SNAFU in Libya
By John D. Turner
13 Apr 2011

What a fiasco! There are so many things happening, so much going on, things are so screwed up that I really don’t know where to start. So why not start with the current SNAFU in the Middle East? Of course, one then has to ask, which SNAFU? How about Libya for starters.

What a fiasco! But I repeat myself. In fact, didn’t I just write an article on Libya? I did. Well here goes again. It is now two weeks later and where are we?

Acting on a UN resolution to “protect innocent civilians”, we declared a “no fly zone” over Libya, the President went on vacation to Rio, and our military, apparently under the direction of the Secretary of Defense, proceeded to launch an attack, along with our NATO allies, using aircraft and cruise missiles. We attacked airfields, anti-aircraft sites, military infrastructure, etc. There was speculation that we might send in ground forces.

We called upon Gaddafi to do the right thing; to voluntarily leave power. Apparently, Gaddafi isn’t in the habit of doing “the right thing” and he refused, pressing the attack on the ground, since the air was denied him.

Next, the President returns home from vacation, announces that we are turning things over to NATO and that no American air assets will be used over Libya; we may provide support such as refueling and intelligence, and we may provide off-shore naval gunfire, but we will not be flying American strike missions and definitely will not have American boots on the ground.

The very same day, we hear that American A-10’s and AC-130 gunships are attacking targets in Libya.

Interesting thing about A-10’s and AC-130 gunships; the “A” designator means “Attack”. These are ground support assets used to provide close air support to ground combat units. They are not the sort of aircraft one uses to enforce a no-fly-zone. And sure enough, we start hearing about how we are destroying tanks and other heavy ground assets in Libya in support of rebel forces.

Tanks don’t fly.

But that is ok, because we are just fulfilling the UN mandate to “protect innocent civilians.” I’m not exactly sure how one goes about protecting innocent civilians with aircraft, but that is what the president says we are doing. And no boots on the ground, of course.

Except that, you really need people on the ground to direct the fire from A-10s and AC-130 gunships. That is how they are employed. And it certainly isn’t being done by the untrained, mostly civilian rebel forces engaging Gaddafi’s army.

It’s a popular uprising, remember? That means that the bulk of the rebel forces are not military or former military units. This being the case, I guess that “protecting innocent civilians” is synonymous with “supporting the rebel forces.” But I digress again.

Being that you need ground forces to direct the A-10s and AC-130s (that the President had said would not be there), as was quickly pointed out on numerous blog sites, and belatedly in the MSM, it was then allowed that yes, there were American ground assets present; just not American military personnel. Rather, the people directing the air strikes, according to the administration, are CIA assets.

Wow! CIA! Are these the same people that condemned CIA actions in the past, when Republican administrations used them? But of course, it’s OK now because we are “protecting innocent civilians” and acting against a dictator that the left deems OK to act against. Everyone knows that Manuel Noriega was a great guy and Gaddafi is scum – so this one is OK?

And of course, this leaves these folks hung out to dry. They have now been publicly identified as CIA – and everyone loves the CIA, right? Even those members of the “rebel forces” who previously were fighting us in Afghanistan and Iraq? To make matters worse, it is quite likely that these “CIA operatives” really are US Military members; temporarily detached to the CIA in order that “the president can disavow any knowledge of their actions” should they be caught.

No “boots on the ground” here.

Then we turn things over to NATO. Wait, didn’t we already do that? Well yes, but now we really turn it over. We announce (once again), no American air strikes, no American boots on the ground, and NATO takes over the “air campaign”.

Wow! That is working out so well! At the beginning of the campaign, the media was full of reports of how “the US and UK had together fired over 110 cruise missiles at Libyan targets. What the reports didn’t say is that of that 110+ Tomahawk cruise missiles fired, the bulk of them were US cruise missiles. In fact, the UK fired a grand total of 12 (or 7, depending on the news source).

Now we learn that the 12 (or 7, depending on the news source) Tomahawks fired by the UK represent 20% of the total cruise missile firepower of the entire Royal Navy! [1] That’s right, the UK apparently only has 64 Tomahawk cruise missiles in their entire inventory! And they are concerned about the cost of replacing them. Wow again!

At least the Brits are concerned about replacing them. Concern in the U.S. for our supply of Tomahawks is much lower. To this point, no orders have been placed with Raytheon, the manufacturer, for replacements. [2] Of course, the government has more important things to consider currently, such as the impending government shutdown, a $1.65 Trillion dollar budget deficit, and of course, the President’s golf game and upcoming vacations.

So far (as of 24 March) the US has expended 162 Tomahawks out of an arsenal of over 3000. So we aren’t in the same situation Britain is in, wondering where the next Tomahawk will come from; we still have plenty. But it’s clear that, just as with the Clinton administration, the Obama administration sees the cruise missile as the weapon of choice. As a basis of comparison, only 288 Tomahawks were fired during the entire Gulf War in 1991.

