Advisors in Libya May Punch Above Their Weight
Libyan rebels will soon be bolstered by the efforts of some 30 to 40 military advisors from Britain, France, and Italy. Critics argue that such a small force can hardly turn the tide of a conflict that seems to be running against the NATO-backed rebels, but in the past such advisory missions have often served as significant force multipliers.
The Turkey-based American journalist Claire Berlinski criticized the terms of the British deployment, which forbid the advisors from training the rebels in the use of weapons and combat tactics. She writes: “They are being sent, apparently, in a ‘mentoring’ role. So they’re going to chair a round-table, maybe?”
To be sure, the Europeans have come under fire for what many perceive as a lackluster performance in the whole Libya affair. The NATO alliance has scrambled to muster enough aircraft to enforce the no-fly zone and has run low on precision-guided munitions.
For observers used to hearing of American-sized deployments — scores of fighters, hundreds of missiles, thousands of troops — the reports that Britain, France, and Italy will be dispatching some 10 military advisors each is often greeted with laughter.
But there may be more to these advisors than meets the eye.
“The number of advisors need not be large at all depending on the objectives to be achieved,” said Dakota Wood, a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Marine Corps and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in an interview with Bellum. He cited the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia during World War I, various CIA efforts during the Cold War, and most recently US support to the Northern Alliance just after the September 11th attacks.
Even in small numbers, Mr. Wood explained, advisors “can have a disproportionate impact on the effectiveness of such a group.” They will provide a key link between the rebels and the capabilities of the NATO coalition — reconnaissance, intelligence and so forth — and, in reverse, provide the Western allies with “real-time intelligence of actual conditions” within the rebel movement.
Further, the Libyan rebels have virtually zero experience, are poorly organized, lack discipline, and have proven unable to coordinate their actions in any meaningful, sustained manner. Mr. Wood argued that the advisory mission would present the rebels with an opportunity “to better organize their fight.” Politically, it also gives the nations involved a way to demonstrate their commitment without deploying ground troops.
There are certainly serious obstacles here. T.E. Lawrence had access to arms and cash, and advised a local leader with high prestige. The same may not hold true for the Libyan situation. Also, the mere presence of these advisors on the ground may implicate Western governments, however unfairly, if any war crimes are committed by the rebels in the future.
Whether or not this constitutes mission creep, as suggested by some critics, is an interesting question. The term, after all, implies that there was ever a clearly defined mission to begin with.