Let’s be honest – there may have to be boots on the ground in Libya

Posted on May 5, 2011

I’ve written before about the libertarian case for intervention in Libya, which is very strong in my view. Through the no-fly zone and airstrikes against the military of this murderous dictator we have already saved thousands or tens of thousands of innocent lives.

Now our involvement is moving to a new stage, with the reported plans to deploy Apache attack helicopters to enforce a defended buffer zone around Misrata. In keeping with my earlier article on Libya, I don’t have a problem with this as long as it’s tactically justified – which it seems to be given the extant threat to Misrata and the clear evidence that the city’s residents are opposed to Gaddafi.

What must be avoided, though, is confusion around how this affects our role. There’s an old military maxim that goes “Order + counterorder = disorder”, and without clear terms of engagement our military mission could become confused. Those terms of engagement must be made particularly clear to the public, so that they are involved at each step of this road rather than left in the dark.

The main potential source of confusion I can foresee is that while the Government apparently intends to send in helicopters, which are far more vulnerable to being shot down or crashing through malfunction than the jets we’ve used up to this point, David Cameron and Barack Obama are also committing that we will never “put boots on the ground” in Libya.

I’m not sure that those two commitments are compatible. I don’t think we need an invasion, a land force, an army base in Free Libya or anything like that, but it’s easy to imagine a situation where – God forbid – one of our helicopters goes down in hostile territory. Are we really saying that in that situation we would refuse to drop an SAS force in to establish a perimeter and recover our guys, or go in to get them back from their captors in the style of the Operation Barras rescue in Sierra Leone?

I would certainly assume that we would do those things if the circumstances arose – and I’m sure everyone in the Armed Forces would assume the same, as would the British public. It would be the right thing to do, standing by our own, brave soldiers.

If it happened, there’s no way the Government could countenance just abandoning them to Gaddafi’s thugs, so they would end up having to break this promise and then try to explain retrospectively why it was never a practical one in the first place.

So why take the risk of confusion – and the political damage of having to spin or redefine what “boots on the ground” means after the fact – by making such a commitment?



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Categories: Opinion, Politics


8 Responses

  1. Pedant:

    Or perhaps ‘there may’

    26.05.2011 22:05 Reply

  2. Michael Fowke:

    Let’s invade every country everywhere! It will give our soldiers something to do.

    27.05.2011 07:53 Reply

  3. Daniel Wright:

    I agree with what you are saying but, um, check the spelling of the title? Sorry, I hate to be pedantic…

    27.05.2011 11:27 Reply

    • markwallace:

      Now corrected – apologies for a cringeworthy typo!

      27.05.2011 11:49 Reply

  4. vor the Boneless:

    The Apache is a very awesome beast which is equipped with counter measures which can contribute to mission success and survivability. It could also be accompanied by aircraft carrying carrying ALARM type missiles to counter enemy air defence radar. As to boots on the ground the UN mandate precludes occupying forces only and authorises the use of all measures necessary.

    28.05.2011 10:32 Reply

  5. Pilko:

    Why did we announce that we were sending Apache helecopters in? Talk giving notice to the local’s to bring out their surface to air missiles and polish off the dust.

    We’ve boots on the ground all over the Arabic world. Unlike our chaps in choppers we don’t advertise the fact.

    31.05.2011 10:17 Reply

  6. Richard Calhoun:

    Let’s be honest, we shouldn’t be there, because we are broke, we cannot afford these military adventures until we are once again solvent.
    There are other countries who could carry this mantle but I fail to understand why the British must ride to the rescue of the Libyan population that is against Gaddaffi.

    31.05.2011 12:26 Reply

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