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Libya Civil War - No Fly Zone

In the 1990s, The US established "no fly" zones and all manner of sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in an attempt to force him from power. Tens of thousands died during a Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein but the U.S. military was ordered not to intervene. When sanctions and no-fly-zones did not work -- at a high cost in Iraqi lives -- the U.S. ultimately went to war to achieve these ends.

On February 23, 2011, responding to an escalation in violence in Libya, US President Barak Obama stated that he'd asked his "administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we'll carry out through multilateral institutions."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States is considering "multilateral actions as well as bilateral actions," but he declined to discuss options that have been suggested such as establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya or possible NATO involvement.

On February 24, 2011 NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance had no plans to intervene in the unrest in Libya. Speaking in Ukraine Thursday, Rasmussen said NATO has received no request for such an intervention, and stressed that any action NATO does take should be based on a United Nations mandate. Rasmussen said the situation in Libya did not threaten NATO or any NATO allies, but he added it could cause a refugee crisis.

On 25 February 2011 a group of some four dozen government officials and policy advisors sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to work harder to stop the violence in Libya. The letter was organized by the Washington, DC-based Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a neo-conservative think tank whose members include several former advisors to President George W. Bush - among them, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Jamie Fly, executive director of the FPI, was among the signatories of the letter. "Specifically we wanted them to seriously consider a no-fly zone or some sort of effort to ensure that Libyan airplanes could not attack civilians," he said.

At a Pentagon news conference on 01 March 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a "no-fly" zone over Libya, other frequently suggested military actions, "have their own consequences" for U.S. interests throughout the greater Middle East. "And we also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East," Gates added, referring to the long war in Iraq and its backlash in the Arab world. "So I think we're sensitive about all of these things, but we will provide the president with a full range of options."

By 02 March 2011 Libyan opposition leaders in the eastern stronghold of Benghazi said they are debating whether to request foreign air strikes against Gadhafi's military installations and other key facilities. Some officials on Benghazi's governing council said Tuesday that a rebel stalemate with pro-Gadhafi forces may never end without foreign air strikes. The Washington Post quoted three Benghazi council members as saying they will make a request for air strikes soon, reversing earlier pledges not to seek foreign military intervention. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has said it is "premature" to discuss military assistance to the Libyan opposition while its various factions try to become more organized.

On 02 March 2011 two influential U.S. senators said the United States should help implement a no-fly zone over Libya as part of a broader effort to engage and assist those who are fighting totalitarianism and repression across the Arab world. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut recommend establishing a no-fly zone over Libya to impede forces loyal to its embattled leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

On 04 March 2011 U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I believe that the global community cannot be on the sidelines while airplanes are allowed to bomb and strafe. A no-fly zone is not a long-term proposition, assuming the outcome is what all desire, and I believe we ought to be ready to implement it as necessary." U.S. President Barack Obama said a no-fly zone is one of the options he is considering in order to stop the violence in Libya. "There is a danger of a stalemate that, over time, could be bloody, and that is something that we are obviously considering," said the president. So what I want to make sure of is that the United States has full capacity to act, potentially rapidly."

Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, told reporters March 07, 2011 that the number of Libyan air force flights had been decreasing after a peak last week. And, he added, it is hard to suppress helicopter attacks using such a tactic. Daalder said that directing Western militaries to suppress Libyan air attacks on rebels would not have a great effect on the conflict. "No-fly zones are more effective against fighters, but they really have a limited effect against . helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we've seen," he said. "Which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn't really going to impact what is happening there today."

Daalder put it in a conference call from Brussels with reporters on March 7: "The options that they are looking at is a variety of different ways in which you could put a no-fly zone in place. But none of the details are yet available. That's why we really haven't had an in depth discussion within NATO as such on what it would take, what capabilities are required and, indeed, what the purpose of such a no-fly zone would be."

A no-fly zone was never going to be the decisive action that tipped the balance against Qadhafi, but a no-fly zone would take one of Qadhafi's most lethal tools off the table and thereby boost the confidence of Libya's opposition. It is Libyans themselves who want to do the fighting against Qadhafi.

