Operation Odyssey Dawn Case Study

USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile — one of about 110 cruise missiles fired from U.S. and British ships and submarines targetting radar and anti-aircraft sites along Libya’s Mediterranean coast. (Photo by Jonathan Sunderman/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Updated 5:14 p.m. ET with President Obama’s remarks | The United States and European forces attacked Libyan air defense systems along that country’s Northern coast Saturday in an effort to enforce a no-fly zone and prevent the Libyan regime from further attacks on its own citizens and opposition groups.

At the Pentagon Saturday, a senior military official briefing reporters on background said U.S. forces would lead an international coalition, providing command and control, and other unique military capabilities such as cruise missiles and electronic attacks.

The official said in the coming days the U.S. would transition command and control to others in the coalition, although the U.S. would continue to provide unique military capabilities that other countries in the coalition lack. At this point, the Pentagon official said, the other countries in the coalition were France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada, and that they expected some Arab countries to join in the coming days.

When asked if the Libyan regime leadership was a target, the senior military official declined to answer. However, Libyan ground forces could be attacked by the U.S. because they were around the air-defense system, the official said.

Officials did not say if U.S. aircraft were involved in the operation. French officials reported their planes had been involved in an attack.

Reporters at the Pentagon were shown a map indicating where the first targets were to be hit by U.S. forces. There were no strikes around the town of Benghazi which has been the center of resistance to Col. Moammar Gadhafi. The senior defense official said “we are going to target that part of the integrated air-defense missile defense system that we are most concerned about.”

The senior defense official also said that Gadhafi’s forces have “clearly been on the offensive. … He said that he was going to do a cease-fire and he continued to move his forces into Benghazi.”

The senior defense official also said the operation, called Odyssey Dawn*, was being lead by Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command.

President Obama, who is on a five-day trip to Latin America, spoke to reporters Saturday about the U.S. involvement in Libya. Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal filed this pool report:

President Obama told reporters that he had authorized “limited military action in Libya” and reported, “That action has begun.”

He said the U.S. will contribute its “unique capabilities at the front end,” but did not specify what that meant.

Mr. Obama said the use of force was not his first choice and “not a choice I make lightly.”

“In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition” that is committed to enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution that called for protecting the Libyan people.

He said he consulted his international security team and the bipartisan leadership of Congress before acting. He promised to “keep the American people fully informed.”

The president reiterated that the U.S. will not send in ground troops.

“Today I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya,” he began. “That action has now begun.”

Obama said he had given Muammar Gaddafi the chance to avoid this outcome. “Despite the hollow words of his government, he has ignored that opportunity,” Obama said.

“His attacks on his own people have continued, his forces have been on the move and the danger faced by the people of Libya has grown,” he told reporters.

“We must be clear, actions have consequences and the writ of the international community must be enforced,” he said.

He emphasized the international support for the action and said he was proud the U.S. was acting as part of a coalition that included “partners who are prepared to meet their responsibilities.”

“Make no mistake: today we are part of a broad coalition,” he said, a contrast to the Iraq invasion that was opposed by many allies and by Mr. Obama himself. “We are acting in the interest of the United States and the world.”

World leaders met in Paris Saturday to decide on military action in Libya.

Read our earlier post on the decision by world powers to launch military action against Libya.

Several news organizations are tracking developments in Libya. Among them, Al Jazeera English has a live blog; BBC News has a live blog and news stream; the Telegraph has a live blog; and The New York Times is tracking events, with features like this interactive map of the Libya rebellion.

James Foley of GlobalPost filed the following video report from Benghazi as rebels were grabbing knives, grenades and guns to battle Gadhafi forces encroaching on the city.

Warning: Video contains graphic footage.

We’ll have more on the Rundown as events warrant and more analysis of all these developments on Monday’s PBS NewsHour.

*An earlier version of this post had the incorrect name of the military mission as “Audacity Dawn.” This version has been corrected.

View all of our international coverage on World and follow us on Twitter.

According to a report published in these hours by the UN Commission of inquiry on Libya, the coalition of NATO and non-NATO members, operating within Operation Unified Protector to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, may have violated the law of war in some air strikes that caused the death of civilians.

Nothing comparable to the international crimes, both crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed by Gaddafi forces and including unlawful killing, individual acts of torture and ill-treatment, attacks on civilians using prohibited weapons (cluster munitions and anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines), and rape;  nor the “serious violations” committed by the thuwar (anti-Gaddafi forces aka “rebels”), that included unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, indiscriminate attacks, and pillage.

