The net impression is that Gadaafi is using minimal forces to cover as wide an area a possible, and tie down as many rebel forces as possible, to prevent them from conducting coordinated actions. That’s “budget warfare”, bordering on guerrilla warfare, and only makes sense if resources are relatively low, and some forces are being kept in reserve.
The probability is that the loyalist brigades, arguably the only forces truly committed to Gadaafi, are being preserved. These brigades were maintained prior to the civil war as a check against the military, not unlike Hitler’s SS. They’re political associates, too, and come directly from Gadaafi’s support base. Heavy casualties in these forces would decimate his reliable local support, hence the tentative combat performances.
There’s also military method to this particular madness- It wouldn’t make sense to risk his few effective combat forces unnecessarily. As it is they have the ability to stand off and select how and when they fight. That situation, however, may not last, if the rebels take Surt and effectively shrink the area of Libya under Gadaafi’s control to the Tripoli region.
Gadaafi is doing something common but very risky in the history of desert warfare since Hannibal and Scipio- Trading space for time. He’s outnumbered, and recent defeats have thrown his initial counterattacks back, at a cost he can't afford to maintain. He doesn’t have infinite resources, and time is his only ally.
This strategy can only work if he’s got more up his sleeve than is apparent from current reports. If he’s successfully building resources, more attacks should be seen in coming weeks. If not, the attacks will be Zawiyah- like limited attacks with conservative use of resources.
Joe Pappalardo offers several reasons 'Why a No-Fly Zone Over Libya is the Wrong Move Militarily' . Some excerpts :
Experiences in Bosnia and Iraq have proven that no-fly operations are a lot harder to maintain than most civilians assume. Establishing a no-fly zone over a country the size of Libya would take hundreds of fighters and refueling aircraft. And with Libya's network of Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, such round the clock flights would be hazardous duty. If an allied pilot was shot down, more lives would be placed at risk to rescue him. There's another practical problem as well: Locating every airborne helicopter or fixed wing aircraft in Libyan airspace would take a massive surveillance effort. As the revolution turns to civil war, the operation could suffer from a lack of focus.
I'm not advocating a military intervention of any type. But if the world insists on preventing Libyan military aircraft from flying, it's not logical or efficient to maintain endless 24-hour sorties, waiting for the Libyans to launch aircraft and hoping to shoot them down before they target civilians. It would be simpler and more effective to destroy the country's air force on the ground—and much safer for our fliers.
No matter who is conducting the air strikes—a coalition of the willing of Britain and the U.S., a NATO force a la Bosnia or a U.N.-sanctioned operation—it would be better to conduct a quick operation. The initial steps would be the same as establishing a traditional no-fly zone—"wild weasel" style strikes launched from bases in Italy, Turkey and the Middle East to take out air defenses. Many of the Libyan threats are mobile SA-6 launchers, old but effective Russian gear that can knock workhorse U.S. and European airplanes out of the sky. These armaments would be threat in any scenario. And in any scenario, we would be bombing them, causing Libyan casualties: There's no such thing as a bloodless military intervention. But maintaining a no-fly zone would extend the most perilous part of the operation indefinitely. The Libyans would hide certain launchers and radar that could later take potshots at overhead U.S. planes policing the airspace.
For an appreciation of how effective Libya's "legacy" SA-6 SAM's might be, see Dr Carlo Kopp's article, 'Surface to Air Missile Effectiveness in Past Conflicts' and the Wikipedia article on the 2K12 Kub Mobile SAM system.
For an overview of the Libyan military generally, as well as an appreciation of No-Fly's implications, check out the recent comments of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies on NPR.
UPDATE : Cordesman's opinion is seconded by Patrick Baz of STRATFOR Global Intelligence, whose source estimates that Gadhafi has 5,000 troops "well trained and well equipped by Libyan standards, many of whom have a stake in the regime’s survival. " Included is the well-equipped, trained, mechanized revolutionary guard of 3,000 men stationed in Tripoli. The balance of the Libyan Armed Forces consist of conscripts with questionable training and motivation, many of whom already may have defected or deserted.
Is it possible the dictator can mount a serious offensive against the rebels' strongholds in eastern Libya, some 800 or so miles distant ? Baz doubts it.
The sparsely populated, open terrain between these two forces is a considerable logistical challenge even for a well-trained and well-equipped military, which Libya’s is not. Gadhafi, fearing the potential for a coup from his own troops, has kept the military systematically weak and fractured. There is little in the way of military proficiency or professionalism, and some basic training has been deemed useful in a coup scenario and thus prohibited altogether. Being able to project power — to organize an armored march of hundreds of kilometers and sustain it at a distance in combat — is almost certainly among those scenarios. Most sources suggest that the Libyan military is capable of little beyond its garrison and pre-scripted maneuvers.
Thom Shanker of THE NEW YORK TIMES gives us a U.S. military perspective on 'No-Fly' in his article, 'U.S. Weighs Options, on Air and Sea' :
Gen. John P. Jumper, who served as Air Force chief of staff from 2001 to 2005 and commanded all Air Force missions in the Middle East from 1994 to 1996, said past flight-denial missions over Iraq proved that requirements reach far beyond the jet fighters and bombers that are the most obvious instruments of carrying out a presidential order.
The destruction of Libyan air-defense radars and missile batteries would be required, perhaps using missiles launched from submarines or warships. A vast fleet of tankers would be needed to refuel warplanes. Search-and-rescue teams trained in land and sea operations would be on hand in case a plane went down.
The fleet of aircraft needed for such a mission would easily reach into the hundreds. Given the size of such a mission, it would be expected that American and NATO bases in Europe would be used, and that an American aircraft carrier would be positioned off Libya.In THE POLITICO, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution reviews five different military options (Create a No-Fly Zone ;Arm the Opposition ;Create No-Drive Zones ;Protect Rebel-Held Cities with Foreign Ground Troops ; or Invade) and concludes:
There is no single clear answer about what we should do next. And it is not clear that any military option really makes sense now. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, all options are on the table. But it is not clear which would help most.
My instincts lean toward arming the opposition with limited numbers of small weapons. But only if the opposition itself, as well as the Arab League, clearly calls for such a policy — and if the latter is willing to help implement it [emphasis mine]. That might suffice to help solidify a military stalemate. It could also buy us time to try collectively to persuade and pressure Qaddafi to abdicate through other, nonlethal means, over the coming weeks and months.
It seems to be the most likely — and best — outcome at this point, even if it is not as clean or quick as many would prefer. But other possibilities and scenarios cannot be dismissed, depending on how the situation evolves.
|fyi : Oil Pipelines of North Africa|
Just what are the chances that the Arab League will implement the policy Hanlon describes ? If their latest pronouncements are any indication, slim and none. Meeting in Cairo, the League rejected any military foreign military intervention and offered Libyan freedom fighters nothing but the immense consolation of considerable diplomatic hot air.