The No-Fly Zone is Embryonic, Intelligence Input Haphazard

Some shock and awe were clearly attempted in the first 24 hours of the American, British, Canadian and French air and sea strikes against the Qaddafi regime Saturday night and Sunday March 19-20. Northern Libya shook as 124 Tomahawk cruise missiles went roaring over Libyan radar installations, fixed and mobile antiaircraft sites, aircraft and hangars and other targets. Their immediate object was to generate a safe environment for putting a no-fly zone in place.
As one US military official put it: "You don't do that piecemeal. You do it all at once, and you do it as fast as you can."
The opening stage of Operation Odyssey Dawn the coalition mission against Libya sounded correct and logical, except for one factor: The next stage should have been ready for the follow-up in the shape of an American aircraft carrier or two anchored off the Libyan coast and 150-200 fighter bombers standing ready at air bases in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Britain and France to take off at any moment and enforce the no-fly zone.
But by Sunday it was obvious that the necessary American aircraft carriers were not in place, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle only left its home port in Toulon on Monday March 21 and there were too few warplanes available at European air bases – from the British RAF installation at Marham, Norfolk, to Aviano and Gioia del Colle in southern Italy.


Libyan ruler holds back militarily


Consequently, the operation's commanders had no more than 4-6 planes available for flying over Benghazi at any given time.
And that is still the situation. The Sidra Gulf cities, Tripoli and its environs, southern and eastern Libya remain unpatrolled although all three leaders, President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy repeatedly referred to it during the week.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, updating the situation up to the closing of this issue Thursday night, March 24, reports that Muammar Qaddafi would have no difficulty if he chose to ambush the small number of Western planes overhead with his own fighter planes and anti-air missiles. He would lose a few planes himself, but he would bring down some coalition warplanes too.
That he has abstained from this step so far does not mean he will continue to do so. For now, the Libyan ruler is holding back militarily so as not to show his hand and expose the full extent of his air, naval and ground assets, their combat capabilities and his weapons systems.
He also calculates that downing Western planes would galvanize Washington into reversing the current downscaling of its military involvement in the Libya mission and bring more US warplanes and possibly even an aircraft carrier into the arena.
This, Qaddafi wishes to avoid, which is why he is taking good care not to bring too much of his military might out into the open.


Intelligence shortfall can only be supplemented by engagement


According the information reaching Qaddafi, the Western countries taking part in the mission against him, excepting only Italy, are badly short of intelligence updates on his military capabilities. He is doing his best to keep it that way.
Their ignorance is not total, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources. The US, Britain and France have as much information about Libyan airfields, unconcealed field command headquarters, radar installations, fixed and mobile antiaircraft sites and hangars, as can be gleaned by spy satellites and surveillance aircraft.
But this imagery cannot answer certain vital questions: How many of the facilities photographed are decoys? Which teams are operating Qaddafi's electronic weapons, by what methods and who trained them? How mobile are they? What advanced war gadgetry is hidden under Libya's desert dunes?
The Pentagon in Washington, the Ministry of Defense in London and the Defense Ministry in Paris have been forced to accept that they embarked on a combat operation without expecting answers to these questions – unless they can directly engage Libyan government troops and weapons in the field.
And that is not on the cards.
The coalition mission consists of air and naval strikes from outside Libyan soil. Therefore, the chances of obtaining a better picture of Libya's military capabilities are slim.


Libya was off intelligence radar screens for eight years


Libya was taken off the list of places of interest to Western intelligence at the end of 2003, when Qaddafi, fearing he might share the fate of Saddam Hussein, removal by a US-led invasion, decided to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction and hand them over.
He also withdrew the training facilities, funding and sponsorship he had granted international terrorist organizations. After that, the Western powers lost interest in Libya as an intelligence target except for oil-related and financial spheres.
The exception is Italy, whose spy agencies have kept a close eye on Qaddafi's doings because of Libya's geographical proximity (1,329 kilometers from Mediterranean coast to coast), its huge investments in Italy's arms and auto industries and because of the accessibility afforded by the warm ties between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Qaddafi.
For all those reasons – and more – DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report that the Berlusconi government is withholding this inside intelligence on the Libyan ruler from its Western coalition partners:
1. The Italians are drawing a careful line between placing US air bases on their soil at the disposal of the Western coalition and inserting their own assets into the Libya mission. The handover of intelligence would come under the second heading and is therefore out of the question.
2. Rome is historically involved in Italian affairs, especially in Cyrenaica, the eastern half of the country, and therefore enjoys a privileged status in Tripoli. Italy feels that the British and French would like to supersede this status and has no intention of letting them do so.
3. Italian companies have substantial stakes in the operation of Libyan oil and gas fields. ENI especially is the biggest gas exporter from Libya. The Berlusconi government is not about to jeopardize five decades of energy business Italy has enjoyed with Libya.


The coalition champions a ragtag rebel "force"


The Western coalition is no better informed on anti-Qaddafi opposition forces that it is on the regime. There was much talk in the three Western capitals this week about the importance of giving the rebels military assistance and arming them to stand up to the regime. That too was indicative of how little information the US, France and Britain had about the groups they are championing and their realistic prospects.
As the air campaign advanced, debkafile's military sources reported on Tuesday March 22 the discovery that the entire rebel force amounts to a single company of ex-A-Saiqa commandos, who deserted Qaddafi's army in Benghazi when the uprising erupted in February. When this company moves from point A to point B, it is dogged by a pack of several thousand ragtag irregulars. Western witnesses say they are no better than a rabble with no notion of how to handle the weapons they have captured.
To lend them the most rudimentary military character, they would have to be organized into units, armed, trained and provided with field commanders, a feat that would require importing Western military instructors to Libya.
Even if this were legally mandated, training manpower is unavailable unless it is detached from the inadequate Western training personnel which have their hands full instructing local armies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Therefore, if the Western coalition members resolve to protect the rebels from defeat at Qaddafi's hands, they will have to go way past imposing a fly zone to keep his aircraft at bay, and bring ground forces into Libya.
This would require a fresh UN Security Council resolution.

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