What Would A No-Fly Zone In Libya Entail?

Given the fighting in Libya, there are calls to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to keep the government from bombing and strafing rebellious citizens. Wednesday, the Arab League says it could join the African Union in imposing flight restrictions if the fighting continues. Host Michele Norris talks with retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who serves on the Center for a New American Security board of advisers, about how that might work — and some of the complications.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We're going to take a few minutes to consider that idea of a no-fly zone now. Today, the Arab League is saying it could join the African Union in imposing flight restrictions over Libya if the fighting continues. And as we just heard, it's also on the table in Europe and in the United States, although, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that the U.S. is a long way from making that decision.

Joining us now to talk about this is Lieutenant General David A. Deptula. He's a retired Air Force officer and the CEO of Mav6. That's a company that contracts with the Department of Defense. Welcome to the program.

Lieutenant General DAVID A. DEPTULA (CEO, Mav6): Thank you very much, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, there's a lot of debate over whether a no-fly zone is needed, whether it might actually be counterproductive. Could you help us understand the arguments for and against a no-fly zone, quickly?

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: Sure, Michele, let me start this way. Everyone at least that I have seen out in the media has kind of jumped into the, OK, how would we do this? I would suggest to you that it's important to address a couple first order questions before we get into the how. And that is the why, the what, the where, the when and the who. You know, what are the desired strategic outcomes from imposing a no-fly zone?

NORRIS: Let's take the big one first. Who would actually enact a no-fly zone? Actually, let's take two, let's bite off two here. Who would enact a no-fly zone and how would it be enforced?

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: Well, it goes back to what - who is the authorizing authority? If we want to conduct or impose - and when I say we, the community of collective nations who have decided that this is a good thing to do, or the United Nations would have to come together and determine that this is a course of action to be pursued.

So once that determination was made, those individual nations would then have to get together and determine, OK, the conditions. What are the rules of engagement? Where? Across the entire country or only around those areas that Gadhafi is holding strong?

Don't forget, this isn't just about imposing a no-fly zone. The people that are executing it need to be protected. So it's just not a matter of sending airplanes over there and shooting down Gadhafi's airplanes and helicopters when they fly, he has an entire integrated air defense system which consists of many, many batteries of surface-to-air missile systems. And...

NORRIS: So you're not just talking about jets or aerial vehicle.

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: Absolutely. And he has a command and control system that ties it all together.

NORRIS: Listening to Secretary Gates yesterday, it sounds like there are many, many options, but one thing is fairly certain. He told a congressional hearing that a no-fly zone would necessarily require an attack on Libya. I just want to read you what he said. He said, let's call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shut down, our guys being the U.S.

And I'm wondering, if this does begin with an attack on Libya, is that tantamount to an act of war?

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: That's why I go back to first order questions of why are you doing this and to what strategic end? Do you want to enforce the humanitarian effort? Do you want to assist the rebels in overthrowing Gadhafi? Do you want to instigate regime change on your own?

NORRIS: Do you see this on the horizon?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: I'm pausing because it depends. It depends upon where - I believe that there will be some degree military involvement from a coalition of forces. But I believe that the United States would be wise to take a supporting role as opposed to a lead role.

NORRIS: David Deptula, thank you very much for coming in.

Lt. Gen. DEPTULA: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That's retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General David A. Deptula. He's a member of the board of advisers at the Center For A New American Security.

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