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