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A month after the start of the Libyan campaign, what assessment? Why is it dragging?

(BRUSSELS2) Political failure, military stagnation, European impotence... the atmosphere has turned to pessimism these days regarding the campaign led by the Allies in Libya. And, indeed, we have reason to be disillusioned. Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Gaddafi desperately clings to power. He adapts to the situation by using rapid action modes (4X4, snipers, etc.) faithful to desert troops. The rebels are no longer able to progress as they did in the early days. Should we really be disillusioned? Is the outcome so bleak? What explains the difficulties?

The Charles de Gaulle seen from the side of the American ship Uss Whitney (credit: Us March 2010)

A record that is not so negligible

At the military level, no plane can threaten Libyan territory (or close to it). The “no fly zone” is maintained. Likewise, no boat (at least of a certain tonnage) can approach it. Having held on to Misrata and preserved the city of Benghazi is, after all, a serious result today. Only the land route remains open to various traffics. No one would have bet a cent – ​​three months ago – on an armed revolution that would stand up to Gaddafi for so long.

At the economic level, several Libyan assets have been frozen abroad. And the mechanism of financial sanctions is strangling, very slowly, the Libyan power. At the political level, a National Transitional Council (CNT) was created which is beginning to see its base and its representativeness broaden. A few personalities who left Libyan power still need to join it so that its representativeness is greater. In one month, the results are therefore not so negligible. Especially since the conditions were not really favorable at the start.

The intervention in Libya remains marked by three contextual elements (geopolitics, military planning, operational and financial capacities)

1st factor: Libya less open than other Maghreb countries

With Egypt or Tunisia we had become accustomed to a collapse of a regime in a few days or weeks. But Libya has very different characteristics from other Maghreb countries. Its army – and especially its militias – is not close to Westerners like in Egypt or Tunisia. They are, above all, loyal to a man and not a regime. There is no intermediary body, structured or not, which makes it possible to enter into dialogue and organize resistance. Nor a wide circulation of ideas and people (even tourism is still limited there). Libya thus remains one of the rare countries in the world which remains, overall, rather closed to all influence. The construction of the Libyan opposition is done step by step, starting from a certain nothingness. As for the army, it has not gone over to the side of the rebels (except for a few elements) and its loyalty is, in part, acquired by Gaddafi. The military forces of the opposition follow the same construction: starting from little.

2nd factor: the short preparation time for a military operation

The armies did not really have time to prepare for the campaign; which is a singular difference with certain interventions of the past. This has not been planned for many months and had not been foreseen (as in Iraq or Kosovo). The diplomatic action was, this time, faster (which is not normally the case) and took the military to its feet. The operation was therefore developed almost in real time. With essential operational constraints (which it was not possible to circumvent): the Americans did not want to go, the Turks were opposed to it and the Germans were absent. Which is a lot for a military operation.

3rd factor: budgetary constraints hamper Allied commitment

Finally, Western military engagement is limited today. Allied commitment is weak. It's a fact: France and the United Kingdom and some ancillary contributions (Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Canada), with American logistical support. But the allies are faced with two objective elements which limit their means. The war in Afghanistan is draining many material resources and drying up military budgets. And the financial and budgetary crisis is another factor which reduces the intervention capacities of several countries. This question of cost and means (at the same time as the start of the electoral campaign) was also one of the driving forces behind American caution.

And a question: If Libya gets bogged down, what about Afghanistan?

I remain surprised by the various very harsh comments on the operation in Libya, quite precisely framed by an international resolution which prohibits the occupying forces. Whereas in Afghanistan, the (occupation) forces are very present on the ground: 130.000 men for a population of 10 million inhabitants. It's not nothing ! In this country, despite all the press releases announcing a decline of the Taliban, they remain present even in the capital. And if the word “stagnation” exists for Libya, I don't know which one can be used for Afghanistan. Finally, after 10 years of intervention, we no longer really know what the desired objective is.

What is certain is that today, Afghanistan weighs heavily on all armies and defense budgets, mobilizing a significant number of resources (fighter, transport, intelligence planes, etc.) which are cruelly default in Libya. And that today it no longer allows NATO forces to carry out an operation alone in another theater of operations requiring fairly high intensity resources over an average duration. Above all, this is the problem: lack of resources and budget…

Read also: What is NATO missing in Libya? More planes, hitting better and faster

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).