No-Foot-dragging Zone

  • Share
  • Read Later

NATO has been monitoring Libya via AWACS aircraft like this one / NATO photo

No-drama Obama’s dithering over — or is it carefully pondering? —  the wisdom of imposing a no-fly zone atop Libya has dragged on so long that mischief is creeping into the arguments over its merit or lack thereof.

Objections to the U.S. establishing a no-fly zone over Libya are based on erroneous suppositions made by leaders in the Pentagon – such as U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis – who do not have the aviation experience needed to make such a decision, say two senior, retired U.S. Air Force officers.

Aviation Week‘s Ares blog reports this morning. It adds, darkly — almost like a new verse of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody — that there are now “mutterings among aviation advocates that the no-fly zone idea is being downplayed so that budget support for Army and Marine Corps ground forces will not be minimized by some sort of aerial coup.” It’s always amazing how U.S. military partisans boil down the slaughter of innocents to what’s good, or not so good, for their particular slice of the Pentagon pie.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do pilots and their champions pushing for billions of dollars in new hardware. This “informal group of former senior officers” cited by the AvWeek blog is pushing the idea of a no-fly zone and grumbling that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other no-fly-zone skeptics are making too much of the dangers and complexities involved. They question just how much of Libya’s airspace would have to be patrolled (just along the coast, zone backers maintain), and how difficult it would be to keep Libyan helicopters grounded (piece of cake; they’re only based at three places hugging the Mediterranean coast, all within striking distance of carrier-based aircraft).

The real conundrum now seems to be just who are the rebel leaders. There isn’t a clear leadership to talk to, which makes the notion of coordination between rebels and outside help problematic. The issue is going to be discussed over the next several days among NATO defense ministers in Brussels. So far, NATO’s role has been limited to monitoring what’s happening in the north African nation via AWACS radar-warning planes and other surveillance systems.

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., got General James Amos — the first Marine pilot ever to serve as commandant — to acknowledge that Gaddafi’s air capabilities are “modest” and that his “greatest threat” is probably his helicopters. Libya’s air defenses are concentrated at four bases around Tripoli, Amos confirmed to McCain at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Their back-and-forth proved illuminating, as McCain wants action and Amos — channeling Gates, his boss — not so much, as this exchange shows:

SEN. MCCAIN: Have you heard that Gadhafi is still flying in mercenaries into Tripoli from other countries?

GEN. AMOS: No, sir, I have not heard that.

SEN. MCCAIN: Did you hear that he has two Airbuses that are shuttling back and forth?

GEN. AMOS: No, sir, I’ve not heard that.

SEN. MCCAIN: You have been getting regular briefings?

GEN. AMOS: We do, sir.

Apparently, each has been hearing only what he wants to hear.