NATO has run into a major glitch which is typical of the plunging course followed by its three-month old operation against Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose that Britain, France and Italy were secretly in the middle of hectic preparations for a "Shock and Awe" (technically known as "rapid dominance") coup de grace against the Libyan ruler, when they discovered their air forces had run out of missiles and smart bombs.
Their arsenals were empty.
NATO air strikes against Qaddafi's forces in Tripoli and elsewhere ground to a halt for several days for efforts to replenish stocks.
And Tuesday, June 14, the top British and French commanders tried to warn their governments of the real situation.
"How long can we go on as we are in Libya?" Britain's First Sea Lord, Adm. Mark Stanhope, asked. "Certainly in terms of NATO's current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities."
French Gen. Stephane Abrial, the Supreme Allied Commander of Transformations, warned, "If this operation was to last longer, of course the resource issue will become critical."
Ordnance available from US – but who foots the bill?
But NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen instructed alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu to remain upbeat. "We continue to maintain a high tempo of operation," he said. "It is clear that NATO has the resources to keep up the pressure on the Qaddafi regime. We know it takes time."
At the same time, Rasmussen betook himself to London on Wednesday, June 15, for a powwow with British Prime Minister David Cameron, senior partner along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in the military effort to smash Qaddafi.
According to our sources, the gung-ho Rasmussen first called the White House and the Pentagon and explained the situation. Reporting on his conversations to Cameron, the NATO secretary said the Americans were perfectly willing to replenish NATO's empty stocks of missiles and smart bombs, except for one difficulty: Who would foot the bill?
It was understood by the US officials he consulted that some of the consignment would be covered by previous American commitments to maintain NATO's emergency stocks. But now, they said, the alliance was asking for much larger quantities of ordnance than Washington had committed to, so who would pay for the difference – would it be NATO as an organization or would London, Paris and Rome split the difference between them?
US lawmakers warn Obama not to spend any more on Libya
President Barack Obama needed an answer to this question before he approved the transfer of US arms for the Libya war – especially after the warning he received form House Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday, June 14 that without congressional authorization of his military investment in Libya, he would be in violation of the War Powers Resolution.
In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon, Boehner, the top Republican in the constitutional chain, said Mr. Obama must provide a clear justification by Friday for committing military resources to Libya.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington report three reasons for the House Speaker's concern:
1. He fears that European pressure to restock NATO arsenals could provide the president with cover for ordering American military assets to take part in the Shock and Awe operation as the coalition's last throw in the effort to oust Qaddafi and bring the war to an end.
In Washington, too, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates invited journalists to the Pentagon only to repeat the forecast of "a dim, if not dismal" future for NATO which he delivered last week to the alliance's defense ministers meeting in Brussels. He said he was not disowning the 62-year-old alliance, only warning that the years-long fraying of trans-Atlantic ties could eventually break the bond. European members of NATO, he said, faced the very real possibility of "collective military irrelevance."
“People like me who have an emotional stake in Europe and NATO are aging out,” he said. A lot of younger Americans, including newer members of Congress bent on cutting government budget deficits and trimming US commitments overseas, “don’t have these kinds of attachments.”
War without victory or closure
Echoes of Gates' comments filtered through the warnings delivered to their governments by Britain's First Sea Lord and the French general. Like them, the US Secretary of Defense can't see NATO winning the war in Libya.
2. Boehner and the Republicans are also disturbed by the president's order for a naval buildup in the Mediterranean (See debkafile's exclusive of June 14: US naval movements around Syria. Hizballah moves rockets), fearing that the naval units may be turned against Libya rather than Syria.
3. The House Speaker has picked up negative vibes from the intelligence briefings received by members of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. They paint a totally different picture of the state of play in Libya from the one NATO, London and Paris are feeding world media and the European public.
All the US military and intelligence officials monitoring the war – some from rebel headquarters in Benghazi and Tripoli – agree, according to our exclusive sources, that the NATO operation has no chance of toppling Qaddafi, breaking the back of his army or leading the rebels to victory.
It would take a miracle or a fluke strike to kill Qaddafi. But barring that remote eventuality, there is nothing to stop him hanging on to power for a lengthy period of time. The coalition's concentrated bombardments and missile strikes have not loosened his grip or touched the operational capabilities of the 11 brigades at his disposal.
The Berbers account for single rebel military gain
As for the rebels, their military competence is rated close to nil.
One intelligence report measures their ability to advance into new ground and extend their battle lines as limited to a few hundred meters at a time – one kilometer at most. Other reports ridicule as ludicrous rebel commanders' claims this week that they are on the way to conquering Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, Tripoli remains beyond their reach.
Libya's dissident forces, after months of fighting, can claim real military gains in only one place, the Nafusa Mountains in the west. There, the Berber tribes of Gharyan, Yifrin, Kabaw, Nalut and Jadu have been able to beat back Qaddafi's army and seize control of the region. And an army brigade Qaddafi sent Wednesday, June 15 from Tripoli for a counter-attack was thrown back.