Nato lacks firepower to ensure collapse of Gaddafi regime, experts claim*
Nato lacks the firepower to ensure the collapse of Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime, defence experts warned on Friday after the Libyan army inflicted a sustained rocket attacks on the western city of Misurata.
By Ruth Sherlock, Misurata, and Damien McElroy
24 Jun 2011
Libyan rebels in Benghazi during Friday prayers Photo: AP
The Western alliance marks 100 days of bombing Libya on Sunday with political leaders adamant that the regime, which violently crushed a popular uprising in February, is isolated and collapsing from within.
However defence analysts said it has still not identified a clear line of attack that would break the veteran leader's grip on power.
"This campaign is about inflicting pain on the regime but there is no precedent where air power alone has taken a government down without encircling the city," said Shashank Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute.
The Gaddafi regime has shown an ability to overcome setbacks and take advantage of gaps in the coalition air strikes. Re-engineered Grad missiles with a longer range have struck central Misurata – killing two women and a boy – more than a month after the siege of the port was broken.
Residents thought that the weeks of sustained bombardment they endured was over when rebels drove regime troops at least 20 miles beyond the city outskirts, where the front lines have since remained.
Shelling of the city began again this week, with salvos of rockets falling daily and hitting at least four residential neighbourhoods.
The Grad rockets have been adapted to have a longer range so that they may once again hit the city centre said rebel military commanders. "Gaddafi men are using long range, very accurate rockets, possibly from China or Iran. The head is modified with explosive ball bearings," said Salah Badi, commander for the Misurata military forces.
"Families in Misurata are once again living in fear of being killed as rockets rain down on their homes and it's impossible for the terrified residents to find safe shelter," said Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty International researcher. "They must realise that their actions may result in their being made to answer one day to the most serious of charges, of having perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity."
The shelling has triggered sharp criticism of Nato. "Every day they target a different area of the city. Now we are all wondering; the mission of Nato is to protect civilians. But every day they bomb, everyday there is at least one victim," said Abdulla Jawid at Misurata's main medical centre. "We are not protected. I haven't left the hospital since Feb. 19 as there are just too many casualties."
However, a senior Foreign office diplomat yesterday insisted the demise of the dictatorship was inevitable. "The momentum has shifted irrevocably against Gaddafi and those around him," he said. "The anger against him is simmering. The question is not if he will go, but when."
But a Nato defence official admitted that Nato planners could not bring overwhelming force against the regime. "Libya is a big country and there will naturally be a limit to what Nato does," the defence official conceded.
Nato has flown 12,000 sorties, including 5,000 attack missions, and hit more than 2,400 targets since launching strikes against Libya 100 days ago on Sunday under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians. However the attacks are paltry compared to the number of strikes in 78-day Kosovo campaign which defeated Serbian aggression in 1999. Then the total number of Nato sorties flown was 38,000.
"Nato has not yet achieved the result it did in the 78 day Kosovo campaign. But it is using only one third of the number of aircraft. Deploying small teams of air controllers or special forces onto the ground could allow air attacks to better coordinated with the rebel forces and thus more effective." said Ben Barry, land warfare fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
The MoD has estimated that the Libya mission costs Britain £43 million a month. Mr Joshi said a successful campaign is likely to end up costing £900 million.
As Col Gaddafi has defied attacks on his Tripoli bunker and survived defections from his ranks, the Libyan opposition has begun to concede that it may have to water down its demand that he leave the country and face international justice. Mohmoud Shammam, a member of the Transitional National Council said: "We consider that he has to resign himself to leaving or accept retirement in a remote part of Libya. We have no objection to him retreating to a Libyan oasis under international control."