Precision and Purpose: Airpower in the Libyan Civil War

By Gregory Alegi; Christian F. Anrig et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Examining the Air Campaign in Libya

Karl P. Mueller


Introduction

Between March and October 2011, a coalition of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states, and several partner nations from outside the Alliance, waged a small but remarkable war against the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.1 Through its intervention, the coalition stemmed and then reversed the tide of Libya’s civil war, preventing Qaddafi from crushing the nascent rebel movement seeking to overthrow his dictatorship and going on to enable the opposition forces to prevail against an enemy that many had argued the rebels could not defeat without a foreign army invading Libya. The central element of this military intervention was a relatively small, multinational air campaign with forces operating from NATO bases in Italy, France, Greece, and several other countries, as well as from a handful of aircraft carriers and amphibious ships in the Mediterranean Sea.

At first glance, it seems unsurprising that the United States and some of its most powerful allies should have emerged victorious from a conflict against a small dictatorship facing significant internal unrest. What made this victory remarkable was how it was achieved. Politically, the speed and agility of the intervention in a rapidly developing crisis far surpassed widespread expectations about what was realistically possible. Had the response been slower, there is every reason to suspect Qaddafi might have succeeded in crushing the Libyan opposition. Militarily, the fact that Operations Odyssey Dawn (OOD) and Unified Protector (OUP)2 cost a few billion dollars and that no coalition personnel were killed or seriously wounded stands in stark contrast to the

1 The distinction between “coalition” and “alliance” is problematic when discussing the Libyan intervention. Until March 31, 2011, the intervention was conducted by a coalition of NATO allies. From March 31 to the end of the intervention on October 31, the intervention was an Alliance operation that included four non-NATO partner states. As a matter of convenience, authors in this volume will often refer to the whole as a coalition, but it is equally fair to call even the non-NATO partners “allies” according to traditional usage of that term.

2 Odyssey Dawn was the U.S. codename for the initial stages of the Libyan operation; some of the other coalition members used it as well, but others adopted their own names for their national efforts in Libya, including Operation Ellamy (United Kingdom), Operation Harmattan (France), and Operation Mobile (Canada). After command of the operation was transferred to NATO on March 31, 2011, it became Operation Unified Protector.

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