Leadership: The Afghan Syndrome Comes To Libya


April 17, 2011: The Libyan rebels are complaining that the NATO air support is inadequate. While there were over a hundred fighters and bombers sent into action, by 17 nations (14 of 28 NATO members plus the UAE, Qatar and Sweden), most of the contributing nations have restrictions on how their aircraft could be used. As a result, six of the nations (mostly Britain and France) provide nearly all the actual bombing support to the rebels on the ground. The other nations restrict their aircraft to recon missions, or patrolling in search of the now non-existent Libyan Air Force.

This sort of behavior is nothing new for NATO. In Afghanistan, many nations restrict the use of their aircraft in combat. Opening fire is usually only allowed in emergencies and only with permission from higher commanders. The primary mission of many NATO warplanes in Afghanistan is reconnaissance and surveillance.

This sort of thing can get worse. Some nations are not allowed to leave their bases, and other simply have lots of restrictions on how they can use their weapons. For nearly a decade, NATO commanders in Afghanistan have been frustrated by all the strings attached to their authority by politicians back home. The ROE (Rules of Engagement) for NATO troops contain dozens of restrictions on how the NATO commander may use troops assigned to him. Most of these have to do with where national contingents can be moved, and how much they can be exposed to danger, and even what weapons can be used. These restrictions render nearly half the NATO troops in Afghanistan useless for combat, but they are there because their governments promised to send troops to Afghanistan to fight Islamic terrorism.

Thus is should come as no surprise that these same restrictions should show up in Libya, where nations are torn between preventing Libyans from getting slaughtered by their tyrannical government, and having their troops involved in any kind of combat.

It gets worse, as the United States withdrew most of its combat aircraft in April. This has led to a shortage of smart bombs, because France and Britain do not stock as many of these weapons as does the United States. Then there is the problem with keeping ahead of Libyan troops and their deception (to being spotted from the air) efforts. The U.S. continues to help in this area, at least with electronic eavesdropping. But what is missed is dozens of American fighters equipped with targeting pods.

Thus while the Libyan rebels have problems getting NATO to fight effectively, it is not a new problem and is not likely to go away anytime soon.





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