Libyan War In Third Week As NATO Takes Command
On the morning of March 31 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization assumed full command of military operations against Libya, effecting the transfer of air, naval and preliminary ground operations from U.S. Africa Command's Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn to NATO's Operation Unified Protector. In NATO's words, "The Alliance has the assets in place to conduct its tasks under Operation Unified Protector -- the arms embargo, no-fly zone and actions to protect civilians and civilian centres."
On the same day a press conference was conducted by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu, the commander of Unified Protector Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard and the chairman of NATO's Military Committee Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola to announce the transition.
Romania's Lungescu (a veteran of BBC World Service), Quebec's Bouchard and Italy's Di Paola spoke entirely in English, as notwithstanding NATO's formal command of Libyan war operations Bouchard reports to America's Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe and also the chief of the Pentagon's European Command, and NATO is after all a U.S.-controlled military alliance. One speaks to a master in his language.
The day after NATO took over control of the war Stavridis asserted that "the Libyan operation demonstrates just how capable the Western alliance remains two decades after the end of the Cold War," in the words of an Associated Press dispatch. The news agency added that "This is the first time in its history that NATO is engaged in two major conflicts at once," meaning the wars in Libya and Afghanistan, in Africa and Asia.
The day before NATO assumed command of the North African war, Stavridis told the House Armed Services Committee that the war in Afghanistan "has become a global effort, with committed partners from nations that include Mongolia, Bulgaria, Tonga and El Salvador." He referred to 49 nations contributing troops for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, one more than has been acknowledged before, with El Salvador evidently the latest. There are also military personnel assigned to NATO in Afghanistan from countries that are not yet official Troop Contributing Nations like Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Japan and Kazakhstan. Never before have armed forces from so many nations been stationed in a war zone in a single country.
Stavridis, who as NATO's top military commander is in ultimate charge of both current wars, made the latter comments in an address commemorating the 60th anniversary of NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium, which "was set up by NATO's then-commander and later U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower" as Associated Press reminded its readers.
On March 21, hours after NATO launched Operation Unified Protector, Secretary of Defense Roberts Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen also addressed the House Armed Services Committee on Libya. Later Gates appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and confirmed that U.S. warplanes would remain in the Libyan war theater to assist the new NATO mission.
Referring to the twelve days of Operation Odyssey Dawn, he said: "That part of our mission is complete and successful."
He further boasted of Western bombs and cruise missiles destroying Libyan air capabilities and ground assets - the second category includes administrative buildings, oil depots, ammunition dumps and naval facilities - and affirmed that the intensive onslaught "will not diminish under NATO leadership."
And indeed it hasn't. On the third day of Unified Protector, April 2, NATO announced that it had conducted 174 air missions over Libya on the preceding day, including 74 strike sorties, ones involving bombing missions and missile strikes. The total for the first two days of the NATO operation were 363 sorties and 148 strike sorties.
In his testimony on March 1, Secretary Gates also said: "A decision about support to the opposition is clearly the next step. I think all members of the coalition are thinking about that at this point."
NATO Military Committee chief Admiral Paola was more candid, stating that he was "confident, absolutely confident, that one of the (NATO) allies" has already been arming anti-government insurgents in Libya.
Gates offered the standard official explanation of the ongoing war as being actuated by alleged humanitarian concerns and disavowed a formal policy of regime change, but gave the lie to his own words in adding that NATO forces "will continue to attack (Gadhafi's) ground forces with no opportunity for resupply" to the point where "His military is going to face the question of whether they are prepared to be destroyed by air attacks, or if it's time for him to go."
In addition, according to the Pentagon's website: "The issue is more complicated than simply arming the rebels. What the opposition really needs, Gates said, is organization, training, and command and control - something he said likely requires coalition forces on the ground in Libya." He refrained from openly endorsing that strategy although it is already being implemented with American and British special forces and intelligence operatives directing air strikes from the ground in Libya.
Gates warned against the alternative to an overthrow of the government and ground operations while speaking in the House earlier, saying "We have considered the possibility of this being a stalemate and being a drawn-out affair...where you achieve the military goal but not achieve the political goal" of regime change.