In Libyan Conflict, Is Endgame A Stalemate? Since Operation Odyssey Dawn began last Saturday, more than 160 cruise missiles have been launched, and jet fighters from at least four countries have dropped bombs on targets all across Libya. But is the operation achieving its goals? Not yet.
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In Libyan Conflict, Is Endgame A Stalemate?

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In Libyan Conflict, Is Endgame A Stalemate?

In Libyan Conflict, Is Endgame A Stalemate?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

The military operation in Libya raises two big questions.

INSKEEP: The first question is whether the U.S. and its allies can seize control of the air and drop massive amounts of bombs. The answer is yes. They can do that almost anywhere.

WERTHEIMER: The next question is whether the U.S. has accomplished its goals. The answer to that question is not yet.

NPR's Tom Gjelten explains.

TOM GJELTEN: As of yesterday afternoon, the U.S.-led operation in Libya had achieved air superiority: Gadhafi's aircraft were staying on the ground. Also, maritime superiority: No ship could reach Libyan shores without being stopped and inspected.

But Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, briefing reporters from the U.S. command ship, said the air campaign is still short of its main objective: Stopping Gadhafi from attacking Libyan civilians.

Rear Admiral GERARD HUEBER (Director, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa): In Ajdabiya, regime forces intensified combat in, into and out of the city. In Misrata, regime forces continue to clear opposition, increase combat operations and target civilian populations in the city.

GJELTEN: A major reason Gadhafi's forces are still advancing is that the rebel groups - who opposed him successfully a few weeks ago - have so far been unable to regroup, even under the protection of airstrikes. Journalists who have spent time with them, including NPR's Eric Westervelt, are highlighting the rebels' problems.

ERIC WESTERVELT: They're disorganized. They're ill-equipped. They're untrained young men with no coherent communication or command structure.

GJELTEN: When the rebels were seizing control of towns and cities in eastern Libya, the pro-Gadhafi forces were in disarray. But as soon as the regime began counter-attacking, the rebels' own shortcomings became apparent.

Andrew Exum is a former U.S. Army Ranger, now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Mr. ANDREW EXUM (Fellow, New American Security): Once you have to fight a defensive campaign, you have to build defensive positions. It becomes an engineering problem set, as much as it is a problem set of marksmanship. And there you need a competent officer corps to instill some discipline in the ranks and some organization.

GJELTEN: And that's missing among the Libyan rebels. In theory, the U.S. and allied governments could help them by sending in advisors or coordinating their airstrikes with the rebels' own combat efforts. The United States did that with fighters in Afghanistan in the first phase of the war there.

But there are two big obstacles. Andrew Exum highlights the first. The Libyan rebels lack war fighting experience, whereas the Afghans had been at war for much of the previous 30 years.

Mr. EXUM: When the United States dropped into northern Afghanistan, they began advising Afghan fighting forces that really didn't need to be told how to fight at the small-unit level. What they needed were the types of tactical airstrikes that U.S. Special Forces could provide them.

GJELTEN: Second, the Obama Administration has made clear it has zero interest in providing military support to the Libyan rebels.

Still, this war story is not yet over. Rear Admiral Hueber said yesterday that as long as Gadhafi fails to comply with the allies' demands, he'll face more punishing strikes.

Rear Adm. HUEBER: Our targeting priorities are mechanized forces, artillery, interdicting their lines of communications with supply, their beans and their bullets, their command and control, and any opportunities for sustainment of that activity.

GJELTEN: If those supply lines - the ones that provide Gadhafi forces with their beans and bullets - can be broken, this fight could change course quickly.

Plus, the rebels could yet regain some of their lost momentum. Here's Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking yesterday in Cairo.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): I think a lot of people who were in opposition and who played a role in the early days have hunkered down, and it may be that the changed circumstances - where he can't use his aircraft and where he's more challenged in using his armor - they return to the fight.

GJELTEN: But where Gadhafi's forces are entrenched, as they are in the capital, Tripoli, they could be hard to dislodge. Airstrikes are of little use in an urban environment.

So this war could well produce a stalemate. Gadhafi maintains control of Tripoli and western Libya. The rebels hold out in eastern Libya under U.S. and allied air protection, and the country is effectively split in two.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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