Europe’s takeaway from Libya: “”Will the U.S. keep bailing us out?”


From the Wall Street Journal: At the start, the U.S. led the military charge. America flew well over half the aerial raids—1,320 sorties in total—in the first two weeks after the U.N. Security Council voted in March to authorize the mission. Virtually all the cruise missiles used to destroy Libyan air defenses were American. On April 7, after NATO formally took over command, Mr. Obama said the U.S. would step back from combat operations.

During the subsequent months under NATO command, European fighters carried out 90% of the strikes against the ground positions of fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. France and Britain together accounted for 40% of the 5,000 targets hit in that time. Twelve years ago, the U.S. flew 90% of the airstrikes on Serbia and Kosovo.

This reversal is European progress but also slightly misleading. The U.S. still did 10% of the air raids after April 7, and as one senior European NATO official told us, "they hit higher quality targets." The Kosovo campaign was about five times as labor intensive as Libya.

The data also show that the U.S. did the most missions of any country. American planes and drones flew about 27% of the 23,500 sorties as of Tuesday. France was next, followed by Britain and Italy. Four-fifths of so-called intelligence and surveillance flights, either manned or unmanned, were American. The U.S. provided three-quarters of the midair refueling capability to keep European fighter planes over Libya. Without either, notes another official, "this operation would not have been possible." The Europeans don’t have this kind of hardware. . . .

We’re as glad as anyone to see Europeans take the security initiative in their wider neighborhood, but they’re still not ready for prime time. They need drones, advanced weapons and refueling planes if they ever want to wage these kinds of campaigns on their own. The European NATO official wonders, "Will the U.S. keep bailing us out?"—a good question in times of austerity on Capitol Hill.  (photo: Reuters)

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