French Jets Defend Benghazi

Aljazeera English is reporting that French fighter jets have destroyed 4 tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi, the center of the provisional government opposing dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The tanks were involved in a concerted attack on Benghazi launched by Qaddafi’s military Friday and Saturday.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy surprised observers by announcing that French fighter jets were patrolling Libya’s skies already. The deployment was expected later on Saturday or on Sunday, in the wake of the meeting of a 22-nation spontaneous alliance formed to meet the UN Security Council’s mandate to protect Libyan civilians from Qaddafi loyalists’ military attacks on them.

Aljazeera Arabic interviewed Brigadier Gen. Safwat El Zayat (rtd.), an Egyptian military analyst and supporter of the Egyptian revolution, on the military situation in Libya. He was asked about the report that French fighter jets had taken out 4 Libyan tanks near Benghazi. Zayat said that pro-Qaddafi armor had moved up from Ajdabiya toward Benghazi in two columns, with the intent of breaching the rebel stronghold’s defenses and occupying the city center. The 32nd Special Forces Brigade, supported by tanks and led by Qaddafi’s son, Khamis, attacked on Friday and Saturday from the southwest. Another brigade, supported by tanks and heavy artillery and led by another Qaddafi son, Saadi, attacked from the southeast.

The French were attempting to deprive these elite brigades of their armored support and so level the playing ground for the rebel defenders of Benghazi. Given this air intervention, Gen. Zayat said, the strategy pursued by Qaddafi’s military in the past week could turn out to have been an enormous error. The pro-Qaddafi forces are stretched out over hundreds of miles, far from their supply lines, and are vulnerable to aerial bombardment because they are exposed in the desert. He said that French Mirage jets could fire infrared-seeking air-to-ground missiles that would detect Libyan armor because its temperature signature differed from its desert surroundings, and so could zero in on it.

Zayat expects that the struggle could well evolve rapidly from a no-fly zone enforcement to a push to deprive Qaddafi of his armored assets on the ground. He expected pro-Qaddafi forces to beat a retreat to Sirt now that the environment is turning negative for them in the east, but points out that they are hundreds of miles away and won’t be able to retreat quickly, remaining exposed along the way. The general points out that the mission is stated as protecting civilians from military attack, and that it could become a wideranging one. What, he asked, is the difference between protecting citizens in Benghazi from the 32nd Brigade or protecting those in Misrata closer to the capital? And then how is Zintan in the western desert different from Misrata?

Given the good performance turned in by the rebels two weeks ago before Qaddafi’s sons and officers decided to riposte with armor and air strikes and to punish civilian quarters for their support of the uprising, it seems likely that if Qaddafi is deprived by the UN-backed coalition of his advantage in planes and tanks, the rebels will again advance west. Once the rebels have the momentum on their side I can only imagine that the rest of the Libyan officer corps will throw the Qaddafis under the bus and switch sides.

Posted in Libya | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. …it seems likely that if Qaddafi is deprived by the UN-backed coalition of his advantage in planes and tanks, the rebels will again advance west….

    It’s not that I wouldn’t understand the concept of allowing the rebels to advance, or want Qaddafi to hold on to power, but if the UN Resolution is enforced in a manner that basically takes sides in the civil war and shields the rebel forces from even defensive measures, that’s problematic on any number of levels. Not the least of which is the UN resolution itself, that the Security Council “Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire…”.

    I suspect that the hope is for what you suggested, “that the rest of the Libyan officer corps will throw the Qaddafis under the bus and switch sides”, but not so much to join the rebels. I cynically suspect that the west, much of which has embraced Qaddafi in recent years, would prefer a slightly less offensive version of “the devil we know” as opposed to bringing the rebel faction (a devil we don’t know) into some sort of coalition. Also, should it happen, there’s a possibility that the rebels won’t agree to join with the generals who topple Qaddafi – and then what? Allow the civil war to resume and play itself out? Impose an indefinite “no fly zone’ that effectively partitions the country, in the hope that one day the two sides reach a compromise? Actively support the military efforts of one side or the other?

    • I think neutrality is impossible with any kind of country that is experiencing internal conflict. Non- action can aid the side that is ahead. Letting this whole thing play out can prolong the suffering of the population. In real-politic terms however the most important thing is to get this over with and get that almighty oil flowing. Qaddafi will withhold production to punish the west.

