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The Fog Of War
March 22, 2011 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Libya: Six injured as US team botches rescue of downed airmen. 'US forces sent into Libya to rescue two downed American airmen botched the mission by shooting and wounding friendly villagers who had come to help, witnesses have said. Libyans who went to investigate the US warplane's crash site said that a US helicopter had come in with guns firing, creating panic and wounding onlookers, some of whom had to be taken to hospital; one 20-year-old man is expected to have his leg amputated.'

'The villagers said they had been searching for the plane's missing airmen to welcome them and help them.

A member of the Libyan rebel forces at the site of the crash, Omar Sayid, a colonel of the military police, told Channel Four News: "We are disturbed about the shooting, because if they'd given us a chance we would have handed over both pilots. This shooting created panic."'

Meanwhile, as Obama Tries to Patch Rift on Libya Role, he is taking heat from all sides.

'"Mohamed, the rebel spokesman, said the American and Western forces have not hit the Qaddafi forces surrounding the city since the first air strikes four nights ago. Told that an American general had mentioned the siege of Misurata, Mohamed called the potential for another strike “a life saving event.”

A doctor at the Misrata medical center the hospital is running out of drugs, relying on water tanks, and dependent on a single generator. “The no-fly zone for me means nothing,” he said. “It didn’t protect civilians.”'
posted by VikingSword (127 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Libyans who went to investigate the US warplane's crash site said that a US helicopter had come in with guns firing, creating panic and wounding onlookers, some of whom had to be taken to hospital; one 20-year-old man is expected to have his leg amputated.'

It's probably impossible for our military to conceptualize Muslim villagers who are trying to help us. We've spent so long killing these people that we can't help but continue to do so.
posted by Avenger at 3:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


As a bonus, here's a quote from a recent CNN article about the rescue:
[Residents] also expressed their gratitude to coalition members for the United Nations-authorized coalition attack on Libyan air defense targets meant to protect civilians.
I'm sure they put it just like that. Thank you coalition, I am now free to roam around in my ornithopter without fear.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Quagmire.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that the pilot did not know anything about those approaching him and therefore asked that fire be directed in that area to drive the people off.

These things are going to happen, this is why we should not do this.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of Jessica Lynch, when Iraqis tried to bring her to US forces and they shot at the ambulance, turning them away.

This is why we don't belong in warzones. There are, I'm sure a few new people who will live to seek revenge on the US birthed right there.
posted by nevercalm at 4:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Argh, I hate that stuff like this happens. Particularly as most of the people that Western forces seem to be coming across are actually very glad to see them. This is a quote from the Telegraph about what I assume is the same plane crash, before the botched extraction of the pilots:
Behind him his F15 Strike Eagle was a burning wreck. He had parachuted into a field of sheep somewhere near Benghazi airbase and needed to escape - his fellow crew member had landed in another field nearby.

Raising his hands in the air he called out "OK, OK" to greet the crowd. But he need not have worried.

"I hugged him and said don't be scared we are your friends," said Younis Amruni, 27.
posted by ZsigE at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


These things are going to happen, this is why we should not do this.

If you're not willing to see innocent people, women and children killed by your soldiers, you should not order them into war.
posted by empath at 4:21 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Crappy all the way around. But at 100 knots (if it was a helicopter) it is very difficult to say that a crowd advancing with energy is happy or angry. Now we have some people that hate us and some pilots who will struggle with the fact that they lit up the good guys. Another reason we have to think long and hard before intervening someplace.
posted by jason says at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't say they "botched it." That's how they are trained to do it.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2011


Wait, I thought we were just supplying management and missiles? What happened to "no boots on the ground"?
posted by Big_B at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2011


Less than stellar threat-assessment by the helicopter pilot, and situational planning by the higher-ups. It might have been possible to keep the unknown ground forces away from the pilots without actually shooting them. But that is very easy for me to say, sitting here in complete safety and unaware of the specific conditions. It is axiomatic that rescue forces will always err on the side of aggression in their mission of first protecting the pilots, and then themselves. The protocol for how to handle a sketchy situation such as this is going to be especially problematic in the case of a civil war.

That said, Libyan rebels will now be reluctant to assist any U.N. forces in similar straits. However, simply leaving Qaddafi free to commit genocide is not a good option. Better communication between rebels and U.N. forces needs to be established, but that would destroy the charade of "neutrality" which the international community has been forced to adopt to bring the Arab League on board.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:34 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait, I thought we were just supplying management and missiles? What happened to "no boots on the ground"?

Uh, the "boots" were in the air, until their plane crashed.
posted by rollbiz at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Now that it's happened (almost inevitably) what's more important is how the pentagon manage it from here on in. Flowers and chocolates for the villagers at least, a nice hospital bed for the amputee and a decent prosthetic. Cash.
posted by wilful at 4:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait, I thought we were just supplying management and missiles? What happened to "no boots on the ground"?


When they said "no boots on the ground" I told my wife that will last until the first plane is shot down (err, experiences a mechanical problem) and then we have to go rescue the pilot. Didn't think
it would happen this soon, though.
posted by fixedgear at 4:46 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This week is not a good news cycle for the U.S. Military.
posted by codacorolla at 4:48 PM on March 22, 2011


The article says nothing about what caused the plane crash. Did Libya's air defenses shoot it down?
posted by blakslaks at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2011


The article says nothing about what caused the plane crash. Did Libya's air defenses shoot it down?

I saw a couple of places that said the USG claimed it was mechanical failure, but who knows. I doubt they would admit it if Qaddafi's forces shot another plane down.
posted by notion at 4:53 PM on March 22, 2011


Communication breakdown, its' always the same.
posted by clavdivs at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look, if they send the Marines to pick this guy up, they're going to be a little geeked out about it. It's in their song, ferchrissakes!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:55 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


The article says nothing about what caused the plane crash.

