From the Financial Times: As David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, declared confidently this week: “Time is on our side – it is not on Gaddafi’s side. ”
But as the operation launched in March enters the high summer, the moment has come when military and political observers are beginning to wonder whether the mission really can achieve success or whether it is slowly running into the sand. . . .
With all these difficulties, what can Nato do to quicken the pace of the war? Options are limited. The idea of putting troops on the ground in Libya to fight alongside the rebels is widely dismissed. “There is not the slightest consideration of this in any government anywhere,” says a Nato diplomat in Brussels.Widening the target set for the mission so that it starts to attack utilities, such as power supplies in the Tripoli area, is also out of the question. “It would severely test support for the coalition, especially among the Arab states,” says the Nato diplomat. “We would also run the risk that such a move would turn many people around Tripoli against us.”
Nato therefore has no choice but to come up with more of the same to quicken the pace of the war. Whether this will make much difference, however, is far from clear.
Some military chiefs hope more air assets will be made available to Nato. But the growing opposition to the Libyan war in the US Congress and commitments in Afghanistan mean the Obama administration is unlikely to offer more of the kind of assets the missions need – such as drones. The UK may be able to move more attack helicopters from Afghanistan to Libya later in the year. But British military chiefs are already making clear that their forces are “overstretched” by fighting two conflicts simultaneously.
Instead, the danger for the Nato-led coalition is that, contrary to what Mr Cameron says, time is not on the alliance’s side. “You can see how late September and early October present challenges for all of us,” says a senior British official. “For President [Nicolas] Sarkozy, the French presidential campaign will be getting under way and he needs to register a success in Libya by then. For Cameron, it will be the Conservative party conference and he does not want that dominated by a row over why he went to war on Libya. Obama, meanwhile, is also facing his own pressures in Congress ahead of an election year. These leaders need a clear victory soon.”
Yet, 100 days into the conflict, it is far from clear that is an outcome they will quickly achieve. “The Libyan saga demonstrates that limited, low-risk intervention does not guarantee an early conclusion,” says the Washington Institute’s Mr White. “Instead, the incremental limited response can give the enemy time to adapt. In human terms, it is the Libyan people who are paying the price for Nato’s hesitation.” (graphic: Financial Times)