NATO risks spilling own blood while mounting pressure on Gaddafi

NATO is stepping up its pressure on Colonel Gaddafi as Britain and France are ready to deploy strike helicopters into Libya. But it comes at the risk of suffering their first casualties after two months of one-way bunker buster bombing.

NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday Gaddafi’s “reign of terror is coming to an end”. He added the coalition forces will keep pressuring the Libyan government as it’s coming closer to achieving its goals.

Part of this mounting pressure is the deployment of the strike helicopters, which are soon to provide  NATO forces in Libya with new capabilities.

“They can fly low; they can fly slow; so they can hit targets that fast jets can’t hit from the air. They also involve a fair amount of risk. They can be shot down much more easily than a fast jet, so the prospect of NATO personnel being captured on the ground has just gone up,”
explains Shashank Joshi, associate fellow a the defense think tank Royal United Services Institute.

The Apaches, which will be joined by a contingent of French helicopters, can maneuver in urban areas and attack fairly small targets. They’ll make it easier to take out arms stores, and target places where Colonel Gaddafi may be hiding.

The deployment is part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s strategy to “turn up the heat” in Libya.

“They seem to think if they quote the UN resolution at the same time as they call for Gaddafi to go and for regime change, it’s a sort of guarantee, or as a laissez-passer. Frankly they’re involved in a civil war in Libya. The deployment of helicopters, the intensive bombing of Tripoli that’s going on – this is a war about regime change,” British MP Jeremy Corbyn believes.

The helicopters mark only the latest escalation of this conflict. Following the no-fly zone, NATO sent in advisors to train the rebels, introduced drone patrols and by the first week of May, had flown nearly 6,000 strike sorties, with Tripoli subjected to the heaviest bombing.

A recent YouGov poll for the Sun tabloid newspaper showed less than half of Britons now support the intervention in Libya. But that number’s likely to plummet once UK troops are in significantly more danger.

“Just wait, if a helicopter crashes and God forbid we lose ten people… If that happened, [if] we started being blown out of the sky – don’t even think about it. So the issue is we haven’t dropped any blood. Yeah, we’ve dropped tens of millions of pounds which we haven’t got, but not single one of our people has died. When that happens, the game, and the PR game, will change,” Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor for The Sun expects.

People have marched against the Libyan war in the UK, but in small numbers compared to the million that marched ahead of the invasion of Iraq. But helicopters bring the fighting closer to the ground, and with it, a higher risk of death, as well as fierce opposition at home.

The government might be able to defend that, as long as the new strategy makes rapid progress. But if it doesn’t, many see the next step as troops on the ground – in clear defiance of the UN resolution that allowed the original no-fly zone to be enforced in Libya.

­The situation is getting worse for the West in Libya, as an operation which they believed would be short and easy is taking longer than expected, said Patrick Hayes, a reporter for the London-based Spiked online magazine.

“In many ways it seems that the situation is getting worse for the West in Libya,” Hayes said. “I think that at first they thought they could swoop in and actually bomb the country into democracy. They thought this is going to be quite a quick process, where they could basically keep their hands [clean] at a distance – bomb [their way] into Libya, get rid of Gaddafi and then everything will be all right. Now obviously that is not the case. And these bunker-buster bombs and helicopters are inevitably going to make the situation worse. They could bring about civilian casualties in Libya, and I think that reeks of desperation.”