Two direct quotes from the article:

Libyans inspect the remains of a US F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet that crashed due to a suspected malfunction


The airmen ejected from their F-15E at 10.30am local time on Monday after what the Pentagon described as "equipment malfunction"; it had not been shot down.
posted by wilful at 5:01 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


They changed history (shores of Tripoli happened before Halls of Montezuma) to make the song sing better.
posted by fixedgear at 5:02 PM on March 22, 2011


There's not much that rhymes with Montezuma.
posted by warbaby at 5:04 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's probably impossible for our military to conceptualize Muslim villagers who are trying to help us.

Because soliders are dumbasses who hate all brown people, amirite?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


"We come in peace, shoot to kill"
posted by storybored at 5:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Looking like the long-awaited sequel to "Black Hawk Down" is going to be a screwball comedy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2011


There's no way this no fly zone/aerial bombardment will end well. It just won't. It can't. Obama and the administration haven't really explained what we're trying to do. We're "protecting the Libyan people", but when do we stop? If Gadaffi refuses to leave (and of course he will), will we be content with a bifurcated Libya, and if not what are we going to do about it?

I say this as someone who really, really wants Gadaffi's neck. If I thought we could intervene in a way that wouldn't screw up the situation for both the Libyans and ourselves, I'd say go for it. If this were a videogame, I'd try it, and revert to save if it didn't work. It's too risky for real life, though.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:13 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's probably impossible for our military to conceptualize Muslim villagers who are trying to help us.

Because soliders are dumbasses who hate all brown people, amirite?


Both not quite right. It's the view that "better them dead than 'our boys'", at all costs. Even if the cost makes more who will now take the same view against them.

I had a longish rant about all this, but screw it. Things like this and how we handle it is one of the reasons why so many other countries hate us.
posted by usagizero at 5:21 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, I thought we were just supplying management and missiles? What happened to "no boots on the ground"?

There are always boots on the ground.

And there's no question that if special operations forces are captured or a US aircraft goes down, there will be some more boots on the ground to retrieve them.
posted by lullaby at 5:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were a middle eastern (or any) dictator, I'd be learning two lessons from all this:

-Mubarak was a punk and should have slugged it out.

-Maybe the US has finally battered it's sword blunt and broken against the rocks of Iraq and Afghanistan and their ability to coerce compliance through killing and destruction is waning. And since lesson one is "Backing down is for losers..."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Gadaffi refuses to leave (and of course he will), will we be content with a bifurcated Libya, and if not what are we going to do about it?

There were a lot of complaints over the years over the world's non-involvement in stopping the Rwandan genocide.

What would people think five years from now after Gadaffi massacres rebel cities with Europe watching right across the pond (probably something along the lines of "It's about the oil, not the people")? If it ends with a civil war, well, Gadaffi invited a civil war on himself by acting like a monster and shooting unarmed protesters. It's not on us morally if a protracted civil war results from his actions. It is on the world morally if we are all AOK with genocide and don't at least attempt to halt war crimes.

It's a no win political situation with countries like Russia, China and Germany pointing and complaining that civilians may be hurt when they are perfectly OK with standing aside and watching civilians definitely get hurt.
posted by dibblda at 5:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


The War for Libya’s West: More Qaddafi Massacres
posted by homunculus at 5:38 PM on March 22, 2011


Maybe the US has finally battered it's sword blunt and broken against the rocks of Iraq and Afghanistan and their ability to coerce compliance through killing and destruction is waning. And since lesson one is "Backing down is for losers..."

The United States is holding back because of domestic political restraints; Libya is not posing a military challenge to American armed forces.

The lesson your hypothetical dictator should learn is that once America destroys his military and lets the wobbly, corrupt interim government the results execute you, they are really going to fuck up the occupation/
posted by spaltavian at 5:42 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, I thought we were just supplying management and missiles? What happened to "no boots on the ground"?

Look at what they do, not what they say. If this was just an air action, you'd expect a carrier, right -- carries lots of planes?

Nope. The US sent the Kearsage, the Ponce and the Mount Whitney. That's an LHD, an LPD, and an LCC.

When you see a ship designation starting with L, it's a ship designed to support amphibious operations. In fact, between the Kearsage and the Ponce , they can carry 2700 Marines.

The question I don't have an answer to is "Which MEU is embarked?" Because that ship package is what carries a Marine Expeditionary Unit -- a reinforced battalion with a reinforced composite squadron for air support and a reinforced logistics company for logistical support. MEUs (and the bigger brothers, the MEBs and MEFs) are basically ready-to-go packages, designed to secure and hold until more units can be brought in.

If this was just airstrikes, I'd see a CSG in place, but nope, they send the ship and air elements of an MEU. I would be very, very surprised indeed if they left the ground elements behind.

....and, of course, it just hits me. Guess who went in after the downed pilot? Why, as a matter of fact, elements of the 26th MEU. Based on the Kearsarge, of course.
posted by eriko at 5:44 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


CNN poll (pdf, published yesterday) on Americans' reaction to the no-fly zone and the Obama administration's response to the situation in Libya, with a fairly detailed demographic breakdown. FiveThirtyEight article.
posted by nangar at 5:44 PM on March 22, 2011


I wonder if the lesson dictators take from this is that it just doesn't pay to give up or not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Gaddafi famously gave up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Now he's paying the price from the point of view of being attacked militarily by the West. Silly man, did not learn from Saddam. We attacked Iraq precisely because they did not have nuclear weapons.

North Korea is certainly wondering about that fool Gaddafi.

