American war tactics seems to be evolving in the direction I suggested last night. The essential strategic issue for American, British, and French politicians is that their decision to launch the war was so offhand and irresponsible that they need to win (i.e., remove Kaddafi) or face embarrassing questions. If you get to declare victory, however, then those question diminish. As Gen. Patton liked to say, "Americans love a winner."
The NYT reports:
Having all but destroyed the Libyan air force and air defenses, the allies turned their firepower Wednesday on the military units loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi that are besieging rebel-held cities.... Loyalist forces have surrounded two rebel-held cities in the west, Zintan and Misurata, and the strategic eastern city of Ajdabiya ...
In Ajdabiya, which has changed hands several times, residents said relentless shelling by loyalist troops had forced them to flee. One report called the city a “ghost town.”
You'll notice the American sleight-of-hand here: Unlike some cities in the west that are rebel controlled and besieged by loyalists, whose relief could, theoretically be justified as humanitarian, Ajdabiya is loyalist-controlled and besieged by rebels. Gaddafi would be happy with a cease fire in Ajdabiya. But Ajdabiya is the key to taking the oil fields away from Gaddafi. Presumably, the colonialist powers' coalition's most favored outcome is a quick coup in Tripoli followed by a new regime that makes democratic-sounding noises and gets the oil flowing again. But, perhaps, Gaddafi won't be overthrown in Tripoli as long as he holds onto the oilfields.
“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” Admiral Hueber acknowledged. “Our primary focus is to interdict those forces before the enter the city, cut of their lines of communication and cut off their command and control.” In military terms, “lines of communication” include supply lines.
As long as the regime’s forces are fighting in and around cities where the allies have ordered them to back off, he said, coalition attacks would continue. He said the allies are in communication with the Libyan units about what they need to do, where to go and how to arrange their forces to avoid attack, but that there was “no indication” that the regime’s ground forces were following the instructions.
I'm guessing that these instructions are that Gaddafi's forces can drive in a convoy toward Surt and maybe we won't kill you, but it would be useful to see them printed out. Further, how much would you trust the Americans if you were hunkered down inside a city that the Americans would be reluctant to flatten and you're hearing some kind of message that they want you to come out on the open road and drive through the desert. Uh, no thanks, we prefer staying alive. I wouldn't trust the American air force to not kill me on a Highway of Death unless Obama himself appeared on Al-Jazeera and promised in front of the Arab World that here's the deal: you drive at such and such an hour in such and such a direction and we won't kill you.
The LA Times has a story that is somewhat contradictory of the NY Times story:
Pentagon officials said Wednesday they were not attacking Libyan units inside cities because of the danger that such tactics would cause civilian casualties. They also said their orders were not to destroy the Libyan army or to provide air cover to opposition forces, limiting the types of strikes they can undertake.
Instead, they said, they were striking Kadafi's forces before they entered urban areas, as well as supply lines and headquarters facilities, in hopes of pressuring them to halt attacks against civilians. But the officers offered no timetable on U.S. pursuit of this strategy, with Kadafi's attacks in civilian areas apparently escalating
Overall, the high level of dissembling and blatant spinning by American politicians and generals during this war is likely to drag out the bloodshed. If Obama were to come out and say, "We're in it to win it. We will apply overwhelming firepower to make Gaddafi go away. The faster he goes, the fewer bombs will be dropped on his supporters. Gaddafi will lose, so the only question is whether he goes the easy way or the hard way," the clearer the message would be. Instead, Obama has constantly talked about "the U.S. stepping back" and other misdirection and feints for domestic and international consumption that confuse the message being sent to Libya.
Instead, the current mishmash of messages suggests to Gaddafi's mercenaries that they need to get out of the desert and hunker down in cities, which is the opposite of what the war was trumpeted as accomplishing.