to pay mercenaries from Mali or Niger. They want cash, not transfers to Swiss accounts. If the boycott holds, the Libyan currency will sink and won’t be accepted.”
In the 1999 Kosovo War, it took 78 days of air strikes by NATO forces to bring about Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo, General Sir Mike Jackson, Britain’s former military chief, said in a Sky News interview.
“Cutting off Qaddafi’s oil and money is absolutely crucial,” Shada Islam, a Middle East and Asia expert at the Friends of Europe policy-advisory group in Brussels, said in a telephone interview. “This can’t just be a military operation.”
Shokri Ghanem, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corp., said March 19 that Libyan oil production has slumped to less than 400,000 barrels a day and “could reach a halt.” Daily supply from Africa’s third-largest producer was 1.58 million barrels in January, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
The United Nations Security Council last month voted to freeze the assets of Qaddafi and key aides. The European Union earlier this month extended sanctions against Qaddafi’s regime to the Libyan Investment Authority and the central bank. The Bank of Italy on March 14 took control of Banca UBAE SpA, the Rome-based trade-financing bank owned by Libya’s central bank. UBAE had 3.1 billion euros ($4.4 billion) of deposits at the end of 2009.
President Barack Obama and the leaders of France, the U.K. and other Western nations have said that Qaddafi must go. The Arab League backed the no-fly zone imposed on Libya, and Qatar’s leader said today it will deploy its jets with the allies.
“If Qaddafi’s forces begin to roll back and the rebels advance, then, potentially, that is a process that could drive Qaddafi from power,” Anthony Cordesman, senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview on March 19.
If ground forces hold, he said, “then it gets to be a lot harder, and the question is, can some combination of the rebels and allied air power drive Qaddafi out of the capability of using his forces, and eventually from power, or will the U.S. have to go from providing these command and control and intelligence assets, and striking at surface-to-air missiles, to a much more direct form of intervention? At this point none of us know.”
Qaddafi reacted with defiance to the strikes vowing his country would become hell for the “monsters” attacking it.
“We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states that are aligned now against us,” the Libyan leader, who has ruled since 1969, said on state television yesterday. “We will not leave our land. We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it.”
Jackson, the British general, said he didn’t think there was much chance of “Qaddafi throwing in the towel.”
“There may be action taken against him from within Libya itself,” Jackson said in the Sky News television interview.
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