On Thursday, NATO Secretary –General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the Atlantic alliance will be taking command and control of the no-fly zone over Libya. The remit for this NATO effort will extend to protecting civilians, enforcing the arms embargo against Libya and supporting humanitarian assistance. Question marks remain over who will take command responsibility for what US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has called ‘the broader civilian protection mission’; essentially a euphemism for the bombing campaign against the Gaddafi regime’s tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons.
Rasmussen stated categorically that there will be two operations running concurrently; the NATO-led effort to police the no-fly zone, and the ‘coalition’ effort of the US, France and the UK to degrade Gaddafi’s ground forces. In this he appeared to contradict the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who had earlier stated that NATO will be responsible for all military operations. Negotiations over combining the two operations are set to continue over the weekend, with a decision expected on Monday.
The decision to hand over command to NATO comes at the end of a week where continued disagreements over targeting policy added to the increasing uncertainty surrounding the operation. UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary William Hague both seemed to suggest in separate radio interviews that Gaddafi could be targeted personally by allied air operations. In a matter of hours this view was criticised by both US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and, using even more categorical language, the head of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards.
The openSecurity verdict: The announcement by the NATO Secretary-General makes it apparent that none of the key problems facing command and control of the Libyan operation have been solved and that contradictions will likely continue to wreck havoc on operational decision-making. In terms of NATO command and control, the fear of the ‘hawks’ in Washington, London and Paris is twofold. Firstly, the nightmarish situation in the Kosovo campaign whereby bombing targets had to have the signoff of all 28 member governments continues to haunt the institutional memory of Pentagon planners. This was a major contribution to Rumsfeld’s famous dictum that ‘the mission should define the coalition and not the coalition the mission.’
Secondly, and more concretely, there are worries, potentially well-grounded, that were NATO to assume control of all military operations, member states including Turkey and Germany would use their veto power to essentially end the ongoing close air support missions against Gaddafi’s ground forces. For the ‘coalition’, who seem determined to interpret UNSCR 1973’s invocation of ‘right to protect’ to justify an ever widening spectrum of military options, this will be unacceptable. Turkey’s call to end air strikes at the same time as UK Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey refrained from ruling out sending in ground troops clearly illustrates the gulf at the heart of NATO policy making.
The most controversial part of ongoing operations against the Gaddafi regime will thus likely be denied a NATO figleaf. Even the symbolic presence of a handful of aircraft from Qatar and the UAE will not be able to shield the close air support missions from mounting criticism from the Arab League and the African Union as civilian deaths escalate. That they will rise seems unavoidable bearing in mind the steadily accruing evidence that Gaddafi’s tank crews are learning the lessons of warfare against an opponent with total control of the skies and are digging in in heavily populated urban district of contested cities like Ajdabiya and Misurata.
The crisis point will come in the next few days. With the Libyan airforce essentially wiped out and its air defence network degraded to the point where allied aircraft operate ‘with impunity’, coalition planners are running out of targets. It is at this point, with airforce targeting folders empty and the limits of airpower thereby exposed, that the first temptation for mission creep will emerge.
Various factors, including the apparent incompetence of rebel forces and Gaddafi’s continued possession of gold bullion to pay his mercenaries, suggest that this conflict will, indeed, be protracted. If, for political reasons, the coalition decides to try to shorten it through various expediencies including arming the rebels in defiance of the UN sanctioned embargo, attempting a ‘decapitation’ strike on Gaddafi himself or sending in ground forces, it seems likely that NATO resolve, let alone the wider coalition of Arab partners, will crumble into acrimony. At that point, all of the rightly lauded diplomatic gains of previous days will have been for naught. Cameron and Sarkozy should reign in the rhetoric and prepare themselves for a long war, with all the domestic political risk that this entails.
Raymond Davis affair ends with the crippling of US intelligence in Pakistan
Last Wednesday, Raymond Davis was released from prison in Pakistan after the US government paid diyya, or blood money, to the relatives of the two men he had killed on January 27th. This brought to an end one of the most potentially explosive incidents in US-Pakistan relations in recent years. Davis, revealed to be a CIA contractor by US officials and even acting head of the CIA in Pakistan according to some sources, had previously attempted to secure diplomatic immunity, backed by the Obama administration. This appeal was refused by then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a stance that apparently led to his removal from post.
In the subsequent trial, the US government has reportedly paid $2.3 million dollars to the relatives of the murdered men, the custom of diyya being a long standing feature of the Pakistani justice system. The true cost to the US may, however, be far higher. According to Shaukat Qadir, former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, the deal reached by US and Pakistan military officials entailed, in exchange for Davis’ safe release, the dismantling of the entire US human intelligence (HUMINT) operation in Pakistan.
Qadir points to the fact that, 48 hours after a top level meeting between Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (CAS) and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on February 23rd, a military official from the US embassy visited Davis in his cell. Following this visit, over 50 associates of the Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan, commonly referred to simply as the Pakistan Taliban, were arrested. All of them had reportedly had some level of contact with Davis. Simultaneously, between 30 and 40 Americans living in rented accommodation near US diplomatic installations left Pakistan for the United States. If these individuals were, as Qadir speculates, key staff in the US clandestine services, then the Davis incident has dealt a blow to American intelligence gathering in Pakistan from which it will be hard pressed to recover.
Jerusalem faces first bombing in six years
On Wednesday, a suitcase bomb exploded at a bus stop in central Jerusalem, killing one person and injuring over 30. The slain woman was subsequently revealed to be British. The incident is the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem in six years, and comes at a time of escalating violence between Israel and militants operating out of both the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Even before the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had intimated that a protracted counter-assault on Gaza, as opposed to retaliatory air raids, may be his government’s chosen response.
No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the bombing, with Israeli experts speculating that the primitive nature of the bomb meant that it could have been planted by individuals unaffiliated with existing militant groups. The attack took place three days after the Knesset passed a law allowing new settlements within the boundaries of Israel to exclude Israeli Palestinian citizens as residents. Critics say that this is just the latest in a series of laws that enact virtually apartheid levels of discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, the most prominent recent example being the oath of loyalty law the obliges non-Jews applying for Israeli citizenship to swear loyalty to Israel as ‘a Jewish and democratic state’.