No-fly zone 'of limited use' in Benghazi: experts

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A no-fly zone would be of "limited use" in stopping Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces from launching a final assault on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a defence expert said Wednesday.

Air strikes would be the only effective way of preventing the regime from encircling the key rebel-held city in eastern Libya, said Gary Li of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

Britain, France and Lebanon -- on behalf of the Arab League -- presented a draft resolution Tuesday on a no-fly zone and other measures at the UN Security Council, but it faces stiff opposition, led by China and Russia.

Li told an IISS briefing in London that even if such a no-fly zone was implemented.

"A no-fly zone would be of limited use around Benghazi if Kadhafi decides to push further east.

"Air strikes would be needed to stop Kadhafi from encircling the city," Li said.

But air strikes could only take place if there was "mission creep", he explained, where an initial no-fly zone agreement was strengthened to allow foreign forces to call in targeted attacks on Kadhafi's forces.

Kadhafi's feared Khamis Brigade last week used artillery barrages to take the town of Zawiyah in the west. Li said the tactic was part of a trend for the regime to deploy land rather than air forces against the rebels.

"Kadhafi has realised his air force is quite ineffective," Li said.

"He has begun to use shelling with artillery because of the psychological impact this has on untrained rebels."

Kadhafi would likely need to use the mechanised troops of his elite Khamis Brigade to successfully storm Benghazi, Li said. This unit is currently engaged in the west.

The Saadi Brigade deployed in the east number around 3,000 to 4,000, and this "would not be enough to besiege Benghazi."

"They are less mechanised than the Khamis Brigade. Kadhafi will probably have to employ the support of his other forces before going for Benghazi."

But Brigadier Ben Barry, an IISS specialist in land warfare, said he believed an assault on Benghazi "is likely to be in the next 5-10 days".

"The regime forces will probably attempt to storm the city, hoping the rebels collapse," he said.

"But if the rebels know their business -- an urban area always favours the defenders -- the regime's forces may decide to bypass the city and encircle it."

© 2011 AFP

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