And so we come to Iran. First the Iranian government looks at our treatment of North Korea, and then looks at what we are doing in Iraq and at Libya. And they are thinking, thinking, thinking...
posted by VikingSword at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


There's a lot of conflicting info about this story. Details still coming out ...
posted by memebake at 5:52 PM on March 22, 2011


Also, this may have been mentioned in the earlier thread, but "Operation Odyssey Dawn"? So they're going to lose a carrier for ten years or so, and a bunch of sailors are going to get eaten by a cyclops? Did anyone think this through?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The US military deny that a helicopter fired on people, but admit there were Harriers bombing armoured vehicles nearby. Guardian liveblog 9:59pm:
A US military spokesman has said that American Harrier jump jets dropped two bombs in Libya on Monday close to where a US pilot parachuted to the ground after his jet suffered a mechanical failure.

Reports from Libya on Tuesday claimed that a US helicopter arriving to rescue the F-15E pilot near Benghazi fired on locals, injuring six.

The spokesman denied those reports, but he later conceded on Tuesday that two Harrier aircraft on the scene had dropped two 500lb laser guided bombs on armoured vehicles seen near the downed pilot.

"We did drop two GPU bombs to defend the pilot," said Captain Richard Ulsh. "There were armoured vehicles in the area, close to him, enough to be a threat."

Ulce said he could not confirm reports that the strike had been called in by the downed pilot.

"I know the vehicles were spotted by the Harrier pilots. They did a show of force, flying very low, but the vehicles continued on their path. The pilots got permission to strike because they believed they were endangering our pilot."

The Harriers flew to the scene from the USS Kearsarge off the Libyan coast. Two Osprey tiltrotor aircraft were also dispatched from the Kearsarge to pick up the pilot and returned him to the vessel where he is now being given medical treatment.

Early reports claimed those helicopters fired on locals, but Ulsh said there had been no gun fire, suggesting the Libyans may have been injured by the bomb blasts.

A second crew member who ejected was rescued by Libyans and later handed over to US officials.

"The two Ospreys went after the pilot because we had a fix on him. We did not have instructions to go after the other crew member," said Ulsh. "It must have been felt he was safe."
posted by memebake at 6:03 PM on March 22, 2011


I suspect the Iraq occupation has taught our military some very deeply flawed lessons.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The big news is that they used Ospreys to rescue the pilot and they didn't crash.
posted by fixedgear at 6:07 PM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


For myself, if no one else, a Wikipedia Link "Operation Odyssey Dawn"
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:09 PM on March 22, 2011


It continues to amaze me how nothing the US military ever flies seems to ever get shot down. What's with all the equipment failure? Either they "crash, cause to be determined later but there was no enemy activity blah blah" or they "crash, but weren't shot down."

Seriously, do we have so little confidence in the gear on which we spend hundreds of billions of dollars, that we can't even acknowledge an occasional lucky shot? Would it be that huge an enemy victory??

And fuck, if you're gonna lie to me, at least pick something that doesn't totally torpedo confidence in the maintenance crews, who are no doubt busting their asses keeping all this stuff working in an incredibly hostile environment, with astounding success.
posted by nevercalm at 6:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This will be a U.N. and NATO operation, not an American one. Hell, even Canada has aircraft deployed there, complete with the unanimous support of all 4 Parties.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:14 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A doctor at the Misrata medical center the hospital is running out of drugs, relying on water tanks, and dependent on a single generator. “The no-fly zone for me means nothing,” he said. “It didn’t protect civilians.”'

These guys really want us to run their war for them. There's a reason they were losing, you know. Who among them is going to step up & show they have what it takes to run a country? Whoever he is, he hasn't shown his face so far, not that I can tell anyway.
posted by scalefree at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


First the Iranian government looks at our treatment of North Korea, and then looks at what we are doing in Iraq and at Libya. And they are thinking, thinking, thinking...

What thinking is there to do? If you're the government of Iran, you definitely want nuclear weapons. It's an absolute top priority. Once you have nuclear weapons, you're safe. It's a no-brainer.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:29 PM on March 22, 2011


There's a reason they were losing, you know.

Indeed. A lack of modern military firepower. Unless you subscribe to the will to power idea beloved of the nazis and Randians. I mean, Qaddafi certainly is showing us he has what it takes to run a country, so by rights he's the man, hey?
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2011


Shoot first, ask questions later.
posted by telstar at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2011


Pres. Obama concedes US & allied military force cannot compel Qaddafi to step down.

Interviewed by CNN/Espanol, Pres Obama says "we don't just have military tools at our disposal in terms of accomplishing Qaddafi's leaving."

Tweets from CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller.
posted by gerryblog at 8:05 PM on March 22, 2011


Indeed. A lack of modern military firepower. Unless you subscribe to the will to power idea beloved of the nazis and Randians. I mean, Qaddafi certainly is showing us he has what it takes to run a country, so by rights he's the man, hey?

I see no signs of tactical or strategic skill among them, which are necessary to win even with heavy firepower. I also see no evidence of leadership emerging within the rebels. I see an expectation that we will fight the war for them & hand them the keys to the country when we're done. I'm not talking about individual bravery, courage or commitment; there's plenty of that to go around (although that general who took a day off from the war seems to be lacking all of them). But that's not enough to jumpstart a new nation from the ashes of the old.

I'm not happy about the prospect of leaving Qaddafi in charge especially now that he's in a mood for vengeance, but there are limits to our ability to reshape every corner of the world into a form suiting our desires. I just don't see the conditions required for a high probability of achieving a positive outcome from this engagement. We will come to regret this decision.
posted by scalefree at 8:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Puma. Yuma. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pronunciation of "tumor".
posted by Flunkie at 8:46 PM on March 22, 2011


equipment malfunction

You know what the number one cause of equipment malfunction is in the battlefield. That's right, bullet through the equipment.

