Obama Authorizes Use of Predator Drones in Libya

April 22, 2011

Government Relations Update - Defense

On Thursday, President Obama approved the use of armed Predator Drones in Libya.  According to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the unmanned Predators would allow for “some precision capability” against forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gaddafi, as well as provide a modest contribution to NATO efforts to support Libyan rebels, who have complained that NATO airstrikes have been largely ineffective at stopping Gaddafi’s forces.  The U.S. military will fly a maximum of two Predators over Libya at any given time.  The aircraft are already being used to target militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The move follows reports of rebels taking control of the Libyan side of the border crossing with Tunisia on Thursday, waving the country’s pre-Gaddafi flag.  The rebels took control of the border town of Dhiba after an early morning battle that sent 13 Gaddafi soldiers, including a colonel and two other officers, fleeing into Tunisian custody.  This development suggests a possible break in the stalemate that has settled over the Libyan civil war; and also may lead to the first national uprising since the beginning of NATO airstrikes against the Gaddafi military.  It is unclear whether the rebels can maintain control of Dhiba; but its capture suggests the possibility of a border crossing that Western opponents of Colonel Gaddafi could use to send in supplies—perhaps even weapons.

NATO, meanwhile, has signaled it may ramp up air strikes against the Gaddafi regime.  NATO has issued a new warning to Libyan civilians to stay away from military areas—foreshadowing plans for attacks on targets seen as strategically significant in stopping the government's attacks against civilians.  The next phase will largely involve increased air strikes on key Gadhafi command, control and communications sites in and around Tripoli, although targets in other areas could be hit as well.

On Friday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of the strongest proponents in Congress of the American military intervention in Libya, arrived in Benghazi, a city that has been the opposition capital in the rebel-held eastern Libya.  The visit by McCain was shrouded in secrecy due to heightened security for the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.   McCain said he was in Benghazi “to get an on the ground assessment of the situation” and plans to meet with the rebel National Transition Council, the de-facto government in the eastern half of the country, and members of the rebel military.

Gates Foresees Turning Point in Afghanistan War as Violence is Set to Increase

As peak fighting season in Afghanistan begins over the next few months, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates displayed one of his more optimistic predictions by stating that if the hard-won security gains against the Taliban during the past year, the United States and its allies may find they have “turned a corner” by the end of 2011.  However, Gates warned that there has been “some uptick in activity” by Taliban fighters, and that he expected “an increase in the level of violence and activity beginning in a few weeks.”  U.S. military officials have said the Taliban's momentum has been reversed, but Gates warned that its fighters “clearly intend to try to take that back.”

The U.S. plans to begin pulling out some of its nearly 100,000 troops from Afghanistan in July.  Each spring and summer, the Taliban step up their attacks against the Afghan government forces and the NATO-led coalition supporting them.  That increased offensive is anticipated to begin next month, although allied commanders believe it will be less effective than in previous years because NATO forces found and destroyed many Taliban arms caches over during the cold season.  The stated U.S. and NATO goal is to have Afghan forces take the combat lead by the end of 2014.  Gates' comment suggested that he believes the war timeline is on track, although doubts persist that the Afghan government will be capable after 2014 of sustaining the gains achieved by then.

Defense Department to Rework Acquisition Requirements Process

The Defense Department has announced it is abandoning the notoriously slow-moving Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (“JCIDS”) process, which defines acquisition requirements for the military.  In a speech earlier this month before an audience at the 27th National Space Symposium, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said that the department intends to align itself with acquisition and three levels of risk.  The new strategy would allow the Defense Department to more quickly purchase urgently-needed equipment without delay.  Cartwright said that such systems could range from a truck to something the size of an aircraft carrier.  “It demands of industry to go out to get the tools that allow us to build a truck in less than 14 years,” Cartwright said. 

Announcing plans to stand down the Joint Forces Command, Cartwright stated that the department will be moving that function into the J-7 of the Joint Staff.  Cartwright also announced plans to align J-8 and J-7; the J-8 will be material solutions, J-7 will be non-material solutions.  He added that the two offices will work together under the auspices of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The new strategy would also allow the Defense Department to buy space systems for one-third of the cost it now pays because the Pentagon would be able to buy equipment off the shelf.

Quote of the Week

“Had we not acted in Libya, Benghazi would have become a scene of mass slaughter and a source of international shame.  Libyan refugees would now be streaming into Egypt and Tunisia, destabilizing those critical countries during their already daunting political transitions… The forces of counterrevolution across the region would have gotten the message that the world would tolerate the violent oppression of peaceful demonstrations for universal rights.”

- Sen. John McCain

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