Scenarios – Possible scenarios for Libyan conflict

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The world is split over how to respond to the conflict in Libya, where leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops are advancing on rebel forces in the east.

Following are some possible scenarios for the outcome of the revolt and the military options open to foreign powers, according to a briefing by experts from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British-based think tank.

GOVERNMENT STRATEGY

The Libyan government has probably allocated a brigade-sized force to each of the two main areas of operations, in eastern and western Libya, said Ben Barry, a senior fellow for land warfare at the IISS and a former brigadier in the British army, Reuters reports.

In total, these forces numbered around 10,000 troops, with several hundred armored vehicles and about 100 artillery pieces. The number of casualties was unknown.

In western Libya, after stamping out a rebellion in Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, the government is blockading and bombarding the rebel-held town of Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, Barry said. In the east, a brigade-sized force is advancing toward the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
“If Benghazi falls, Misrata can be dealt with at the government’s leisure,” Barry said.

He said Libyan government forces might reach Benghazi in five to 10 days, or even sooner, and would attempt to storm the city quickly. If the assault failed, the government would probably try to surround the town and besiege it.

The Libyan government might also send a force to seize the border crossing with Egypt.

The government may be limiting the use of air power to avoid bolstering support for foreign military intervention.

While a government victory was probable, it was “not necessarily inevitable,” Barry said.

REBEL STRATEGY

The rebels aim to keep control of Benghazi so they can build their strength and take the fight to the government.
“The obvious military course of action for the rebels is to fortify Benghazi and seek to make any battle in and around it appear like the siege of Sarajevo in order to foster international support,” Barry said.

Bosnian Serb forces besieged Sarajevo for 43 months during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s.

The rebels could also consider guerrilla warfare against government supply lines.
“The longer the war goes on, the more the rebels may become radicalized and turn to terrorism, including suicide bombing, as an option,” Barry said.

MILITARY OPTIONS FOREIGN POWERS COULD CONSIDER
— Supplying the rebels with intelligence or non-lethal aid, such as fuel, rations and secure communications.
— Supplying the rebels with weapons or giving them military training.
— Deploying teams of advisers, including special forces, to Libya to help the rebels coordinate their efforts.

However, the IISS said all these options carried the risk that foreign troops could be killed, wounded or captured by government forces and that the government could use any prisoners as hostages.
— A no-fly zone, proposed by Britain and France, and/or a maritime exclusion zone to prevent assaults on civilians by the Libyan air force or navy.
— Direct military support for the rebels with strikes on Libyan government forces.

PROS AND CONS OF A NO-FLY ZONE

As few as 40 fixed-wing aircraft may be operational from Libya’s notional combat fleet of 200-plus planes, IISS senior fellow for military aerospace Douglas Barrie said. The bulk of air force equipment was obsolescent in Western terms, he said.

Libya has a land area some 35 times that of Bosnia where NATO implemented a no-fly zone in the early 1990s.

But an operation to impose a no-fly zone over a limited area of Libya could be mounted with limited or no U.S. support.

A no-fly zone could be implemented around Benghazi with a comparatively small number of combat and support aircraft.

WHO COULD CARRY OUT ANY OF THE MILITARY OPTIONS?

Gulf or Arab League countries have warships and fighter aircraft but have shown little capability to deploy these forces outside their region and Gulf countries are distracted by the Bahrain crisis.

The United States has shown no enthusiasm for undertaking military operations in Libya and political will seemed to be lacking in NATO and the European Union.

Britain and France each probably have the military capabilities to mount a limited no-fly zone or maritime exclusion zone. Together, they could lead a “coalition of the willing” including forces from Muslim states.

WHAT IF GADDAFI WINS?

A rebel defeat would not necessarily end the war, the IISS experts said. There could be repression and settling of scores in the immediate aftermath and rebels could resort to insurgency.

Al Qaeda and other Islamic militants might see it as an opportunity to re-establish themselves in Libya, or they could be wooed by Gaddafi.



Another possible outcome is a military stalemate and effective partition of Libya.