Both of Libya’s fighting camps are taking delivery of a surging influx of weapons shipments and military personnel – each hoping to use the extra aid for breaking the military standoff in its own favor, debkafile’s military sources report. Thursday, April 21, President Barack Obama authorized a pair of armed Predator drones to help the rebels break breaking the siege of Misratah, while British, French and Italian military officers headed for rebel headquarters in Benghazi, part of a package of arms and military equipment from the US, Britain, France, Italy and Qatar.
On the other side of the Libyan divide, China, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia are keeping the pro-Qaddafi camp’s arsenals stocked with new hardware along with combat personnel from Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia.
Building up in Libya is a confrontation that recalls the 1999 war in Yugoslavia (Serbia today) when NATO’s four-month Operation Noble Anvil hammered Yugoslav forces to force their retreat from Kosovo. The Serbs too were backed then by clandestine Chinese-Russian support in tactical advice, intelligence, fighting men and arms.
Just like 12 years ago, our military sources report that from mid-March, hundreds of “volunteers” – professional soldiers ranking from colonel down to corporal – have joined the army loyal to Qaddafi. Calling themselves “nationalists” operating in paramilitary organizations without the knowledge of their governments, these foreigners claim they have come “to repulse the Western-Muslim onslaught on Qaddafi’s regime.”
Of course, they are handsomely paid from Muammar Qaddafi’s plentiful war chest. One group says it is in Libya for unfinished business with the West, especially the United States, for their role in the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts.
China is helping the Libyan ruler with arms, mostly through African neighbors, and intelligence on NATO strikes in order to limit the damage they inflict (a service like that performed for Serbia in the 1990s). Beijing has a stake in helping the Libyan ruler after being informed that the Obama administration seeks to sever Chinese-Libyan oil ties before Beijing sinks tens of billions of dollars in Libya’s transformation into its primary oil and gas supplier on the African continent.
Hence the pair of armed drones which the US president decided Thursday to contribute to rebel strength in Misratah, the only town the rebels are clinging to in western Libya. The Predators are intended doubly to break Qaddafi’s siege of the town and destroy the Chinese electronic intelligence and weapons systems deployed around it. The NATO bombardment of a large ammunition dump near Tripoli on April 14 aimed at destroying the latest Chinese arms arrivals.
Echoes of the Balkan Wars were also resurrected by the rebels’ determination to hang on in Misratah and replicate the long Sarajevo siege which eventually drew the United States into the conflict.
debkafile’s military sources point to four major difficulties still confronting the next, intensified, round of Western coalition operations in Libya:
1. Pushing Qaddafi too hard could split NATO between is West and East European members;
2. The alliance is short of fighter-bombers for blasting the arms convoys destined for government forces in western Libya and lacks the precision bombs and missiles for these attacks. These shortages have forced NATO to limit its air strikes for now. A larger number of US Predators than the two authorized might have altered the balance. However, these armed pilotless aerial vehicles are in short supply owing to their essential role in US operations in the Afghan, Yemeni and Somali war arenas.
3. It is not clear that the UN Security Council resolution mandate extends to this kind of attack. The Russians criticize the Western alliance almost daily for exceeding its mandate.
4. In view of this criticism, Washington, London, Paris and Rome are careful to label their war assistance to Libyan rebels as “non-lethal military aid” and the military personnel helping them as “military advisers” – raising memories of the euphemisms used in previous wars.
The trouble is that all the additional military assistance the West is laying on is barely enough, say debkafile’s military experts, to maintain the current stalemate against the Qaddafi regime’s boosted capabilities – certainly not sufficient to tip the scales of the war.
Qaddafi holds one major advantage: His army can absorb foreign assistance without delay and almost seamlessly, whereas Western aid drops into a pit of uncertainty with regard to the rebel groups and their chiefs. The military advisers arriving in Benghazi first need to guide the opposition’s steps in fighting Qaddafi’s forces, then form the rebels into military units and teach them how to use the weapons they are receiving.
It could take months for regular units to take shape under the direction of British, French and Italian military personnel who, too, are not necessarily working in harness.