      So, given that neutrality is an illusion and the goals of a quick end I would think that UN forces will go after Qaddafi’s armor and in fact may coordinate with rebel forces in true ground support fashion. The rebels radio in coordinates or designate targets with lasers and GPS or laser guided munitions fall on the targets without ever seeing the planes from the ground. Air power is just that awesome now. Witness the first Gulf War and the so-called 2nd Iraq war. In the second action the real “war” fighting was over in a few days. What happened after that was not a war but an occupation. There should not be a need for an occupation of Libya, given the ready and willing rebels to take that function on.

      Sure, it stretches the UN mandate and is disruptive to peaceful principals in the long term but it gets it all over with quickly.

      All this makes sense to me but it occurred to me yesterday, “What the hell are we doing running the world like this?” The conservatives cry that the country is broke and we cannot afford basic services in this country and that a severe austerity program is necessary but then we have the resources to be running the whole world? I think that is the danger here. That the operation goes quickly and smoothly so that the first order question of our role in the world as chief enforcer is never asked.

  2. “exposed” is an understatement. As a reporter on CNN explained the other day, Qaddafi’s supply lines are lined up on the [only?] highway, like turkeys in what will doubtless become a shooting gallery.

    • It’s WW2 all over again, but with more advanced weaponry, except NATO airpower will see no Libyan version of the Luftwaffe to challenge for local air superiority.

      As for taking sides, the UN intervention IS taking sides, unlike what is occcuring in Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and of course Israel on so many previous occasions. If the Arab People are to be supported by the world in their drive to gain freedom from tyrany, then they should ALL be supported.

      • “If the Arab People are to be supported by the world in their drive to gain freedom from tyrany, then they should ALL be supported.”

        A little realism and a little less moral grandstanding please?

        Britain – Lockerbie
        France – UTA 772
        USA – 1986 Berlin

        Has the national leaders of Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, or Saudi Arabia consciously committed the same acts of terrorism against the nationals of these 3 countries?

        Obviously, even with this background, there would not have been the UN resolution had France not boxed itself in by recognizing the rebels so soon.

        That’s how the world works. If you don’t realize it by now, you are in for an awfully disappointed life.

  3. You REALLY believe his officers will turn due to the inability to use armor? Really?

    Also, by what part of the UN resolution was anyone allowed to interfere with normal (if war is the new ‘normal’) movement of personnel and armor?

    Don’t bother answering that question unless you can quote the provision and have a bulletproof(sic) legal presentation based on precedent. I’ve already heard enough ‘spew’ from people about their willingness to involve themselves in OTHER PEOPLE’S civil wars.

    Or perhaps the resolution is just like the ‘just another piece of paper’ George W. Bush spoke of when he referred …to the U.S. Constitution.

    • 1) You haven’t been reading Prof. Cole much, it would seem. Or if you have, you haven’t exactly learned a lot.

      2) As for whether Gaddafi’s officers will turn: A lot of them already have; that’s why the rebellion wasn’t put down three weeks ago. Hell, most of his diplomatic corps has — and they can’t come home now until they know he can’t kill them.

      Outside of the ones in his own tribe, his main officers are there mainly because a) he and his sons have a few billions of dollars between them, and they pay well; and b) they’re afraid of what might happen to them should they turn. But with Europe and the US now neutralizing his planes and tanks, suddenly what looked like a sure win for them two days ago has flipped the other way.

      By the way, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US’ initial job was made a lot easier when a lot of generals, persuaded by money offered them by the US (link to, surrendered rather than fight to the death. It would not surprise me in the least to see if Gaddafi’s remaining generals might wish for similar handouts in order to minimize bloodshed.

  4. It is interesting that the French Government is so excited about Libyan conflict. It reminds me of Margret Thatcher of England. Just like her, Sarkozy has lot of issues pushing his right wing agenda on the French people. Last year he was able to increase the retirement age and I expect him to want to do more in cutting the social services in France. Sarkoazy seem to want to repeat the Thatcher’s plan. Margret Thatcher took advantage of the conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands to rejuvenate the lost British patriotic feeling. She then used the “victory” to push her right wing policies in England. George W Bush also had a big plan to privatize social security. He too was hoping that a victory in Iraq would give him the ammunition to drive his agenda. As the Iraq war dragged on, it became a liability. I remember George Bush said that his biggest failure was waiting too long before pushing for Social Security privatization.

