A classified NATO report on the bombing campaign in Libya shows the alliance is dependent on the US to wage its wars. But, even with Washington’s help, the much-praised Operation Unified Protector had military shortcomings.
NATO’s air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were carried out mostly by Canadian and European air forces. But American troops provided crucial parts of the operation, including collecting intelligence, reconnaissance, planning sorties and refueling aircraft. The problem encompasses both a lack of technical capability and trained personnel for such tasks, says The New York Times, after studying the report. NATO’s reliance on the US during the operation is labeled “disproportionate”.
One particular area, in which the alliance is dependent on the US, is the supply of precision munitions. Virtually all the 7,700 bombs and missiles dropped or fired on Libya were American. This is nothing new – this trend has been evident as early as during the Balkan wars two decades ago.
Even with the American help, the alliance had only about 40% of the aircraft needed to intercept electronic communications. That drawback hindered the campaign’s effectiveness. Participating members also had difficulties sharing information about Libyan targets due to “classification or procedural reasons,” the report said.
“Nations did not effectively and efficiently share national intelligence and targeting information among allies and with partners,” the document said. “The inability to share information presented a major hindrance to nations deciding if a target could be engaged” based on information from another country.
The report, completed in late February by NATO’s Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Center, stays silent on the controversies of the bombing campaign, including numerous civilian deaths in NATO attacks and alleged failures to assist refugee boats in distress.
Fred Abrahams, a special adviser for Human Rights Watch, said the report was consistent with the alliance’s refusal to acknowledge clear mistakes and revealed a “willful decision not to look at civilian casualties.”
The report also overlooks some tactical details. For example, it states that NATO had no “boots on the ground,” in line with the UN Security Council resolution which explicitly forbid the alliance carrying out a ground operation in Libya. But the document did not disclose who provided forward air control, helping to guide air strikes from the ground.
The Libya report casts doubt on NATO’s ability to carry out a similar operation in Syria, which some hawkish politicians like US Senator John McCain are calling for. The Syrian army is better armed and organised than Gaddafi’s, while Syria’s armed opposition is weaker than Libya’s was.
NATO is planning several measures to address the problems outlines in the report, but they will require years and massive investment to be put in place.