Navy chief: We're not sure what the next stage is in Libya

He’ll be handing over leadership of the mission to someone at some point, but the details are still as vague and gassy as one of those “jobs created or saved” graphs.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, said that he has received no guidance on the path ahead for command and control of the no-fly zone, no-drive zone, no-sail zone, arms embargo enforcement, and any other missions currently being managed by U.S. Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham, who is in Germany. NATO has been battling internally over whether to take command, while the French government’s latest proposal is to set up a “political steering committee” made of Western and Arab foreign ministers…

Roughead also said there’s no guarantee that U.S. military forces would be able to decrease their presence or activities when the transition takes place. In other words, the U.S. military might give up control, but still be doing most of the work.

Not only is there no guarantee, the U.S. role in the skies over Libya has actually increased this week. Danger Room crunches the numbers: On Monday, more than half of the 80 missions over Qaddafiland were flown by U.S. allies. Over the past 24 hours, of 175 missions flown, the USAF has been responsible for 113. Maybe that’s a temporary blip, part of an all-out push to obliterate Qaddafi’s air force before letting less competent air forces take the lead. (If so, it’s been a success.) Or, more ominously, maybe it’s because some of our allies lack the capacity to sustain a bombardment campaign against a tinpot dictator beyond a few days. Or, as a third possibility, maybe we’re realizing that western air power hasn’t been enough to reverse the advantage Qaddafi’s troops have on the ground over the outgunned rebels. If that’s the case, with more attacks needed to dislodge regime troops, the coming handover to NATO or France’s “political steering committee” or whoever may mean little more than slipping an international glove over an American fist. Got to keep those U.S. fingerprints off the attacks somehow, partly to keep support for the mission high among America-hating Muslims in the region and partly to reassure voters here at home that our role has been formally “reduced” — even if, in practice, it’s expanding.

The word earlier this afternoon was that NATO is still deadlocked on whether to assume leadership of the mission from the White House, but this new AP story makes it sound like a compromise is a fait accompli.

Separately, Turkey has been seen as holding up agreement on a command structure for a no-fly zone, but diplomats say an agreement is gradually emerging about the role NATO would play, after the United States — which has effectively commanded the operation until now — reiterated that it was committed to the transition.

The compromise proposal would see NATO take a key role in the military operation guided by a political committee of foreign ministers from the West and the Arab world. Officials said the North Atlantic Council — NATO’s top decision-making body, which already has approved military plans for enforcing the no-fly zone — may decide to start them later Wednesday.

Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S. tweeted less than an hour ago that their foreign minister now agrees that the “[o]peration in Libya should be conducted by and under the command and control of NATO.” According to a NATO source, Turkey had been holding out because they “wanted Western coalition countries to finish their air strikes before NATO took over command, so the alliance was not blamed for any accidents.” All of which is super, but as I explained above, airstrikes may have to increase to soften up Qaddafi’s troops for the rebels. What happens if (or rather, when) Turkey gives the all-important Islamic okay for NATO to take over, and then suddenly new air raids against Qaddafi’s positions are ordered? Does Turkey then withdraw its approval and claim that it was lied to? Or is that the whole point of this maneuver — to let the west do its best to take out Qaddafi while pretending to have been betrayed about the scope of the mission so that it can pander to Muslims in the region?

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023