    I just pray that we don’t see the repeat of Iraq where depleted Uranium, cluster bombs, phosphorous bombs… are used to “liberate” people that have to pay for this for the generations to come.

    • Daryoush

      Libya hasn’t invaded Reunion, Tahiti or any other French possession, Iraq didn’t invade Puerto Rico, American Samoa or any other other US possession, but Argentina did invade the Falklands which was and remains a British possession.

      Hence I don’t think the comparison with Thatcher is valid. Surrender of the Falklands to Argentina was never an option for any British prime minister.

    • I don’t think that’ll happen, for the simple reason that there are two things in Libya that didn’t exist in Iraq: A strong popular support (verging on begging) for outside military intervention, and a growingly-cohesive rebel government made up in large part of former Gaddafi officials who couldn’t stomach him and his sons any more. It’s not just Ahmad Chalabi whispering in Doug Feith’s ear about flowers and candy.

      Go follow Mona Eltahawy on Twitter. You’ll soon see.

  5. This is the “ducks in a barrel” phase. Our cruise missile ships can hit hundred of “military” targets without breaking a sweat. Our planes can launch smart bombs and missiles from high altitude, far from the targets, and out of range of Qaddafi’s air defenses (which will vanish in a few days).

    The forces needed to do this have been idle because the Taliban doesn’t have tanks, planes, and armored personnel carries. This is what the Air Force and Navy have been waiting for.

    Interesting that despite all the pomp and rectitude we hear about using military violence, our leaders have given no clue about what come after all the ducks are dead. We had a “ducks in a barrel” phase in Afghanistan and Iraq – might offer us some clues.

    • I agree with your assessment. Why any soldier would get in a tank these days is beyond me. With modern anti-tank weaponry the tank has never been more vulnerable.

      Modern armies do have trouble with asymetrical warfare, but the traditional stuff it can do with both hands tied behind our backs. It will end like Mc Cafferty’s “highway of death”, circa Desert Storm.

      Finally, as someone who was completely opposed to Iraq War I find myself supporting this action. I came to this point since it doesn’t seem to have been something that the West chose, but was put upon them, unlike Iraq which seemed to have been pre-ordained by the “Think Tanks”.

  6. I disagree with any ideas that this will not be a protracted, long, hellish business. Qadaffi will endure easily…clearly he’s spent a lot of time and $$$ making bunkers & caches of weapons and he has loads of loyalists enough to keep the fighting going for many months, at least in Tripolitania. That said, he’s doomed of course. His equipment will run out or be destroyed, as will his loyalist fighters….eventually. His supply lines will definitely be sewn up by the western air powers as well as the maritime blockade. For now though, the western interests will use their arsenals…Sarkozy for domestic prestige, and yes; perhaps for policy reasons as well. Cameron in the UK for the same reasons (see 1956 Sinai War as a prerequisite for this UK/French “alliance”). For the Europeans it’s an obvious economic incentive for military intervention…they’ve got a lot invested there (especially in the last few years since Qadaffi’s reputation was sanitized for public consumption).
    America’s interest? I honestly don’t know. Obama obviously doesn’t want much to do with this…he’d probably rather have status quo everywhere so he can deal with the domestic mess he’s inherited (and left unimproved).
    I predict a lasting bloodbath once the parameters of the no-fly are felt out and fighters figure out their capabilities. For now, Qadaffi’s forces will retreat somewhat, but are better armed, trained and equipped to hold their defensive positions. The rebels will advance, but face fierce resistance in the loyalist areas.

  7. The popular uprising in Libya taking back the country is something the world will have to wait and see because it’s something only Libyan people can decide to do or not.. The source of knowledge about what was giving fits to people about Libya was the use of weapons of war against unarmed civilians which happened over and over again before a real armed resistance started to grow. That the uprising became know as rebel gave legit status to the existing government which had crushed its people in so many ways for so long. The revolutionaries or freedom fighters tried and tried to keep the world posted of cities that had not fallen and of heroic actions of the people to defend the homes and the lives of their families and friends. News of defecting army units unwilling to fire on the population and of what became known as Free Libya air force counterattacks overridden by press reports in main news going to the West.. This wasn’t about oil it was about justice and a people wanting to be free. And it still is. Freedom is real.

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