NATO’s air war in Libya is “grinding down the regime”

NATO E-3A patrolling over Alliance airspace

From Eric Schmitt, the New York Times:  As Tuesday’s heavy airstrikes in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, underscored, NATO is escalating the pace and intensity of attacks on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces , trying to break an apparent stalemate in the three-month-old conflict. Yet the alliance is still short on reconnaissance planes to identify hostile targets and refueling planes to allow fighter-bombers to conduct longer missions, a senior NATO diplomat said.

French and British officials said this week that they were sending more than a dozen attack helicopters to allow for more precise ground attacks, particularly around Misurata, where loyalist forces continue to fire mortars and artillery despite rebel gains and heavy air attacks.

With no troops on the ground, NATO planners and pilots acknowledge that they often cannot pinpoint the shifting battle lines in cities like Misurata. “The front lines are more scattered,” said Col. L. S. Kjoeller, who commands four Danish F-16s flying eight daily strike missions from Sigonella air base in Sicily.

Information on Libyan forces filters up from Central Intelligence Agency officers and allied special operations troops working with the rebels on the ground, as well as from the rebels themselves. But NATO planners say they have no direct contact with anyone on the ground to help coordinate the roughly 50 allied attack missions every night.

Instead, they rely on an array of imagery and electronic intercepts collected by drones, spy planes and satellites, as well as news media reports and other whispers of intelligence. These are used to build a round-the-clock campaign that allied officers say is preventing Colonel Qaddafi from making sustained attacks on rebel fighters and driving him deeper into hiding.

“We’re grinding down the regime,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Schmidt, an American officer who commands two dozen NATO and British Awacs planes.  (photo: Allied Command Operations)

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