October 04, 2011

Quote for the day

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Dialogue is overrated. It's not the world's job to make you a more understanding person. We give too much credit to conversation, and not enough to contemplation.

I think I've just started to realize that useful insight in a new way just these last couple weeks, but this webpage has always been more about me talking things out with myself than anything else, too. Writing here is contemplation in the public sphere, with the always possible prospect of a corrective interruption by someone who knows better, I suppose: I sometimes remind myself of one of Monty Python's philosopher-soccer players that way. I'm just going to keep contemplating here, but if you figure out what we're supposed to do with the ball first, can you send me a text or something?

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM

Libya lessons

Very interesting scholars' first take on the first six months of the Libya intervention -- still not over, I know -- here.

The nut graph (all emphasis marks are mine):

Several features of this operation show evidence of improvisation, innovation, and good luck, as well as the characteristic military professionalism of the allied forces involved. Non-NATO forces were integrated into an improvised command structure that was then operated through NATO, while the alliance was politically divided about it. Surveillance systems and weapons themselves were adapted and used in different ways; air to-ground communications were minimal – an unusual situation in conflicts such as this – and special forces from a number of different countries appear to have played important roles in a conflict where foreign forces on Libyan territory were explicitly ruled out by the United Nations.

On the French unilateral launch of the war:

At the end of the meeting, however, President Sarkozy announced to the world’s media, and without consultation with either of the allies who he had been with only minutes before, that French aircraft were in action over the city. Within two hours, French forces had engaged Qadhafi’s tanks and armour in a dramatic series of attacks which halted the immediate advance of government forces on Benghazi.

This played directly to world opinion, as much as to that in Benghazi, but it was little secret that Downing Street and the White House were privately furious at what they took to be an act of grandstanding. This was not the start of the campaign that they had envisaged or discussed and it had the effect of alerting all Qadhafi’s forces that the action had begun.

On civilian casualties:

While the coalition was criticised for their tentative approach in the early part of the campaign, it seems to have paid off with even loyalist forces reportedly recognising the fairness and accuracy of the airstrikes. To date between 50-100 civilians have perished from air strikes in this six month campaign – although figures vary wildly at present – compared to 400-500 in Kosovo.

This I didn't know:

The presence in theatre of the American guided missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN-728) – which at one stage fired ninety-three of its maximum potential load of 154 Tomahawk rounds – enabled the US Navy to retain the ability to fire large numbers of Tomahawks even with fewer platforms available. This was also the first conventional or nuclear launch mission of any of the US Navy’s Ohio-class submarines.

Also largely unnoted: the significant role of Egyptian Special Forces in the eastern desert, and Qatari and UAE SF in the western mountains (aided by Tunisia):

Arab states provided the bulk of the training and mentoring effort and led the advance on Tripoli... Western special forces concentrated primarily on providing an intelligence picture to rebel forces.

The absence of JTACs or Special Forces or anyone calling in strikes from the ground, meaning air assets did all the significant PID (positive ID) work, is actually kind of astonishing:

Contrary to much reporting, UK special forces are unlikely to have operated as forward controllers for air strikes in great numbers, though their HUMINT did provide greater context for decisionmaking about targets: the technical precision of targeting systems and munitions, imagery from US unmanned aerial vehicles and information provided by rebels using externally provided transmission equipment meant that forward controlling by special forces was not vital.

And this is refreshing to read:

Neither British nor French special forces dictated timing for the rebel advance on Tripoli in late August. The timing was a rebel decision, underpinned by tactical advice and intelligence from Western special forces.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It's ironic the RUSI paper refers to this as the "Afghan model," referring to the way the initial ejection of the Taliban in 2001 was conducted, of course, when the current Afghan model (which the paper comments is an "order of magnitude" more expensive for UK forces there) in practice has been pretty much the exact opposite a lot of the time.

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 AM