On the Limits of Air Power

Posted by lex, on March 27th, 2011

You don’t have to go back very far in our nation’s history to discover what can – and cannot – be accomplished through air power alone. But the 90s were so ten years ago, so Daniel Byman goes there for us:

After the Gulf War ended in 1991, Hussein began massacring Iraqi Kurds and Shiites who, with U.S. encouragement, had risen up against him. As in Libya, the massacres were blamed in part on the Iraqi leader’s air superiority, including helicopters. To counter this, and to send a message that the world would not stand idly by, the United States and its allies enforced a no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Hussein pulled back in the north but continued to slaughter Iraqi Shiites, leading to the creation in 1992 of a similar no-fly zone in southern Iraq. In 1994, concerned about Iraqi military aggression against Kuwait, the United States established a no-drive zone in southern Iraq. During this time, the United States also bombed Iraq’s air defenses that threatened patrolling allied aircraft, hoping to shake its foundations and topple its dictator.

No one imagined that Hussein would still be in charge a decade after the no-fly zone began. He seemed sure to fall in 1991, after the Gulf War humiliated him and defeated his armies. But in the 1990s he survived coup attempts, tribal revolts and religious opposition. The Iraqi dictator, like other successful tyrants, did one thing well — secure his power.

The initial push for a no-fly zone over Libya appeared to be based on hope that the dictator there would fall soon. Gaddafi’s grip on power, like Hussein’s in 1991, is tenuous, but he appears to have stopped the waves of defections and is now consolidating his position. Or, as he so eloquently put it, “I am here, I am here, I am here.”

He is there, and his purges in Tripoli will continue, even if his efforts against the Benghazi-based opposition falter in the face of international attacks. His cash hoards and brutal security services will be used together to ensure loyalty, particularly among his military forces and key tribal allies. All this makes a coup or revolt less likely to succeed. The hope that the intervention would last for days, not weeks or months, will be tested.

I made three SOUTHERN WATCH deployments over Iraq, and don’t get me wrong, it was fun while it lasted. Great weapons training, lots of gas in the air and nothing focuses your mind like being shot at.

It just didn’t, over the course of 12 years, amount to much of anything.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, GWOT, Lex

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