assessments

Libyan Airstrikes March 19-20, 2011

3 MINS READMar 20, 2011 | 05:05 GMT
(click here to enlarge image) The coalition of Western countries officially began their intervention against the Libyan government March 19, with airstrikes lasting into the early morning and night of March 20. The first strike was reportedly a French air attack against a single vehicle, with some reports indicating that it took place near the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi. Further air strikes — planes reportedly departed from French air bases of Dijon and Saint-Dizier — against Libyan ground troops were conducted by a force of eight Rafale and four Mirage 2000 fighters, reportedly destroying four Libyan tanks. The initial attack by the French air force is notable. It struck Libyan ground troops that according to Paris were in the process of threatening Libyan civilians, thus attempting to reinforce the humanitarian nature of the mission. Furthermore, both French and U.S. government sources stressed that the French airstrikes were the opening salvo of the intervention. The attacks were meant to illustrate the leading role played by France in the intervention. Subsequent to the French air attack came the second phase of the attack. U.S. and British naval assets targeted radar, communications, fuel storage, command and communications, and air defense, particularly the SA-5 "Gammon" long-range and medium- to high-altitude surface to air missiles, with more 110 cruise missiles. Concurrently, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado jets armed with Storm Shadow missiles were used in a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role against a number of — most likely fixed — Libyan air defense targets that are apparently close to the shore. Dawn is approaching in Libya, and it will be hours or longer before a complete damage assessment will be able to determine the strikes' effectiveness as well as the likely next steps that U.S. and European forces will take. The destruction of Libyan air defense capabilities is the initial phase of the attack to allow for the enforcement of the no-fly zone and subsequent attacks against Libyan ground units. At this point, it is notable that some of the target priority seems to be political in nature, like the initial anti-ground attacks by French forces. Considering the military nature of the mission, political selection of targets may become a problem if it continues. A question at the moment is how the different national forces are coordinating target priority. At this point, these issues are of minimal importance, since it is highly likely that the initial phases of the intervention will be successful considering the state of the Libyan air force and air defense capability.

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