A former British air force commander said a clear objective in Libya is needed before launching airstrikes. Now the strikes are on and may produce the "Biggest Show in Town" but unfortunately, little more. But what is the objective of Operation 'Odyssey Dawn'? Does it include a regime change, or physical removal of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi personally? If so, what of his seven sons – are they to be targeted too? As far as we know, UNSC Resolution 1973 calls for the "halt in the fighting and to achieve a ceasefire". It does not explicitly call for the removal of Col Muammar Gaddafi or a even a regime change. In fact, it specifies clearly that no ground action is permitted: It "authorizes member states to "take all necessary means to protect civilians", but crucially excludes any "foreign occupation force" moving into the territory of Qaddafi's Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, in most sweeping terms. So what 'necessary means' can the operation take to achieve to protect civilians? Without getting 'boots on the ground' very little can be achieved in any military action. Even hitting high-profile targets will become difficult, when hidden, or well camouflaged in urban environment., without 'eyes on the ground'. So what is the purpose behind all this noise?
When the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 the aim was to overthrow Saddam Hussein and this was achieved by ground action. When NATO entered Kosovo in 1999 its purpose was to stop ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic's army. As mentioned, the precise objectives of Operation Odyssey Dawn 2011, and how they will be achieved, are by far, less well-defined – and therefore, potentially problematic. It therefore looks like 'good old' Qaddafi will stay in power in Tripoli for some time to come and a form of stalemate will eventually emerge, bringing to a partition between the east and west, which could 'invite' Jihadist elements filling the void. Moreover, having already attacked Qaddafi, he will feel cornered, making him again one of the top dangerous terrorists in the world.
Should Operation Odyssey Dawn end in a divided Libya, the danger of it becoming a Jihadist terror base will be real. There are reports that radical Islamist elements are already active in the rebel held eastern part of Libya. Taking advantage of the ongoing chaos, a large group of Islamist gunmen, believed to be members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), recently seized a weapons depot in the eastern Libyan port city of Derna. Calling itself the “Islamist Emirate of Baraqa,” the group, assisted by a former Libyan Army Colonel named Adnan al-Nwisri, seized a large cache of weapons. There may be other Islamic groups active in this area, which have not yet been identified. It needs little imagination to estimate the danger posed to Egypt, still in process to reorganize itself, to fill the leadership gap, left after Mubarak. A radical Islamic neighbor could have devastating consequences in this highly sensitive and dangerous situation.
So under the present UNSC constraints, there is little hope that Operation Odyssey Dawn will achieve anything apart from a few days of high profile public relations, indicating UN and Western determination to act and, inevitably- with a considerable bill to pay, adding to an already dwindling defense budget in the UK, France and even the USA.
According to a new report issued by the US Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, three options for a No-Fly Zone over Libya would have three very different costs:
1. "Full No-Fly Zone" covering all of Libya
- $100 million to $300 million per week
- Initial strike to secure airspace: $500 million and $1 billion
- Six month total: $3.1 billion - $8.8 billion
- Similar to no-fly zone imposed over Iraq (Operation Northern and Southern Watch)
2. Limited No-Fly Zone focusing on the northern third of Libya
- $30 million to $100 million per week
- Initial strike to secure airspace: $400 million to $800 million
- Six month total $1.18 billion - $3.4 billion
3. Stand-off No-Fly Zone focusing on coastal Libya with only air and naval assets beyond Libyan territory
- $15 million to $25 million per week.
For a total cost estimate- take your pick, as to how long the operation will last.
Just as a reminder, the No Fly Zone over Iraq lasted from 1991 to 2003, when Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' started. Before that, Operation 'Deny Flight' over Bosnia took place from April 12, 1993–December 20, 1995.
With no specific aim for Operation Odyssey Dawn, any guess might be right to define how long it will last until someone decides, either to change the UN resolution terms and send ground troops in to remove the tyrant, or let him stay, with all the dangerous consequences involved.