For the record, no American aircraft have been shot down in Iraq either. Nor British. They were all equipment malfunctions.
posted by Chuckles at 8:51 PM on March 22, 2011


The big news is that they used Ospreys to rescue the pilot and they didn't crash.

Aha, so when the military spokesman denies that a helicopter shot at and injured six Libyans, it isn't a lie. You can always trust US military spokesmen. Always.
posted by Chuckles at 9:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


A no-fly zone and denying a commitment to kill and/or oust Gaddafi is the US foreign policy equivalent of being a little bit pregnant.
posted by bardic at 9:21 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's probably impossible for our military to conceptualize Muslim villagers who are trying to help us. We've spent so long killing these people that we can't help but continue to do so.

The thing I dislike most about Metafilter is how stridently and proudly stupid so many people here are willing to be.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:41 PM on March 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


There's not much that rhymes with Montezuma.

"In good humour"? "Riding a puma"?
posted by russm at 12:01 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, tensions are mounting between conservative reformers, trigger-happy youths and Gadhafi loyalists. There is growing frustration at the lack of jobs as companies pulled out of the city. The absence of progress is putting the revolution at risk.
posted by homunculus at 12:14 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, correct me if I get this wrong. The British landed a crack team of SAS soldiers on an undercover mission, but the soldiers were captured by a bunch of farmers. When some downed US airmen were rescued by Libyans the USA didn't take any chances: it sent in the Marines and ordered them to bomb the heck out of the village before they landed. Because they had heard about what happened to the SAS and they weren't taking any chances on meeting any Libyan farmers.

Heaven help us all if these farmers get their hands on a combine harvester.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:34 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


-Mubarak was a punk and should have slugged it out.

-Maybe the US has finally battered it's sword blunt and broken against the rocks of Iraq and Afghanistan and their ability to coerce compliance through killing and destruction is waning. And since lesson one is "Backing down is for losers..."
Look at Mubarak and, especially Ben Ali today. They're both fine, still rich, with nothing to worry about. If anything the lesson should be the sooner they leave the better.

Anyway really there is no lesson here. Look at Yemen and Bahrain. Those countries are free to stomp on their protestors, because they are U.S. allies. We also didn't intervene in Egypt, but Mubarak didn't have control of his military, he had no way of slugging it out because the military wasn't following his orders.

The real lesson, as VikingSword mentioned is that you should do everything you can to keep your nuclear program and never, ever expect the west to keep its promises. Gaddafi had a nuke program that was pretty advanced, and he was totally off the radar of the U.S. But he decided to cancel and go all lovey-dovey with Bush and Rice. The result is that we're stomping him as soon as the opportunity presented itself anyway.

So that's going to be a problem in dealing with Iran.
posted by delmoi at 3:27 AM on March 23, 2011


Gaddafi had a nuke program that was pretty advanced, and he was totally off the radar of the U.S. But he decided to cancel and go all lovey-dovey with Bush and Rice. The result is that we're stomping him as soon as the opportunity presented itself anyway.

I hadn't thought of that. Good one.
posted by nevercalm at 4:03 AM on March 23, 2011


It's a no win political situation with countries like Russia, China and Germany pointing and complaining that civilians may be hurt when they are perfectly OK with standing aside and watching civilians definitely get hurt.

The key thing that people seem to be missing here, is that we can't really stop civilians from getting hurt, either.
posted by empath at 4:09 AM on March 23, 2011


"Which MEU is embarked?"

That would be the 26th MEU with Battalion Landing Team 3/8 as the land combat component, all of whom are returning from a deployment to Afghanistan that was started early to assist in the Pakistan flooding relief operations, and who have now been locked up in the eastern Med until things settle down or someone comes to relieve them. Stretch thin much?
posted by jsavimbi at 5:05 AM on March 23, 2011


The key thing that people seem to be missing here, is that we can't really stop civilians from getting hurt, either.
Well the question is which course of action would result in more civilians getting killed. There's a huge difference between picking sides in a civil war that's going on and just bombing the shit out of some random country that's currently at piece (like Iraq). We don't know if Gaddaffi was going to rampage through Benghazi and just slaughter everyone but he'd definitely hinted that was a possibility. And he's obviously not the most stable person in the world.

Anyway, if we split the country in half it's not the worst result in the world.
posted by delmoi at 5:15 AM on March 23, 2011


This week is not a good news cycle for the U.S. Military.

Actually, these events will be largely forgotten, thus increasing the indifference that America has to what's going on "over there".
posted by blue_beetle at 5:47 AM on March 23, 2011


The key thing that people seem to be missing here, is that we can't really stop civilians from getting hurt, either.

But if less people get hurt, even if it's by our hand, isn't that still better? I guess it's sort of a world-political Trolley Problem?
posted by floam at 6:43 AM on March 23, 2011


Look at Yemen and Bahrain. Those countries are free to stomp on their protestors, because they are U.S. allies.

They're not really comparable. The protests in Yemen and Bahrain are clearly being violently suppressed, but they're not engaging in wholesale slaughter like Qadaffi was. I think between the two there's been maybe ten deaths total.
posted by electroboy at 6:52 AM on March 23, 2011


Scratch that, there appears to be many more deaths in Yemen.
posted by electroboy at 6:55 AM on March 23, 2011


I don't think Gadaffi had gotten the wholesale slaughter part yet either, although he'd threatened it.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 AM on March 23, 2011


Hard to get accurate estimates of the deaths resulting from the protests, as opposed the resulting military conflict, but it looked like 200-1000 people killed initially.
posted by electroboy at 7:19 AM on March 23, 2011


> The key thing that people seem to be missing here, is that we can't really stop civilians from getting hurt, either.

> But if less people get hurt, even if it's by our hand, isn't that still better? I guess it's sort of a world-political Trolley Problem?

