Military assault on Libya will get tougher: analysts
Western allies hailed the first military strikes against Libya as a success Sunday but analysts warned the next steps in enforcing a UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians were far from easy.
Britain, France and the United States bombed Libyan targets overnight after the UN Security Council authorised the use of force to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Moamer Kadhafi's forces.
Top US military commander Michael Mullen said the initial operation "has been successful", while the second in command of the British air force, Phil Osborn, said he was "entirely comfortable" with the way it went.
"It's a modest success in the sense that it's achieved its mission, one of which was to cripple Colonel Kadhafi's air defences, which was a very straightforward part of the mission," agreed Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
But he warned that although Kadhafi's forces appeared to have pulled back from their assault on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, they continued to intimidate civilians -- and countering this could be much, much harder.
"There's a limited amount that this sort of aerial bombardment can do right at the heart of urban areas," Joshi told AFP.
"They will struggle to stop infantry on foot, dismounted in the heart of city centres, firing indiscriminately or seeking to take control of key sites.
"Short of troops on the ground, and short of strengthening the rebels more than they already are, there's no military means by which that can be done," Joshi said.
US President Barack Obama has said no ground troops will be deployed to Libya, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed Sunday that "none of the countries involved in this operation are envisaging a ground invasion."
Lewis Page, a former Royal Navy officer, said that the first phase of military action -- intended to wipe out the Libyan air defence system so a no-fly zone can be put into place -- "shouldn't last very long".
But he, too, said the next stage will be difficult.
Once the easy targets are taken out, "you'll be coming up against much more tricky targets, so there would be city blocks that you would like to take over and they could be full of women and children," Page told Sky News television.
Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, was sceptical about the entire operation and said even the first stage may prove harder than the allies are suggesting.
"It sounds fairly simple, for example, to attack tanks, but don't forget that the rebels have got tanks as well and they are Libyan tanks," taken from members of the Libyan armed forces who defected, he told BBC television.
"How is someone sitting a long way away ... going to be able to tell whether a tank is being driven by a pro-Kadhafi Libyan or an anti-Kadhafi Libyan?"
The lack of clear Arab involvement in the military action is another problem, analysts say.
Western leaders have made much of the fact that the UN resolution was pushed through at the insistence of Lebanon, as well as Britain and France, and that the Arab League threw its support behind a no-fly zone.
But no Arab nations took part in the first night of military strikes, and the Arab League in fact strongly criticised the action, saying it went far further than what it had called for.
"This is the nightmare that we hoped to avoid," Joshi said.
"The symbolism of this is critical and so far the symbolism of this has been damaged by the fact that it is a predominately trans-Atlantic effort.
"And therefore regardless of all the ways in which it is genuinely different, it will be regarded as an Iraq mark two -- which was everything they wanted to avoid."
© 2011 AFP