Operation 'Odyssey Dawn' Echoes Previous US-Led Attacks

Opening salvoes of high-level bombing and cruise missiles fired from submarines have been the pattern of every huge attack by US-led British forces for more than a decade. There are eerie echoes in the attacks on Libya of Tony Blair's first war – Operation Desert Fox against Saddam Hussain's military apparatus in 1998 – as well as subsequent US and British attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout (DDG 55) launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in the Mediterranean Sea on March 19, 2011 in this handout photo released to Reuters on Saturday. This was one of approximately 110 cruise missiles fired from U.S. and British ships and submarines that targeted about 20 radar and anti-aircraft sites along Libya's Mediterranean coast. Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973.

Opening salvoes of high-level bombing and cruise missiles fired from submarines have been the pattern of every huge attack by US-led British forces for more than a decade.

There are eerie echoes in the attacks on Libya of Tony Blair's first war – Operation Desert Fox against Saddam Hussain's military apparatus in 1998 – as well as subsequent US and British attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are echoes in particular of the 1999 Kosovo war, provoked by a humanitarian crisis played out on the world's television screens, albeit – as is often forgotten – a war not supported by any UN resolution.

One of three Air Force Global Strike Command B-2 Spirit bombers returns to home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March 20, 2011 after striking targets in support of the international response which is enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. The B-2s landed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri after a more than 25-hour mission in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. The bombers employed 45 guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, each weighing 2,000 pounds, against hardened aircraft shelters in Libya.

American, British, French and other Nato aircraft soon ran out of genuine military targets, whose list was extended to include Slobodan Milosevic's state television station, economic and industrial centres and transport infrastructure including bridges.

After weeks of bombing, less than a handful of Serbian tanks were destroyed – that is how difficult it was for pilots to find the targets. The destruction of Serbia, combined with a population increasingly intolerant of Milosevic's regime, finally led to his arraignment at the UN tribunal in The Hague.

Independent analysts say that while the topography of the Balkans, criss-crossed by valleys and mountains, is very different from Libya's desert, the problems facing those countries trying to end the violence on the ground – with the aim of regime change in all but name – are similar.

Cpl. Sean Moberly, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit runs preflight checks on an AV-8B Harrier March 19, 2011 on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge in preparation for Operation Odyssey Dawn missions. U.S. and allied forces have effectively established a no-fly zone over Libya and halted an offensive by Muammar Gaddafi against rebels in Benghazi, the top U.S. military officer said on March 20, 2011. Photo taken March 19.

It soon becomes impossible to continue the campaign from the air or from submarine-launched missiles, however "smart" or accurate the bombs are.

If there are echoes of the Kosovo war in the initial operations against Libya any parallels in the endgame remain very uncertain. The remnants of the Yugoslav army cut their losses and withdrew from Kosovo. One question in Libya is whether enough of those in Gaddafi's elite forces believe his time is up.

Operations in Iraq in the 1990s, including no-fly zones, did not weaken the central core of Saddam's regime. Though the Kurdish north became an increasingly self-governing entity – there are some parallels, perhaps, with eastern Libya.

There is one clear echo, in particular, in the British government's approach to Gaddafi, 20 years ago. At the end of military action in the 1991 Gulf war, President George Bush encouraged the Shias of southern Iraq to rise up. Many did so and were crushed for their pains by Saddam's forces. David Cameron encouraged the rebels in Libya to continue their fight but without giving them any real means to help them on the ground. There is one way Britain and the US could be helping: intelligence officers and special forces could assist not only in identifying targets for bombers but in organising sabotage operations.

One of three Air Force Global Strike Command B-2 Spirit bombers returns to home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March 20, 2011 after striking targets in support of the international response which is enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. The B-2s landed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri after a more than 25-hour mission in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. The bombers employed 45 guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, each weighing 2,000 pounds, against hardened aircraft shelters in Libya.

The Guardian