Yeah, basically. As I understand it, the Arab League's position is something like this: no-fly zone - OK, strikes on military targets necessary to enforce the no-fly zone - presumably also OK, strikes on other military targets like convoys - not OK because they're not necessary to enforce the no-fly zone and civilians who happen to be near by are more likely to be killed.

The Libyan Rebels and others who support the current no-fly zone plus strikes on other military targets policy take the position that some civilian casualties from air strikes are acceptable if they prevent greater civilian casualties. (And, hey, rebels want to win!)

empath's position, as I understand it from the other thread, is no country should put their soldiers at risk unless they or an ally are being invaded, and no civilian deaths are acceptable if they're our fault. So no civilian deaths caused by us are acceptable, and civilian deaths caused by others don't matter because they're not our fault.

I don't think any one believes you can conduct a campaign like this without killing some civilians. It matters how many there are, whose fault it is, and how you think about moral responsibility. It also matters whether you factor in a possible rebel victory as positive negative or neutral.
posted by nangar at 9:00 AM on March 23, 2011


empath's position, as I understand it from the other thread, is no country should put their soldiers at risk unless they or an ally are being invaded, and no civilian deaths are acceptable if they're our fault. So no civilian deaths caused by us are acceptable, and civilian deaths caused by others don't matter because they're not our fault.

No, my position is that unless you find your soldiers killing civilians acceptable, then you shouldn't ask them to get involved in a war. Because it's going to happen, and you shouldn't be shocked and dismayed when it does.
posted by empath at 9:07 AM on March 23, 2011


Funny how everyone always has a reason why killing civilians is justifiable though. Usually because someone else did it first.
posted by empath at 9:11 AM on March 23, 2011


Sorry, I didn't mean to misrepresent your position.

I'm seeing "no civilian deaths are acceptable if they're our fault" and "unless you find your soldiers killing civilians acceptable" (where the answer is no) as basically equivalent. You're objecting to "civilian deaths caused by others don't matter"? I probably should have said "don't matter." I didn't take your position as deaths caused by other aren't a cause for concern but that they don't a justify intervention. However, the way I phrased it, it sounds like that.

> Usually because someone else did it first.

Yep.
posted by nangar at 9:24 AM on March 23, 2011


I'm seeing "no civilian deaths are acceptable if they're our fault" and "unless you find your soldiers killing civilians acceptable" (where the answer is no) as basically equivalent.

I don't see why it's confusing. It may be that the inevitable deaths of civilians at the hands of your soldiers is an acceptable consequence of whatever war you're advocating. But you should advocate it knowing full well that it's going to happen and not gloss over it. You're asking people to die and kill to accomplish something. Make very sure that it's worth it.
posted by empath at 10:10 AM on March 23, 2011


They're not really comparable. The protests in Yemen and Bahrain are clearly being violently suppressed, but they're not engaging in wholesale slaughter like Qadaffi was. I think between the two there's been maybe ten deaths total.

You forgot Ivory Coast. The UN puts the death toll at 435 so far, with more on the way using heavy weapons like rocket launchers & a helicopter gunship. When does it become actionable? How many deaths does it take?
posted by scalefree at 10:12 AM on March 23, 2011


A couple random comments about the topic of the OP:

US planes bombed two armored personnel carriers they saw moving near the location of the airman they were trying retrieve. They turned out to be the rebels'. The rebels are using appropriated Libyan army equipment which of course looks identical to Libyan army equipment being operated by the Libyan army. It's possible to guess which is which by where it is and what direction it's moving, but this is not very accurate. This will happen again.

The plane went down in eastern Libya near Benghazi, so the explanation that the crash was caused by mechanical failure is likely to accurate in this case.

It seems like the countries involved in the air operations are avoiding flying over government controlled territory. They held off on bombing Libyan government positions near Misrata until today. I haven't heard of any strikes on govt. positions near Zintan, though this town is also under attack by government forces. Getting there would involve flying fairly deep into western Lybia.

The distinction between combatants and civilians in Libya is fuzzy. There is an armed popular uprising. A Libyan farmer who wants to see Qaddhafi overthrown is a civilian, but becomes a combatant when he's holding gun or driving an APC and turns back into civilian when he isn't. The Libyan government has a regular army, but they have also asked the lijan thawria (revolutionary something-or-other, I forget the translation) to act as a sort of civilian reserve and help put down the uprising.
posted by nangar at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2011


When does it become actionable? How many deaths does it take?

There's a 10,000 member UN/AU peacekeeping force there. Do you have some specific course of action you'd like them to take? From your link
The mission called the weapons "a grave threat to the civilian population" and warned Gbagbo forces that the U.N. would act if such weapons are used.
posted by electroboy at 11:41 AM on March 23, 2011


Yep, I missed that.
posted by scalefree at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2011


Quick question.

Are we to provide offensive fire support to the rebels as they attack Qadaffi's tanks on the road to Tripoli?

That is the only question that matters.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:55 PM on March 23, 2011


We waited until the wee hours of the morning to drop a laser guided bomb on the wreckage of the plane, presumably so no civilians or friendlies were around. Pretty common stuff, destroy what's left of the plane to prevent folks from getting a peek at all that sweet, sweet technology.
posted by fixedgear at 1:00 PM on March 23, 2011


Libyan Newscaster brings rifle on air.
posted by empath at 2:46 PM on March 23, 2011


Are we to provide offensive fire support to the rebels as they attack Qadaffi's tanks on the road to Tripoli?

