Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why don't the Libyan rebels unilaterally disarm? (UPDATED)

Ok, I know this sounds like a nutty idea, but it's something I've been thinking about ever since the staggeringly effective U.S. bombardment of Libyan air defenses and maneuver forces kicked off the present period of stalemate: if the UNSCR authorizes protection of civilians and populated areas and nothing else, and if U.S. and NATO forces have made it clear that they will NOT perform close air support for opposition forces (or even support them with suppressive or defensive fires), and regime elements have indicated that they will continue to push east-northeast and take offensive action to suppress the rebellion... why don't the rebels simply lay down their arms, return to built-up areas, blend in with the civilian population, then wait for the inevitable destruction of advancing regime forces by coalition strike assets tasked to protect civilian life?

Is this too simple? Is it too much to expect the Libyan opposition to entrust their lives to the discretion of Western commanders, even after the coalition has proved itself both willing and capable of rendering regime forces combat ineffective or inoperable?

Presumably NATO's inaction in the face of regime offensives against Misrata and Brega is a result of the rebels' military defense of those towns. It's hard to imagine that the unopposed shelling of civilians would be permitted by the coalition, while sensitivity about intervention in running battles of a civil war may be giving Western political and military leaders pause.

"The opposition" has proved itself largely incapable of protecting civilians, holding ground, or doing much more than harrassing regime forces as they advance or flooding into abandoned ground after coalition air assets loose that ground from the regime's grip. What do they have to lose?

UPDATE: Chris Chivers has more on the haplessness of the rebels' military organization, if such a thing can be said to exist.
But by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.  
With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in. 
Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns. 
You also ought to be reading his blog, where he deals in greater detail with some of the opposition's armaments (including several outstanding and illustrative photos).


  1. Gulliver:

    "Is it too much to expect the Libyan opposition to entrust their lives to the discretion of Western commanders, even after the coalition has proved itself both willing and capable of rendering regime forces combat ineffective or inoperable?"

    This is a credible commitment problem. How could the Western commanders credibly signal their intent and willingness to protect the rebels ad infinitum? To continue (somewhat) the academic verbiage, in the anarchic realm of international politics, there is no 911, and self-help is the order of the day. To move beyond academic verbiage into superb literature, I brought up David Ignatius's spy novel, "Agents of Innocence," on Tom Ricks's (dare I speak his name?) board the other day. In it, there's a scene somewhat like this: one of the characters, a CIA officer, asks his station chief, "Why don't they trust us?" The station chief - and this is the money quote - replies, "Because they're not stupid."

    I'd add, to mix pop culture and academic study, even those who've argued reputation is not worth fighting for - J Mercer and D Press - have contended that it *did* matter prior to the Iraq War (or, at least, Mercer did in an IO piece, I think). And there was an MIT MA Paper I once saw that tried to show reputation does matter, and that Mercer and Press (or Mercer at least; Press's book is relatively new) are wrong. Pop culture or interpretation of events may be right - the US cuts and runs, cf. Saigon, 1975, US Embassy walls and rifle butts to fingers.


  2. I can't prove it, but I'm getting the impression that the rebels are currently deliberately using their worst troops to fight the regime in order to gain time while training better troops in the east.
    If so, I think it's a strategy that makes kinda sense, considering that it forces Nato to do more bombing runs than they'd do if both forces would be equal ...


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