Saturday, July 2, 2011

News of Air Strikes in Libya Probably Not What It Seems, But Interesting Anyway

The Air Force Times leads off an article yesterday with a paragraph that, in typical journalistic style, goes straight to the matter:
Air Force and Navy aircraft are still flying hundreds of strike missions over Libya despite the Obama administration’s claim that American forces are playing only a limited support role in the NATO operation.
 While updating the claim that the US has flown almost 3500 missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) as well as refueling missions, there have been 801 strike sorties flown, dropping ordnance 132 times.
[Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Nicole] Dalrymple named the Air Force’s F-16CJ and Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft as the primary platforms that have been suppressing enemy air defenses.
 These two platforms are employed as electronic warfare (EW) assets that jam fire-control systems of the enemy or detect enemy frequencies that can be exploited, including using that frequency for missiles to home in on.

These 'strike' missions, though, do not necessarily involve these aircraft going 'feet dry' over Libyan soil.  The vast majority of the Libyan populace lives close to the coastline and the aircraft can stand off over the Mediterranean to perform their missions.  And they are strike missions in that they are attacks, though they don't actually damage anything directly.  The wording of the statement also doesn't directly tie the ordnance drops to manned aircraft - the EW aircraft mentioned don't carry conventional weapons.  The ordnance could have come from unmanned Predator drones.

The particular way that the statement is worded is as interesting as the news itself.  Admitting to strike missions of this sort still falls within the specious reasoning of the administration as it relates to the War Powers Resolution (WPR).  I've written about my attitude toward the WPR here and here, and you can see that while I agree that it is unconstitutional and a means for the Congress to hector a (preferably Republican) president, it nevertheless conveys - albeit in its own awkward and needlessly tendentious manner - the idea that while the president has the authority to conduct operations of this sort in his capacity as Commander-in-chief, he ultimately must have have the approval of the Congress in some way (not necessarily restricted to a declaration of war), not to mention the support of the people and the military as well. 
The Obama administration has said that the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the Libya operation because the U.S. role is limited.

The White House declined to comment on how 801 strike sorties constitutes “limited” involvement, but Harold Koh, a State Department legal adviser, said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that “when U.S forces engage in a limited military mission, that involves limited exposure for U.S. troops, and limited risk of serious escalation, and employs limited military means, we are not in the kind of hostilities of the kind envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”

He said there have been “no active exchanges of fire with hostile forces” despite AFRICOM’s statement that weapons had been dropped during 132 sorties.

Many in Congress on both sides of the aisle vehemently disagree with the White House’s contention.
You bet they do.  We still have the charade that the lack of 'hostilities' (according to the White House) means that we can bomb a country at will as long as our people remain at minimal risk.  I expect that anyone on the receiving end of those bomb strikes, whether in Libya or elsewhere, would disagree.  If the Libyans somehow retaliate, either by hitting one of our aircraft, attacking a rescue force if they attempt to retrieve one of our pilots, or through some asymmetrical attack such as a terrorist assault against one of our embassies elsewhere, does that mean that we are now in a state of hostilities?  And at what limit do our operations cease to be "limited"?  How is that defined?  It is whatever the administration says it is.

While the strikes stated in the press release or the article do not necessarily mean that manned aircraft are doing bombing runs in Libya (Shaw AFB is where the EW F-16s are based, and of course F-15 pilots have no comment about ongoing operations - I would expect anyone in that position to say the same thing), it does shine light on the fact that the Obama crew is making this stuff up as they go along, and putting a lawyerly 'of course I'm right, stop asking questions' spin to the press.

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