We absolutely should, but will not. Maybe the French have the moral certitude to do it.
posted by metaplectic at 8:26 PM on March 23, 2011


We absolutely should

I don't get this at all. Why should we be providing close air support for one side of a Libyan civil war? To me that just seems crazy.
posted by Justinian at 2:20 AM on March 24, 2011


Rebel Insider Concedes Weaknesses in Libya:
After the uprising, the rebels stumbled as they tried to organize. They did a poor job of defining themselves when Libyans and the outside world tried to figure out what they stood for. And now, as they try to defeat Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s armed forces and militias, they will have to rely on allied airstrikes and young men with guns because the army that rebel military leaders bragged about consists of only about 1,000 trained men.
posted by gerryblog at 6:17 AM on March 24, 2011


France 'shoots down Libyan plane'
One US official quoted by Associated Press news agency said the Libyan plane shot down by France was a G-2/Galeb, a training aircraft with a single engine. The French plane involved was a Rafale fighter, the same US official said.
I read on Twitter that the plane was actually on the runway & shot with an air-to-ground missile. So we're taking potshots at trainers now.
posted by scalefree at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2011


I don't get this at all. Why should we be providing close air support for one side of a Libyan civil war? To me that just seems crazy.

It only seems crazy to you because your moral compass is busted.
posted by metaplectic at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2011


metaplectic, you seriously need to stop making comments like that. It's rude and assholish behavior and against the guidelines. Find a way to talk to people without making personal attacks.
posted by empath at 9:01 AM on March 24, 2011


Given the ongoing disclosures about the capabilities of the rebel forces (or lack thereof), I'm starting to think that barring capture or killing of Qaddafi what we're most likely to end up with is partition East & West with an enforced border.
posted by scalefree at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2011


working on it.
posted by clavdivs at 10:19 AM on March 24, 2011


But if less people get hurt, even if it's by our hand, isn't that still better? I guess it's sort of a world-political Trolley Problem?

Back in 2005 the UN sort of agreed they had a collective responsibility as an international community to get involved when governments had failed in their duties to protect people against atrocities.

I have objections to the armed response by rote we (in the west in general and the U.S. specifically) seem to have. Not much seems to work for us, mostly it seems to me, because of a complete failure to understand and a reticence to be involved in the social and economic issues as communities. (We tend to allow our businesses to do that for us, which is silly. Why some shnook salesman should know more about Libyan customs and have more connections in that region than Joe CIA is completely silly.) And so we just keep using good old unbeatable 'Rock' in 'Rock, Paper, Scissors."

But, given the response is warranted (again far more rarely than in practice) and given recent discussion here, a further question is, if you're into the whole 'people not being slaughtered wholesale' thing, we need to do - what?

There are few ways acceptable to societies to fulfill the responsibility to protect without picking up a weapon and threatening the people actively harming others with harm.
I admire Gandhi and non-violence, and I do see ways a large, non-violent force could intervene. But I don't think any society would bear sending it.

As it is we're still doing the lion's share of the work. India, Brazil, and South Africa are dragging their feet. (Although SA - they were against extending the mandate for peacekeepers in Darfur along with Libya, so maybe they have a beef now? Pure speculation though)

Why should we be providing close air support for one side of a Libyan civil war?

Because the other side is responsible for directly targeting and murdering people in the streets just recently and sponsoring terrorism and assassinations of people who spoke against them in the past?

You can get away with a no-fly zone in order to protect people from (easy) mass murder and not have it creep up into ground forces. So I'm ok with it - given.

Humanitarian assistance, putting an embargo on weapons - those things are obvious goods.

The question isn't why we should be providing close air support for one side against an oppressive regime with a history of slaughter (and a recently stated goal of showing no mercy to opponents), but rather - why didn't we do something in Srebrenica or Kigali after Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated or when Radio Rwanda was on the air and we saw the groundwork for genocide being laid down?

(Some of the talk in the press is hyperbolic. But Gaddafi was very much against the UN taking a role in Darfur.)

In any event - there's plenty of precedent for the international community sticking its nose up people's business in civil wars. Sierra Leone for example - had the Special Court set up through a formal treaty to prosecute war crimes et.al. Judges (some, anyway) were appointed by the Secretary General and the Special Court was over the national courts of Sierra Leone.

The civil war in Sierra Leone is worth a read, even if only on Wikipedia. Iraq and Afghanistan aren't the only possible ways to do thing (more's the pity I suppose).
posted by Smedleyman at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rebels Report Gains as Qaddafi Forces Pull Back
TRIPOLI, Libya — French warplanes destroyed a Libyan combat plane on Thursday amid a ferocious round of airstrikes on Libyan ground forces, tanks and artillery that seems to have begun to shift momentum from the forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi to the rebels opposing him.

A French Rafale fighter jet fired on the Libyan warplane, “which was operating in violation of resolution 1973,” above the embattled city of Misurata, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. A coalition AWACS aircraft had detected the presence of the Libyan aircraft in the skies above the city, and it was hit with a missile from the French warplane shortly after landing at a nearby military airbase, the Defense Ministry said.

In Misurata, rebels say they are feeling reinvigorated by a second night of American and European air strikes against the Qaddafi forces that have besieged them. The rebels say they continue to battle a handful of Qaddafi gunmen in the city but that the armored units and artillery surrounding the city appeared to have pulled back, their supply and communication lines cut off by the air strikes.
I don't see how any reasonable person can argue against the morality of what the allies are doing for the Libyan people.
posted by metaplectic at 12:31 PM on March 24, 2011


That strikes me as a failure of imagination on your part.

In other news, protesters are being killed in Syria. Lets get our war on baby.
posted by Justinian at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2011


Only 47% approve of the US intervention in Libya, the lowest initial polling of a military campaign in Gallup's history.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2011


Gadhafi's military: Trained and armed by Uncle Sam. Millions of dollars in American arms sales have been approved for Libya in recent years
posted by homunculus at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2011


Same poll on Gallup's website. The breakdown by party affiliation is interesting.
posted by nangar at 2:28 PM on March 24, 2011


Only 47% approve of the US intervention in Libya, the lowest initial polling of a military campaign in Gallup's history.

