Thursday, April 7, 2011

Assistance to the Rebels

Another New York Times article details some of the problems with the current level of support we're giving to the rebels.  With the current weaknesses in the rebel army it will be difficult for them to take substantial ground and there is doubt that the coalition can hold together for the months it will take to shape a real fighting force.  This leads me to a couple of thoughts.

First of all, there should be absolutely no western troops participating in anything but training exercises.  This is the Libyan's battle, or at the widest I'd go, the Arab's battle.  If an Arab state is willing to commit some troops, then that might work.  But even this I'm cautious about unless it is something like specialized forces, such as armor or mobile artillery.  Infantry has an emotional appeal that other branches of the service don't have to the same degree and will be necessary to creating the national myth they will need to hold the country together afterward.

It may also be wise to support them with additional arms.  I have a strong reservation about this however.  We gave a lot of small arms to Afghanistan back in the 80s, since then this has proven rather costly.  To limit this. we should discuss with the rebel forces how many soldiers they have trained on heavy equipment.  Once we know this, we should donate as much equipment as they can use.  This would avoid the problems of filling a country with small arms that can further destabilize it and that could later prove lethal to our forces, either through sales abroad or if on the ground action is necessary later on.  To do this we would have to drop the fiction about maintaining an arms embargo, but the disadvantages of smuggling in small arms, which I'm sure is already happening, are great enough to lead me to think the trade off is worth it.  Of course, if the rebels haven't had defectors from armored divisions, it's really not clear exactly who defected, this might not work since piloting a tank probably isn't intuitive (I don't really know however).  In this case, we'd need someone on the ground to use the equipment, which would bring complications.  Also, the disparity between Qaddafi and the rebels seems to be mostly a combination of troop quality and heavy equipment.  Small arms don't close this gap, heavy equipment would close one of the two.

I'd also worry about supplying too much artillery.  I fear the rebels will prove indiscriminate in their attacks and armor seems less prone to collateral damage than artillery.  Our air support can mostly fulfill the same role as artillery, though this would require a level of organization and coordination between our forces and the rebels I haven't seen any reports of yet.

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