NATO told the Commission that it had a standard of “zero expectation” of death or injury to civilians and that no targets were struck if there was any reason to believe civilians would be injured or killed by a strike.

The vast majority of NATO airstrikes did not cause collateral damages, even where there was a significant potential for civilian harm: for example, on May 24-25 when NATO aircraft struck the Bab-al-Aziziyah facility, the headquarters and residence of Gaddafi in central Tripoli numerous security buildings, located less than 300 meters from civilian apartment buildings, (close enough to be at risk of collateral damage), were destroyed without civilian casualties.

However, “on limited occasions, the Commission confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence of military utility. The Commission was unable to draw conclusions in such instances on the basis of the information provided by NATO and recommends further investigations.”

Indeed the conclusion is:

The Commission found NATO did not deliberately target civilians in Libya. For the few targets struck within population centres, NATO took extensive precautions to ensure civilians were not killed.

However, there were a small number of strikes where NATO’s response to the Commission has not allowed it to draw conclusions on the rationale for, or the circumstances of the attacks. The Commission is unable to conclude, barring additional explanation, whether these strikes are consistent with NATO’s objective to avoid civilian casualties entirely, or whether NATO took all necessary precautions to that effect.

NATO’s characterization of four of five targets where the Commission found civilian casualties as “command and control nodes” or “troop staging areas” is not reflected in evidence at the scene and witness testimony. The Commission is unable to determine, for lack of sufficient information, whether these strikes were based on incorrect or out-dated intelligence and, therefore, whether they were consistent with NATO’s objective to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties entirely.

The Commission has investigated numerous strikes in Libya, especially those where civilians died. And although it determined that NATO did not commit any human right violation, nor used  prohinited weapons, found some oddities.

As the use of “miscellaneous Precision Guided Munitions”, four of which were employed along with 3,644 LGBs, 2,844 GPS-guided, 1,150 precision-guided direct-fire weapons (such as Hellfire missiles), or the use of expired materials.

For instance, in one of those air strikes, the one in the town of Majer in the area of Al Huwayjat on Aug. 8 that resulted in the single largest case of civilian casualties from a NATO airstrike NATO dropped a GBU-12 bomb whose guidance kit was more than five years past its warranty date (2005).

GBU-12 guidance kit debris with warranty expired in 2005

Even if this is not “ethical” nor safe, there are still some reasons to explain the use obsolete components that might turn a smart weapon into a dumb one. Usually, a laser designator past its warranty expiration date would not be used whereas a tail kit of a PGM, used for bomb guidance, could be used past warranty date, after being checked to see if the fins deployed according to military sources.

In fact, NATO’s answer was that “the fact alone that an expiration date has been passed does not mean that a weapon is no longer reliable.”

Nevertheless, the usage of such old parts indicates that NATO partners were probably running very low on bomb (as pointed out in my final report on the Libya Air War).

But, what’s really amazing in the report is that NATO did not answer to all the UN Commission’s requests; requests aimed to determine the legitimacy of few air striks. On the contrary, it officially affirmed to be concerned if  some incidents (as the above) were included in the final report, “as on a par with those which the Commision may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes.”

That’s what emerges from a series of letter (last of which dated Feb.15) sent by NATO’s legal adviser to Judge P. Kirsch, Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, to answer questions about the way the air campaign was conducted, specific targeting procedures, type of munitions used, etc.

[Annex II pag. 12 of the report]:

“We would accordingly request that, in the Commission elects to include discussion of NATO actions in Libya, its report clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.”

Earlier NATO had already explained to be not “persuaded that examination of conduct of parties to the Libyan internal conflict implies expansion of the Commission’s work to include “investigation” of NATO’s actions giving effect to the mandate contained in UN Security Resolution 1973.”

Anyway, the Commission’s report contains lots of interesting things (number and type of weapons used, maps, satellite imagery, and so on) so I suggest you to read it at this link.

Related articles
You can find it in Operation Odyssey Dawn, Operation Unified Protector Tags: Gaddafi, Human Right Council, Joint Direct Attack Munition, Laser-guided bomb, Libya, NATO, Operation Unified Protector, Precision-guided munition, Tripoli, UN Security Council, United Nations, Warfare and Conflict
on by David Cenciotti.

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