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International alliance divided over libya command

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Mujumba, Mar 22, 2011.

  1. Mujumba

    Mujumba JF-Expert Member

    Mar 22, 2011
    Joined: Jan 20, 2011
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    President Barack Obama, speaking in Santiago, Chile on Monday, defended his decision to order U.S. strikes against Libyan military targets, and insisted that the mission is clear.
    And like a parade of Pentagon officials the past few days, Obama insisted that the United States' lead military role will be turned over—"in days, not weeks"—to an international command of which the United States will be just one part.
    The only problem: None of the countries in the international coalition can yet agree on to whom or how the United States should hand off responsibilities.
    The sense of urgency among White House officials to resolve the command dispute is profound: with each hour the U.S. remains in charge of yet another Middle East military intervention, Congress steps up criticism that Obama went to war in Libya without first getting its blessing, nor defining precisely what the end-game will be. (On Monday, Obama sent Congress official notification that he had ordered the U.S. military two days earlier to commence operations "to prevent humanitarian catastrophe" in Libya and support the international coalition implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1973.)
    Below, an explainer on the military mission in Libya, the dispute over who should command it after its initial phase, and whether the military is concerned about mission creep.
    What is the U.S. military task in Libya?
    The military mission in Libya is implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for Gadhafi's forces to pull back from rebel-held towns, and the establishment of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians from attack by Gadhafi, and for civilians to be allowed access to food, water and other humanitarian supplies.
    Is the U.S. military trying to kill Gadhafi?
    No, the U.S. military is not authorized to kill Gadhafi, said Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. African Command at a press conference in Stuttgart, Germany, Monday. Ham's command is currently leading the first phase of the international coalition effort to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, together with the United Kingdom and France. Nor is the U.S. military currently coordinating with anti-Gadhafi rebels or authorized to provide them military support, Ham said.
    The main objective, Ham stressed, is to protect civilians from attack. "The military mission is very clear, frankly. What is expected of us to do is establish a no fly zone to protect civilians, to get withdrawal of regime ground forces out of Benghazi," Ham said. "What we look forward to is the transition to designating the headquarters" of the command of the next phase of operations.
    How can the coalition reconcile a military mission that could leave Gadhafi in power with the many calls for his removal?
    On Monday, Obama answered this by underlining the language of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which calls for protecting civilians from attack. That narrow military mission is distinct, Obama said, from the larger political goal of seeing Gadhafi step down—a call that Obama himself has repeatedly echoed, along with other major Western diplomatic players such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The international community has other non-military tools to achieve that goal, Obama said, such as economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, international war crimes investigation, and cutting off the Gadhafi regime's access to financial assets abroad.
    "First of all, I think it is very easy to square our military actions and our stated policies," Obama said in Chile Monday. "Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the UN Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Gadhafi to his people."
    Who is currently commanding the international military coalition?
    U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), the U.S. regional military command dealing with the continent of Africa, and its commander Gen. Carter Ham, are leading the first phase of what the Pentagon has dubbed "Operation Odyssey Dawn" to suppress Libya's air defenses to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.
    Other early members of the international coalition imposing a no-fly zone over Libya include France and the United Kingdom, joined Monday by Belgium and Canada.

    Ham and other Pentagon officials have said the U.S. is eager to turn over the lead role in the operation to international coalition partners, but as yet the command of the next phase has not been agreed.
    What's really at issue in the dispute over who should command the next phase of the international mission over Libya?
    Put simply, the members of the international coalition are at odds over whether the international coalition command should be led by NATO, or not.
    The French, Turks, and Germans reportedly object to NATO running the operation, all for their own reasons. The Italians, the UK, and the United States, among others, think that NATO is best equipped to be able to take swift control of the mission.
    "There is not only one problem. Each player has its own perspective, sensitivity, priority," said one European defense official on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the dispute Monday. "You have the weak, the prudent, the strong, the opportunists."
    "The problem is, the Italians are calling for it to be a NATO operation, but it's not clear all members of NATO support this," said Anthony Cordesman, a veteran defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's also clear that the French initiated part of this operation. And behind it is the reality that it is only the United States that has the combination of satellite targeting and precision strike capabilities in terms of cruise missiles that are critical to overall command and control and situational awareness."
    Why do the French and others object to a possible NATO command structure?
    "There are technical considerations and political ones," said Justin Vaisse, of the Brookings Institution Center for the United States and Europe. Sarkozy has two basic objection, Vaisse explains: "One, NATO is radioactive in the Arab world and seen as a tool of US imperialism. And two, there's also the question of not having Turkey and Germany [who have expressed reservations about the Libya military mission], impede" the international mission in Libya, given that NATO is a consensus organization.
    Turkey reportedly resents that French president Sarkozy did not invite Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to his Paris summit on Libya Saturday with other world leaders. (The perceived insult is "completely absurd," a French official said, explaining that the summit was open to any country interested in implementing the Libya UN resolution, and France did not "send 200 invites to all members of the UN." A Turkish official said the Ankara would have gladly sent a representative had they been invited.)
    Germany reportedly is not interested in participating in a military mission in Libya, but could opt-out but approve NATO being otherwise involved.
    NATO ambassadors met in Brussels Monday to debate the issue.
    When is the command issue likely to be resolved?
    U.S. officials insist it has to be resolved soon--"days, not weeks," as Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Sunday.
    "I would not put a date certain on this," Gen. Carter Ham said Monday. "The first thing that has got to happen is identification of what that organization is. We have been from the start planning how to effect this transition once that follow-on headquarters is established. It's not so simple as to have a handshake and say, 'you're now in charge.' "
    Does the top U.S. commander worry about mission creep?
    "No, I don't worry too much about mission creep," Ham said after a pause Monday. "I think the mission is clear, and moving forward and achieving the military objectives consistent with our mission." (A group of protesters angry about international intervention in Libya blocked the path of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he left a meeting at the Arab League.: Nasser Nasser/AP)