In response to Qaddafi's assault on the people of Libya, the imposition of a "no -fly zone" in Libya was called for by the Gulf Cooperation Council on March 7, 2011, and by the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on March 8, 2011. On 12 March 2011 Arab League foreign ministers voted to ask the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The vote, at a special meeting in Cairo, was backed by all member states. Al Jazeera TV however had reported earlier that Algeria, Yemen, Syria and Sudan opposed the decision. The Arab League requested the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone after Qadhafi was reported to have used warplanes, warships, tanks and artillery to seize back cities taken over in what started out a month earlier as mass protests by peaceful civilians seeking an end to his 41-year rule. Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Ben Alawi told a press conference after the meeting that the decision to call for the no-fly zone was the result of pressure from public opinion to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, the frontrunner in Egypt's upcoming Presidential election, told journalists that the Arab League decision was designed to "protect the Libyan people."

On 17 March 2011 the UN Security Council authorized the use of force in Libya to protect civilians from attack, specifically in the eastern city of Benghazi, which Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi had said he will storm to end a revolt against his regime. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if needed, the Council adopted a resolution by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions, authorizing Member States "to take all necessary measures. to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force." The abstentions included China and Russia, which have the power of veto, as well as Brazil, Germany and India.

Expressing grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties, the Council established a no-fly zone, banning all flights - except those for humanitarian purposes - in Libyan airspace in order to help protect civilians. It specifically called on Arab League states to cooperate with other Member States in taking the necessary measures.

The resolution further strengthened an arms embargo that the Council imposed in February 2011 when it unanimously approved sanctions against the Libyan authorities, freezing the assets of its leaders and referring the ongoing violent repression of civilian demonstrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Council called on Member States to ensure strict implementation of the embargo, including through inspection of suspect ships on the high seas and of planes going to or from Libya, deplored the flow of mercenaries into Libya whom Qadhafi has recruited.

Demanding an immediate ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against and abuse of civilians, and condemning the "gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and summary executions," the Council noted that the attacks currently taking place may amount to crimes against humanity. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had already opened an investigation into Qadhafi, some of his sons and members of his inner circle for such crimes in repressing peaceful protesters. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said Qadhafi lost his legitimacy when he declared war on his people.


Counterair operations are necessary to a greater or lesser degree throughout the range of operations. These operations run the gamut from striving for air supremacy in a major theater war, to enforcing a no-fly zone in a peacekeeping operation, to mostly passive defensive measures in a humanitarian relief operation. Air superiority is normally the first priority of US forces whenever the enemy possesses assets capable of threatening friendly forces. These operations include such measures as the use of aircraft, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles, and information warfare elements (e.g., electronic warfare [EW]) to counter the threat.

Rules of engagement (ROE) are "directives issued by competent military authority which delineate the circumstances and limitations under which United States forces initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered." Effective operations require the establishment and promulgation of easily understood ROE. The optimum employment of weapon systems depends on early separation of friend from foe. Positive identification of hostiles allows for maximum beyond-visual-range engagement and minimizes fratricide. Just as importantly, self-defense ROE related to air-to-surface and surface-to-surface threats for time-sensitive targets must be developed and understood.

  • Disruption or destruction of enemy air defense systems and the personnel who control, maintain, and operate them may render those systems ineffective against counterair operations. Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) is designed to neutralize, destroy, or temporarily degrade enemy surfacebased air defenses by destructive or disruptive means. SEAD requirements may vary according to mission objectives, system capabilities, and threat complexity.
  • Aircraft include enemy fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). In most situations, aircraft on the ground are the most lucrative targets for OCA operations. With advanced technology, timely intelligence, and precision-guided munitions, aircraft on the ground can be destroyed whether they are in revetments, shelters, or in the open. Aircraft in flight or on ships are also targets for OCA operations.
  • Destruction of hangars, shelters, maintenance facilities, POL, and other storage areas degrades the enemy's ability to generate aircraft sorties. The destruction facilities in proximity to airfields may further reduce the enemy's sortie generation by forcing its crews to operate in protective equipment or remain sheltered until effects abate or decontamination has been performed. Damaging runways or taxiways may prevent use of the airfield for short periods, thus preventing subsequent takeoff and forcing returning aircraft to more vulnerable or distant locations.
There are several types of aircraft that the United States can provide to support a No-Fly Zone.
  • The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) provides a flexible and capable airborne radar platform. It provides an initial battle management function and command and control capability and should be among the first systems to arrive in any new theater of operations. It provides early warning, radar surveillance, management of air operations, and weapons control functions.
  • The Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) is a specialized airborne command, control, and communications (C3) center equipped with extensive communications systems providing battle management of tactical air operations-directing air support to ground operations in the forward area.
  • The Joint Surveillance, Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) is a long-range, airborne sensor system which provides real time radar surveillance information on moving and stationary surface targets, via secure data links to air and surface commanders.
  • RIVET JOINT is an airborne signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and reporting platform. Working in conjunction with the AWACS and JSTARS aircraft, RIVET JOINT provides near-real-time assessment of hostile airborne-, land-, and sea-based electronic emitters via secure communications. RIVET JOINT capabilities "round out" the radar tracking information provided by the AWACS and JSTARS by correlating location, emitter type, and mode of intercepting signals.
  • Air refueling is one of the distinguishing characteristics making the United States the predominant air power nation on the globe. Air refueling is the in-flight transfer of fuel between tanker and receiver aircraft. An aircraft's ability to remain airborne is limited by the amount of available fuel. Air refueling increases the range, payload, loiter time, and ultimately the flexibility and versatility of combat, combat support, and mobility aircraft. Modern air warfare is simply not possible without air refueling.

