August 18, 2011:
In the biggest air campaign since 2003, NATO aircraft continue to operate over Libya, carrying out 100-200 sorties a day (several times more activity than in Afghanistan). In the last 140 days, NATO has carried out nearly 19,000 sorties. Most, (62 percent) of these were support (tankers, reconnaissance, transport). But, on average, over 50 sorties a day are combat aircraft carrying smart bombs and missiles. Targets are primarily hostile armored vehicles, trucks, ammo dumps and supplies of all kinds. Headquarters, barracks and other military structures have also been hit. A small number of attacks have been made on buildings Libyan dictator Moamar Kaddafi or key aides were believed to be in.
This is also the largest air campaign since World War II that was not dominated by U.S. leadership and aircraft. Most of the combat missions are flown by non-American warplanes and the U.S. only dominates in some support areas. But NATO commanders are directing the entire operation, which is something the United States has been trying to make happen since the end of the Cold War. The 1990s fighting in the Balkans was uncomfortable for the Americans, who initially urged the EU (European Union) to take the lead, but the European NATO nations insisted that the U.S. supply key combat forces (especially air power) and take charge.
Although Libya is mostly an air and naval (blockade) operation, there are some special operations troops (almost all European) on the ground, and European nations are running that aspect of the campaign as well.
All this pleases the United States, which can now point to Libya as proof that the EU can carry out military operations in its own neighborhood. But America will also use Libya to coerce European nations to develop the support forces that the U.S. still have more of (and Europeans are still dependent on). Finally, this demonstration of European military capability makes it easier for the U.S. to withdraw its remaining forces from Europe, after nearly 70 years of being “over there.”
This evacuation is something many Europeans are opposed to. For a long time, the Americans were wanted to “keep the Germans down and the Russians out.” Less spoken about was the belief that the presence of U.S. forces would prevent another major war in Europe, and insure the America got involved early and heavily if there was another major conflict (especially one not involving Russia). The American presence also made it easier for European nations to cut their own defense budgets, secure in the knowledge that the Yanks would do the heavy lifting if there was any trouble. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, and 70 years after the United States got drawn into World War II, the Americans may be able to leave.