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On Libya

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'm wondering just who are these people in Libya that we are helping by instituting a "humanitarian" No Fly Zone. For years I've been a student of history, especially World War II. It was in northern Africa where one of our first successful battles in World War II took place, mainly in the area we now know as Libya.

It was there early in the war that U.S tanks and airpower helped the British defeat Gen. Edwin Rommel's famed Afrika Corps. Incidentally, those captured Germans, POWs, eventually were moved to the prison camps at Atlanta and Indianola, Nebraska. Many of those young German showed up wearing parts of their desert uniforms when they came to work on my father's farm.

The Libyan towns named Benghazi, Tripoli and Tobruk, which we saw recently on the nightly news, are familiar, due to the World War II battles that took place in those very same areas. Who, then, were these Libyan people who really didn't participate in the battles in that area during World War II? The warriors that fought in World War II were primarily the Allied British and Americans fighting against Axis Germans and Italians. The native Arabs didn't seem to have a role in the fight.

The state of Libya was carved out of the Ottoman Empire in 1911 when Italy invaded and made it a colony consisting of the Provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. Allied forces removed Axis powers from Libya in February 1943. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya. On Nov. 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before Jan. 1, 1952. Libya was proclaimed a constitutional and a hereditary monarchy under King Idris. On Sept. 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 28-year-old army officer Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi staged a coup d'état against King Idris, who was subsequently exiled to Egypt.

The Army Air Corps established a large airbase near Tripoli after Allies assumed control of the country in 1943. Hundreds of our long-range B-24 Liberators flew from there to bomb the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. That first 1943 air battle was poorly executed and 53 aircraft of the 178 fuel- and bomb-laden Liberators that departed Sunday morning of Aug. 1, 1943 were unable to return to base. A total of 530 American airmen were lost on that day, alone with more to follow. The United States has had a long-time blood commitment in that miserable nation although the Qadhafi regime kicked us out of Wheelus in 1970.

Then came the discovery and development of huge oil fields in 1959. The wealth of oil sales came to whomever was in power to do with what they wanted. The ordinary Arab family received little benefit from the oil wealth. A majority of the population is illiterate yet today and poverty is the norm. When he took power, Qadhafi abolished what little system of government there was and assumed sole responsibility for everything. Along the way, he accumulated great wealth and grew a large army fanatically loyal to only himself and his family.

When the Middle East pot began to boil and long-suppressed peoples started to rise up against their autocratic rulers, the turmoil also spread to Libya. Qadhafi's response was to do what he always has done, turn his loyal forces, including their tanks and aircraft, on the rebels. His forces granted no quarter. It was license to kill and they did it with a vengeance. Qadhafi's seat of power is in Tripoli in the northwest corner of Libya and the rebel resurrection arose in Benghazi which is in the northeastern corner. Throughout history there has always been Arab bad blood between the east and the west with factions, fighting at every chance. The vast majority of the land mass is total desert, so the 6 million population lives along the shore of the Mediterranean. The route of march for Qadhafi's loyal forces was therefore right through the population centers and his atrocities were therefore exposed to world-wide media.

Qadhafi's forces' excess in murder and mayhem against his own citizens were so bad that people around the world rose up in indignation. Even his neighboring fellow Arab despotic dictators were upset with the excess killing. which is saying something. President Obama, who normally is unwilling to use the U.S. Military even to protect our own best interests managed to get United Nations approval to assist the rebels and somewhat level the playing field by implementing a "no-fly zone."

U.S. military forces, with some help from the French and British took only a few days to eliminate Qadhafi's Air Force and air defense system. Then we took on his tanks and other military vehicles and those too were wiped out from above. Level the playing field we did so now the action is mainly done with civilian pickups with guns in the bed, about the same as the rebels started with. Who will eventually win the battle is now anyone's guess.

Evidently what Mr. Qadhafi and probably the most of the rest of the world didn't understand is how out U.S. military conducts a war. Had he known we were coming, perhaps he would have tempered his own forces' excesses. Key to our operation is reconnaissance and we use satellite, aircraft -- manned and unmanned -- to monitor the battlefield. We can detect any object that moves, doesn't move or emits any energy, even down to the radio waves transmitted from a cell phone. We have airborne command posts that direct bombers to detected targets and they in turn deliver appropriate precision guided ordnance to eliminate that threat. Any electronic transmissions can be jammed to make the enemy command and control ineffective. We send airborne tankers to provide fuel 24/7 and cargo aircraft and ships to deliver the required supplies. A third-world military, no matter how fanatic, is no match. All that is left for the belligerent is hand-to-hand combat and that is where the matter now stands in Libya.

Should we have intervened in Qadhafi's war against his own people? Only time will tell. Unfortunately at the moment we don't even know the character of the rebel forces. Probably many of those are of unsavory character and most likely will not appreciate our help in the end. In my opinion it is a total mess.

One bit of delicious irony in the Arab world, where women are of no worth, our own air boss in the Libyan action is indeed a woman. She is Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward the first female commander to lead an air campaign in USAF history. I couldn't be more proud!

That is how I saw it.

Dick Trail


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A good read. Thank you for the history lesson.

-- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Fri, Apr 15, 2011, at 8:43 PM


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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It