When the AWACS detects a hostile, potential hostile, or unknown target, they can assign or commit fighter aircraft to intercept the target. When possible, aircraft remain under the close control of the initiating control agency and are continuously directed until the pilot confirms visual or radar contact. If required, this control may be transferred to adjacent sectors of responsibility. Intercept control can be transferred to the pilot when the aircraft is in positive contact with the target or when the environment precludes positive direction by the controlling agency.

The Royal Air Force will provide Tornado and Typhoon aircraft for possible air strikes against Libyan forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, British Prime Minister David Cameroon said on Friday 18 March 2011. "Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-refueling and surveillance aircraft. Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to air bases from where they can start to take the necessary action," Cameron told the House of Commons. Short range tactical fighter aircraft provided by European and Arab countries would need to be based close to Libya.

  1. Naval Air Station Sigonella [NAS Sigonella] is located in eastern Sicily approximately 16 km west of the city of Catania and approximately 24 km due south of Mount Etna, an active volcano. It occupies a tract of land at NATO Maritime Airfield Sigonella which is operated and hosted by the Italian Air Force. The U.S. has maintained a permanent presence at the activity since 1959. NAS Sigonella provides consolidated operational command and control, administrative, logistical and advance logistical support to U.S. and other NATO forces.
  2. Mersa Matruh is an ancient town on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, 290 kilometers west of Alexandria. It hosts a major airfield that could be used by Arab League aircraft to enforce a No-Fly Zone over Libya. It is called Mersa Matruh, as Mersa is Arab for harbor. The harbor is a landlocked bay of deep blue water and exquisite white sand on a rocky base, so that ships can lie up against the sand as it were. There are three such lagoons; one is now cut off completely, and called the Salt Lake. The third on the W. side was the chief Roman harbour, and still has Roman quays, etc., which of course Antony and Cleopatra are said to have used when he had to make tracks after the battle of Actium. During the Great War the British force operating against the Senussi in western Egypt had been concentrated at Mersa Matruh since the closing days of November, 1915. As most of the operations against the Turks and Arabs were directed from Mersa Matruh, it may be of interest to note that this British base is a railway terminus, on the Mediterranean coast, about 150 miles east of the Tripoli border, the frontier force having withdrawn there in order to avoid conflict with the tribesmen who were in a state of unrest and inclined to become aggressive. In 1941 Matruh was the terminus of the railway Cairo and also a small port. When the Axis forces advanced on the Libya-Egypt frontier in April 1941, the British Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean, General Sir Archibald Wavell, decided to base his defence around Matruh. After the British victory in the second battle of El Alamein, Matruh was recaptured by the British. Matruh is a popular resort town and the site of a museum established in Rommel's former headquarters by his son.
A combat air patrol (CAP) can be used to accomplish these missions, with the objective of intercepting and destroying hostile missiles and aircraft before they can reach their intended targets. CAP allows rapid reaction to enemy intrusion and may be positioned well ahead of forces being protected. An exclusion zone is established to prohibit specified activities in a geographic area. Exclusion zones can be established in the air (no-fly zones), on land, or on the sea (maritime). The purpose may be to persuade others to modify their behavior. Air assets also enforce exclusion zones by the threat or direct application of force. Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in Iraq, initiated in 1992, and Operation DENY FLIGHT in Bosnia, initiated in 1993, are two examples of counterair operations to enforce exclusion zones. If Libyan pilots are told if they fly they are going to die, a lot of them would not fly.

Libya declared an immediate cease-fire across the country and said it was ready to open channels of dialogue with the opposition. The move came only hours before a UN Security Council resolution to impose a no-fly zone over the country was to come into effect. The announcement by Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa followed a fierce attack by Gadhafi's forces against Misrata, the last rebel-held city in the western half of the country.




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