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By Brendan De Souza on 14.3.2024

Fighting Continues in Libya

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Intense fighting is set to continue in Libya this week and the conflict shows absolutely no signs of abating. Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi continue to strike back at protestors, especially in the east of the country, where government forces had lost virtually all control. The clashes constitute what the rebels consider to be the ‘Jasmine Revolution’.

Forces on both sides have continued to clash in major strongholds along the coast and government forces have managed to retake control of some settlements, including the oil town of Ras Lanuf, 600km east of Tripoli. Government forces retook the town of Zawiya, 30km east of Tripoli, last week as part of the government’s overall push eastwards. Today the rebels said that they had re-taken Brega, another oil town.

The uprising in Libya is of a unique nature and the outcome remains very much uncertain. The crisis in Libya has developed quicker than in neighbouring states but its intensity is such that the UN Security Council has referred the actions of Gaddafi’s regime to the International Criminal Court on the ground of crimes against humanity.

NATO and the UN are now looking at the possible establishment of a no-fly zone over the country to prevent pro-Gaddafi forces from carrying out air strikes against protestors. The Arab League met on Saturday in Cairo to discuss the imposition of a no fly-zone. The League’s Secretary General, Amr Mussa, has backed the plan and he called on the League to play a role in implementing it.

Establishing a no-fly zone would however prove to be quite difficult for political and military reasons. London and Paris have both been pushing for its establishment but other members of the P5, namely the Russia and the People’s Republic of China, are vehemently against it, at least at the present time. India, a member of the Security Council, has stressed that such an action, or indeed any intervention in Libya by foreign militaries, should not set any precedent.

The difficulties faced by the practical application of the no-fly zone are immense. Such an operation would require dozens of aircraft (perhaps over a hundred) and they would need base support, airborne refuelling facilities (to make up for the long distances from bases) and airborne surveillance aircraft to both protect the jets and provide them with airborne intelligence. Deploying NATO aircraft to bases in Malta, Sicily & Cyprus has been suggested but these are all hundreds of miles from the theatre of operations. Cyprus, the site of two UK air bases, is over a thousand miles from eastern Libya, the hub of pro-Gaddafi operations.

The USS Enterprise, a US navy super-carrier, having been redeployed from the Red Sea to the coast of Libya, presents the most viable option for enforcing the no-fly zone. The problem with the use of carrier air power however is that the only country currently possessing the necessary capability is the US, yet they themselves have explicitly reiterated that any operation must be international, not national or even multi-lateral. This leaves the UK and France, who have both pushed for the no-fly zone, in a predicament. The UK has recently decommissioned its strike carrier, HMS Ark Royal, along with the Harrier strike jets, as part of recent defence cuts. The French Navy, which possesses the slightly larger FS Charles De Gaulle, could potentially contribute if it weren’t for the fact that it is only one ship and has been plagued with technical issues throughout its career.

In a new twist for the military situation, the UK Ministry of Defence has decided to keep a number of Nimrod R1 Surveillance aircraft in service despite their planned withdrawal in a few months time. This, coupled with the Royal Navy’s imminent creation of a new, flexible Response Force Task Group is seen by many as a step-up in the UK’s plans for Libya and the no-fly zone.

It remains to be seen what will come of the no-fly zone but one thing is certain, the fierce fighting seen in recent times is unlikely to recede any time soon.

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