Not to axe grind, but I think that puts to bed the idea that opposition to it is a radicatl, out of the mainstream position, as some put forward in the previous thread.
posted by empath at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2011


Yeah, I would put forward the idea that if you are in a minority of people who support military action it should cause you to wonder if you are on the wrong side of the issue. It doesn't necessarily mean you are, of course, but it should be a troublesome fact. Because people tend to get on board for pretty much any way at first.
posted by Justinian at 3:01 PM on March 24, 2011


pretty much any war is what I meant.
posted by Justinian at 3:01 PM on March 24, 2011


In other news, protesters are being killed in Syria. Lets get our war on baby.

Quite a dishonest comparison, as Assad has not laid siege to his cities with tanks and artillery that we can destroy at little cost to save an enormous number of lives.
posted by metaplectic at 4:45 PM on March 24, 2011


And if he did...?
posted by empath at 4:53 PM on March 24, 2011


On the poll numbers, note that only 37% disapprove of the Libya response, so the intervention has clearly won the 'popular vote'. A much larger fraction (45%) disapproved of the Kosovo intervention, and yet that is now widely considered to have been both morally correct and greatly successful.
posted by metaplectic at 4:54 PM on March 24, 2011


And if he did...?

Well he's not that crazy/stupid. But if he were, by all means light 'em up.

For a less hypothetical situation, how about Darfur. The pathetic international response there was absolutely shameful. They could have used a no helicopters/janjaweed zone. But even that is far less clear cut than what is going on in Libya right now.
posted by metaplectic at 5:03 PM on March 24, 2011


On the poll numbers, note that only 37% disapprove of the Libya response, so the intervention has clearly won the 'popular vote'.

Let me get this right: You are taking the fact that this military action has the lowest approval rating of any military action since roughly Vietnam as evidence that it has "clearly won the popular vote"? Shine on you crazy diamond.
posted by Justinian at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2011


Yeah, I would put forward the idea that if you are in a minority of people who support military action ...

In the Gallup poll 47% of people approved of US military intervention; 37% disapproved of it.

The CNN poll [pdf] conducted last weekend which broke down military intervention into several categories got somewhat different results.
favor a no-fly zone: 70%
using planes and missiles to directly attack Gadhafi's troops: 54%
using ground troops: 28%
Support for a no-fly zone in the US is actually pretty high. I'm guessing that a lot of respondents to the Gallup assumed that any US military intervention would inevitably involve long-term occupation with ground troops and "nation building" as US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have. Many Americans opposing the no-fly zone have based their arguments on the same assumption.

I don't think that opposition to this intervention is "a radical, out of the mainstream position." US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan have been disastrous. Thinking 'not this again' is not unreasonable or radical. Whether opposition to intervention is in the minority or not depends on what kind of intervention you're talking about.

US intervention in Afghanistan was supposed to go after al Qaeda which had attacked us. The US invasion of Iraq was undertaken after a lengthy effort to convince Americans that Iraq under Saddam was a threat. It come out later that a lot of the evidence for this was bogus, and if you followed the news closely, it was obvious that that a lot of the evidence was bogus even at the time.

The Obama administration has not made any such claims. The only reason they're given for participation in this intervention is that Qaddhafi's threatened to massacre civilians in rebel- controlled areas (which he did and which he has done in Zawiya). There was no claim that Libya or Qaddhafi was trying to attack the US or had weapons of mass destruction.

I think Obama can benefit from this action politically if the action is limited to a no-fly zone plus air strikes and if the rebels win fairly quickly. He can say with some plausibility 'this is how I do foreign interventions' and 'that was they did it.' However the more likely senario in Libya is a long-term partition between rebel and government controlled areas. This could result in a long-term no-fly zone (but a fairly perfunctory one since Libyan air bases will have been taken out).
posted by nangar at 5:47 PM on March 24, 2011


'this was how they did it'

Obviously, support in the US for ground intervention is abysmal, and the rebels in Libya have said over and over that they don't want it either. I don't think Obama is stupid enough to do that. It will hurt him domstically and won't benefit the US's position in North Africa.
posted by nangar at 6:13 PM on March 24, 2011


When I said, "Many Americans opposing the no-fly zone have based their arguments on the same assumption," I meant Americans on MetaFilter. I'm assuming that many people polled might be thinking in similar terms, and I can certainly understand how I might!
posted by nangar at 6:24 PM on March 24, 2011


Nato reached a partial agreement late last night to take over the command of the no-fly zone over Libya, but deep divisions within the alliance mean the US will have to remain in charge of air strikes on Colonel Gaddafi's ground forces.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:18 PM on March 24, 2011


So NATO is in charge of flying around and taking in the scenery while the US is in charge of blowing shit up. Do you want to see my shocked face? I can show you my shocked face.
posted by Justinian at 9:21 PM on March 24, 2011


Welcome to the next ten years.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:09 PM on March 24, 2011


You are taking the fact that this military action has the lowest approval rating of any military action since roughly Vietnam as evidence that it has "clearly won the popular vote"?

Um... he was taking the fact that more people approve than disapprove as evidence that it has "clearly won the popular vote". The way you talked about the "minority" earlier was a lot more hand-wavey and dishonest. A minority of Americans approve, a minority of Americans disapprove, and a minority of Americans have no opinion of it. But the plurality lies with those that approve.
posted by floam at 11:34 PM on March 24, 2011


Just an odd historical note:

The first military use of airplanes was by Italy in Libya in the Turkish-Italian War.
On October 23, 1911, [Captain Carlo Piazza] made history’s first reconnaissance flight near Benghazi in a Blériot XI. On November 1, Second Lieutenant Giolio Gavotti carried out the first aerial bombardment mission, dropping four bombs on two Turkish-held oases. In March 1912, Captain Piazza made the first photo-reconnaissance flight in history.
They used dirigibles as well. Wikipedia has a picture.