Meanwhile, the government estimates that the cost of the new war (excuse me, “kinetic military action”) is “only” around $4 million per day or so; peanuts when one considers that the government is currently overspending it’s budget by $4.52 billion dollars each day, give or take a mil or two. [3] That, claims the Secretary of the Air Force, is what it costs to keep 50 fighter jets and nearly 40 support aircraft in the conflict, including the cost of munitions, with the total cost for the Libya air campaign, as of March 28 being $550 million (not counting normal deployment spending).

That’s interesting, because British estimates are that it is costing them nearly 3 million pounds a day to keep up their end of the alliance. [4] At a current exchange rate of 1.6348 US dollars to one British pound, that would be $4.9 million dollars per day, give or take, depending on exchange rates. And what British forces are present in the Libyan campaign? Eight RAF Tornados and 10 Typhoons, two frigates and one submarine are all I have found evidence of. [5]

So, $4 million/day for us to deploy 90 aircraft (plus munitions), vs almost $5 million for the UK to deploy 18 aircraft and one submarine? Either we are extremely efficient (which I have yet to see evidence of) or someone is lying somewhere.

Of course, that US estimate was only for US Air Force aircraft; how much is the navy spending? Or the CIA for that matter? And that “including the cost of munitions”; is that just to carry the munitions? Apparently it doesn’t include replacing them, as no new Tomahawks have been ordered. Then again, the Tomahawk is a navy cruise missile, and so presumably doesn’t figure into the Air Force costs. This of course begs the question, what is the total cost of this adventure in raising the President’s poll numbers? Tomahawks cost around $1.4 million each, so the total cost for the 162 used so far comes out to $226.8 million. Of course, if you don’t intend to replace them, they are essentially “free”, as the original purchase price is now “sunk costs.”

According to Wikipedia, the US has deployed 11 ships, B-2 bombers, AV-8B Harriers, EA-18s, F-15 and F-16 fighters, U-2s, AC-130 gunships, E-8Cs, and tanker aircraft. This is the only source I have seen so far publishing an aggregate of forces. I have no idea how accurate it is; the point I am trying to make however is that it is unlikely that the cost of this force package is a mere $4 million per day.

But I have digressed again. Let’s return the focus to NATO and its support for the continuing mission to protect civilians in Libya.

I guess in one regard, it is nice to see someone else getting blamed for bombing the wrong target for a change. But NATO managed to do it twice in one day. First they caused casualties among the “innocent civilians” they were supposed to be protecting, and then they managed to attack the very rebels they were supposed to be supporting. [6]

But, not their fault, says NATO, and no apologies![7] They weren’t expecting the rebels to have tanks after all, and blame the rebels for not communicating with them, this despite the fact that the vehicles were painted yellow on top, an agreed upon recognition symbol for denoting rebel forces, and carrying the flag of the rebel forces. [8]

Again, flying tanks? Explain to me once again how enforcement of a “no-fly-zone” involves attacking tanks?

And if that weren’t enough, there are tensions within the NATO alliance over the Libya mission. For example, Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, is accusing the French of putting national priorities over the liberation of the Libyan people from the brutal dictator Gaddafi. 85% of Libya’s oil is exported to Europe; France gets about 16% of its oil from there, while Italy, which volunteered its air bases to support strikes, gets 22% of its oil from Libya.

They can’t even agree on what to call the mission. The U.S., Italy, Denmark, and Norway call it Operation Odyssey Dawn. Canada calls it “Operation Mobile.” France prefers “Operation Harmattan.” The UK calls it “Operation Ellamy”, while Belgium is split between “Operation Odyssey Dawn” and “Operation Freedom Falcon”, using both.

Meanwhile, prospects for actually overthrowing Gaddafi are fading. NATO admits that air power alone is insufficient to allow the rebels to remove him by force.[9] Once again, US generals are talking about sending in American ground troops, along with an “international ground force” to aid the rebels in overthrowing the dictator. [10]

But of course, that’s today’s news. Who knows what will happen tomorrow.

There are many “military terms” that apply to this situation; SNAFU, goat rope, and Charlie Foxtrot come to mind. But no matter what term you apply, it is clear that it is one giant, unmitigated mess. And there is no sign that it will get less messed up any time soon.

[1] “Libya: Navy running short of Tomahawk missiles”, The Telegraph, 23 Mar 2011
[2] “162 Tucson-made Tomahawks fired at Libya won’t be replaced”, Arizona Daily Star, 24 Mar 2011
[3] One Minute News, 5 Apr 2011
[4] “Libya costing Britain 3 million pounds a day”, The Independent, 22 Mar 2011
[5] “Libya no-fly zone: British military’s enforcement role ‘modest’”,, 25 Mar 2011
[6] “Botched NATO bomb raid on Brega leaves 13 Libyan rebels dead after jets blast wrong convoy”, Mail Online, 8 Apr 2011
[7] “NATO admits deadly airstrike but blames Libyan rebels”, McClatchy, 8 Apr 2011
[8] “NATO: No apology for hitting rebels in tanks”, Associated Press, 8 Apr 2011
[9] “Prospects fade for military overthrow of Gaddafi”, Reuters, 8 Apr 2011
[10]“Gen: U.S. troops not ideal but may be considered in Libya”, CBS News, 7 Apr 2011