A Look At Gadhafi 's Fragmented Military

Host Scott Simon speaks with Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies about the makeup and strength of Libya's military, much of which Cordesman says lacks training. Cordesman also looks at the risks of creating a no-fly zone over Libya that would be policed by foreign forces.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

And as rebels continue to fight for control of territory, Gadhafi's forces are pushing back. To learn more about Libya's military, we turn to Anthony Cordesman. He's defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We've reached him at his office in Washington, D.C. Mr. Cordesman, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Defense Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): My pleasure.

SIMON: Help us understand what the rebels are up against. What kind of army is the Libyan army now?

Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, it's one of the hardest armies in the world to characterize because it has an immense pool of equipment but very poor training. It's organized so that it is divided into an active force with about 50,000 people in the army. But at least half of them are very low grade, relatively untrained conscripts because Gadhafi has been frightened of his own military, which has been the major source of threats to his regime up 'til now.

There's also a separate paramilitary force, a popular militia. But this force, while it has an incredible amount of military equipment, basically is incapable of operating a lot of it. A lot of it also is very old Soviet equipment that isn't operational right now and significant elements of that force have already defected.

SIMON: From a distance, Mr. Cordesman, what can you read about the divisions in the military itself? There have, as you noted, been a lot of defections. Some forces still remain loyal to him.

Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, I want to be very careful about what I say here because there are reports that even some of the most loyal forces to Gadhafi, including the commander of the Libyan special forces, have defected. And we are seeing definitely in the east really serious shifts to support the rebels against Gadhafi. It's far less clear as to what's happening around Tripoli.

And there are units scattered into the southwest of Libya where we don't seem to have any reporters or any indication of who their loyalty to is at all. So, we're talking probably out of a force, which on paper is 150,000-170,000, actually being 25,000 at most operational in the field divided between the rebels and Gadhafi in ways which we've really frankly do not understand and seem to be changing by the day.

SIMON: Well, what about calls there have been in the international community to establish some kind of no-fly zone?

Mr. CORDESMAN: Remember, we're not talking efficient warfare where almost any major use of force, even if it's a few combat aircraft, can suddenly make people panic or change their alignments. And a no-fly zone might really have some impact there but it also in some ways is simply the easiest thing to call for.

And the problem with calling for it is that, yes, you might stop a few helicopters and you might stop a few fighters, but to make it work and make it safe you've got to get rid of their surface-to-air missile defenses. And if even a limited number of those are operational, you've committed an act of war and you've committed yourself politically.

So, one has to be very careful about calling for something that might seem to be political symbolism and having it turn into a much larger, more open-ended commitment.

SIMON: You seem to be suggesting that people who call for a no-fly zone should understand they're calling for the actual dismantling of the Gadhafi regime.

Mr. CORDESMAN: I'm suggesting that you never have an easy way to know when to stop. We've learned that in Afghanistan and Iraq the hard way. We've found in a much more limited case in dealing with Serbia that we had to go from what seemed to be a very limited negotiated intervention to what became a major air war, which was sustained over a period of weeks.

And here the issue for everyone is - and it is an issue whether we use force or not - can we in the international community tolerate Gadhafi's survival? That's perhaps as critical a question as any question about no-fly zones.

SIMON: Anthony Cordesman, defense analyst at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. Thanks so much.

Mr. CORDESMAN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.