Troops on the Ground in Libya


Rebels near Ras Lanuf (photo: شبكة برق)

The Libyan rebellion and uprising is a front page story for the United States and its European allies. Rebels have already received aid from the UN in the form of a no-fly zone and countries like France are keen on supplying the rebels with arms, but one question looms large in the minds of Americans: Will U.S. troops be put on the ground in Libya?

In the words of President Barak Obama, “I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya;” and so far, we haven’t. This message, delivered on the 28th of March came on the heels of successful U.S. bombing raids that aided the rebels to advance towards Tripoli. Three days later these gains would be repelled by Gaddafi forces using minivans and SUVs en lieu of tanks and armored vehicles. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Libyan rebels cannot win the fight without international help, and since the U.S. started down that road it will be forced to continue either from fear of shame in retreat or pressure from the UN, the EU, and the rebels themselves.

Whether or not the U.S. should aid the Libyan rebels, or even who the Libyan rebels are, is becoming more and more of null issue as time goes on.  An American withdrawal is made less possible by the lack of clear objectives outlined in President Obama’s speech. Had the President stated the objectives for aiding the Libyan rebels as well as the goals we are hoping to achieve (i.e. new non-Gaddafi government or the peaceful separation of Libya into two distinct states) then the U.S. could effectively withdraw support once the objectives were achieved. As it now stands, the U.S. will likely be forced to send more support as the rebels continue to be routed.

President Obama also stated, “[i]f we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air.” The overthrow of Gaddafi by means other than force is nearly impossible at this point and France, for one, seems to be determined to see Gaddafi gone by force if necessary. Perhaps this is the beginning of that splintering of the “coalition” mentioned, or perhaps this is the beginning of a situation that will eventually put U.S. servicemen and women on Libyan soil.

CIA operatives are already in Libya. A scenario whereby military officers are sent to train the rebels is conceivable in the foreseeable future. Then, in order to protect and aid those officers and operatives special military units could be sent in and before we know it we have Serbia or Bosnia all over again. President Obama may be able to stick to his guns and, with the aid of our allies, only send in NATO troops, a fraction of which would come from the U.S., but in reality the likelihood of troops being sent to Libya increases with each defeat of the rebels.

How long will it take; one week, two weeks, two months, six months? Despite not being a military expert, the former end of the scale seems more plausible than the latter and then we end up exactly where President Obama did not want to be. As he put it in his speech, “[t]o be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.” Now we may travel down Iraq’s parallel street; Libya.

Chad Turner

Chad is an International Relations student at Brigham Young University. He is fluent in French and Spanish and hopes one day to work as an intercountry adoption attorney. Chad has served as an intern at the Utah State Legislature and with the Provo City Attorney's Office, thus considerations of politics and law often co-mingle with his views on international affairs.

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