Mar 26, 2011 | 12:22 GMT

4 mins read

Libyan Airstrikes March 25-26, 2011

(click here to enlarge image) Coalition airstrikes targeted Libyan government troops around the city of Ajdabiya on the night of March 25 and morning of March 26, allowing rebels to enter the city and purportedly take it from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi forces are reported to still be entrenched in positions west of the city, but with coalition aircraft now patrolling the skies above Libya, it will be practically impossible for the government to resupply its troops in Ajdabiya. U.S., British and Danish aircraft were involved in the attacks. The takeover of Ajdabiya is significant, as the city is seen as a gateway to the rest of the Gulf of Sidra, which is a crucial energy export hub of Libya. The strikes against government tanks around Ajdabiya also were notable because they come as NATO officially takes over the enforcement of most components of the Libya intervention from the United States. Italian Vice Adm. Rinaldo Veri will lead the arms embargo, Operation Unified Protector, and Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard will lead the no-fly zone. The United States, however, will retain command of the third element of the intervention: the protection of civilians, which essentially means ground strikes against Libyan government troops. U.S. officials have maintained this is a crucial element of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing the intervention. NATO member states have been divided on whether the intervention should be limited to a no-fly zone (the position strongly favored by Turkey) or should include a no-drive zone (favored by France and the United States). The latter understands that coalition aircraft would continue to engage Libyan government ground forces when and where it is determined that they threaten civilians — so-called targets of opportunity because they are not pre-planned strikes and targets are selected by pilots in-flight as they observe the situation on the ground. The latest attacks by coalition aircraft on Gadhafi forces around Ajdabiya therefore clearly signal which interpretation the United States intends to follow and that attacks on ground forces will indeed continue under U.S. command for the foreseeable future. (click here to enlarge image) It will be important to watch the weekend political talks March 26-27 and the March 29 international conference in London. Prior to the March 29 summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron will present "a Franco-British initiative to show that the solution cannot be a military one, it has to be a political and diplomatic solution," according to Sarkozy on March 25. It will be important to see the extent to which Sarkozy and Cameron are committed to overturning Gadhafi's regime and forcing his withdrawal from eastern Libyan cities. If they emphasize regime change or Gadhafi's withdrawal from the Gulf of Sidra and eastern cities, it is very likely that strikes against ground forces will continue at the same intensity as they have March 25-26 and for the duration of the 90 days that the intervention is, at this point, slated to last. The March 29 conference itself may further clarify the political objectives of the intervention, which should determine how the military operations are conducted going forward. An interesting aspect of the upcoming talks is that Sarkozy will involve German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the pre-conference talks but did not mention that any consultations would be held with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Merkel has kept Berlin out of the intervention, while Italy has the most energy and national security interests in Libya. Rome will not be happy about being frozen out of the political consultations prior to the international conference on March 29.

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