Wiki also has an amusing summary of Italian propaganda in the run up to the war:
The Italian press began a large-scale lobbying campaign in favour of an invasion of Libya at the end of March 1911. It was fancifully depicted as rich in minerals, well-watered, and defended by only 4,000 Ottoman troops. Also, the population was described as hostile to the Ottoman Empire and friendly to the Italians: the future invasion was going to be little more than a "military walk", according to them.
Yup. Almost exactly 100 years ago too. Just missed the anniversary by a couple months.
posted by nangar at 8:13 AM on March 25, 2011


Late to the thread here, but just wanted to mention I see Obama as almost a tragic figure. It's like he blinded himself with his hopeful rhetoric, and that at some point he needed to sit down with the public and say this shit is gettin' complicated, but he didn't.

It seems like his involvements in the Middle East were and are pretty hard to avoid. With regards to Libya, I support the intervention, but with a sinking heart. Just what were we going to do. Watch thousands of people massacred by a maniac? Know that we had helped put an end to the movements underway in nearby countries? I know that in many other cases, we didn't intervene to prevent bloodshed.

But this is a different case, because what is happening now is so historically profound. I trust Obama values human life, but I also trust that he has a certain craftiness -- that he is seeking long-term stability, if only because that is an environment in which the U.S. thrives.

Empath is right that war always involves the death of civilians. Unfortunately, though, I believe that in some cases to go to war is the right choice, if done in the right way.
posted by angrycat at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2011


Unfortunately, though, I believe that in some cases to go to war is the right choice, if done in the right way.

Yeah, here's the thing; war is never done "the right way" because it is a human endeavor. Out of the crooked timber of humanity and all that. There will be incompetence, careerism, ass covering, and plain old evil in every single military engagement of sufficient size.

That's why you don't freakin' go to war unless the situation is such that it is worth doing even if done badly and incompetently. Tank divisions rolling across your border? Worth fighting even if you do it badly! Civil War going on in a country you don't have any sort of presence in 5000 miles away? Maybe not so much.

"If done in the right way" is bullshit, essentially.
posted by Justinian at 6:17 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Syrian troops are massacring civilians as we speak.
posted by Justinian at 6:31 PM on March 25, 2011


Libya: Woman struggles to tell foreign journalists of kidnapping, rape by Qaddafi militia
posted by homunculus at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2011


Unfortunately, though, I believe that in some cases to go to war is the right choice, if done in the right way.

War done the right way, imo, is a war fought to win, with overwhelming force and brought a conclusion as quickly as possible. To utterly destroy the enemy's capability and will to fight. I don't think 'humanitarian' efforts lend themselves to that kind of war, though.
posted by empath at 8:55 AM on March 26, 2011


'Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links.'
posted by clavdivs at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2011


Libyan rebels recapture Ajdabiya

Libyan rebels advance on Brega
posted by homunculus at 9:55 AM on March 26, 2011


Syrian troops are massacring civilians as we speak.

Anger in Syria over security crackdown: Anti-government protesters regroup following a huge crackdown by security forces which claimed at least 20 lives.
posted by homunculus at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2011


Syrian troops are massacring civilians as we speak.

You keep bringing the Syria straw-man up, when there is nothing we can realistically do to help the Syrian people. By contrast the no-fly/no-drive zone in Libya is relatively simple as military interventions go (blowing up tanks and planes is easy), and seems to be doing a lot of good (saving lives, advancing the revolution).

War done the right way, imo, is a war fought to win, with overwhelming force and brought a conclusion as quickly as possible.

I completely agree with you, but the Libya intervention is hewing pretty close to this standard. Let's hope NATO will continue targeting Gaddafi's forces until they are routed.
posted by metaplectic at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2011


Saving lives except for the ones we're killing, I guess?
posted by Justinian at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2011


Saving lives except for the ones we're killing, I guess?

That's very true. Perhaps, if we're utilitarians, this will still work out with a greater number alive and prosperous than not. I do hope that the world will be able to do the best they can and ultimately prevent more loss of life than would otherwise occur. I hope.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2011


My dad has been able to make it out of Tripoli this weekend and he is now stateside.
He's seen some horrible things, including:
18 dead kids thrown under a bridge near his home, killed by gaddafi's guys for protesting. No one knows who their family is.
30 members of our extended family have been disappeared, no one knows if they are alive or dead
a number of his friends have been killed, one was a pharmacist who was helping injured protestors

He has only now been able to tell me any of this because any phone calls that discuss the situation in tripoli result in a you being disappeared/killed.
posted by mulligan at 3:56 PM on March 27, 2011


- There continues to be armed gunmen in unmarked trucks posted at street corners, ready to shoot any group of men greater than 3 or 4
- no gatherings, funerals, wedding etc are allowed at all
- no one goes outside after 5 or 6 in the afternoon, under threat of death
posted by mulligan at 3:59 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mulligan, how is this sort of information being distributed? How does he know the consequences for making indiscreet phone calls? Is the curfew official? How does he know that groups of 3 men are safe, but groups of 5 will be shot at?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:22 PM on March 27, 2011


He was explicitly told by a member of the state security who showed up at his home to refrain from making phone calls discussing the situation in libya or leaving his home at night.

Once he wakes up (jet lag), I'll ask him concerning the groups thing.
The deaths, bodies and disappearance of family, friends and neighbors he experienced first hand.
posted by mulligan at 6:33 PM on March 27, 2011


Mulligan: Gosh. Um, please don't pester him on my account.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:34 AM on March 28, 2011


Meet the new boss...., same as the old boss....
posted by Rafaelloello at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2011


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