Precision and Purpose: Airpower in the Libyan Civil War

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

CHAPTER SIX
The British Experience: Operation Ellamy*

Christina Goulter


Introduction

Operation Unified Protector was a clear demonstration of the flexibility and effectiveness of airpower as a tool of policy. After nearly a decade of counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it provided a useful corrective to those who have argued that counterinsurgency warfare will be the only military commitment for the foreseeable future. It also was a salutary reminder that contingency operations will make demands on national resources, usually at the most inconvenient times. For the UK, the Libyan operation1 had to be performed while engaged in the “main effort” (Afghanistan) and suffering the force-reduction impact of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which meant that already seriously overburdened defense manpower and materiel had to work even harder.

As the crisis deepened in Libya, only airpower and prepositioned maritime power could be deployed quickly enough to deal with the situation. For a variety of understandable political and operational reasons, the decision was made not to deploy allied land forces to Libya. This was set against the backdrop of the United States’ decision to limit its role in Libya; a new UK-French bilateral defense agreement, which saw the two nations adopting the diplomatic and military lead; and a handing-over of the operation to NATO command. So, not only did events on the ground move rapidly, but the political and strategic context also proved to be fluid, and, as a result, airmen had to think innovatively and adapt existing structures, doctrine, tactics, and procedures. Indeed, one of the defining features of the British contribution to Operation Unified Protector was how the full spread of airpower effect was flexed in a highly responsive manner to meet changing political and operational requirements. Even before the main commitment began, there was a “textbook” airlift to evacuate British and

* This chapter draws on numerous nonattributable interviews with British military and government personnel conducted by the author in 2012 and 2013. It was reviewed by several senior Royal Air Force officers prior to publication.

1 The Libyan operation was referred to as Op ELLAMY in the UK. “Ellamy” was a randomly generated codename.

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