‘No-fly’ zoning not an easy solution for Libya 

It’s easy for politicians to say we should establish a “no-fly” zone over Libya. The desire to stop Muammar Gadhafi from further bombing and strafing of his own people is a praiseworthy humanitarian idea, and the words fall easily off the tongue.

But as the Libyan death toll mounts, the calls for U.S. and NATO military action have quieted. As well they should because there are two overwhelming reasons America should not intervene militarily.

First and foremost, Libya isn’t our fight. Though Gadhafi’s terrorist regime has been our enemy for decades, the facts that it is falling without our intervention — and that there is no potential ally among the rebels — compel the conclusion that there is no reason to risk American lives to propel the dictator out the door.

Second, the methods and means for us to intervene are few and very expensive, especially the proposal to establish a “no-fly” zone over Libya, as we did for a decade over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

At the risk of injecting some facts into the “no-fly” zone debate, let’s start with the reality that Libya is a big place. From Tripoli and Zuwara in the west, to Tobruk in the east, Libya’s coast line stretches over 1,000 miles. At least eight major cities along the coastline would have to be covered every day and every night.

To create a “no-fly” zone we — with or without additional NATO forces — would have to establish air supremacy over Libya and may have to bomb Libyan bases or shoot down its air forces. It can all be done, but only with a huge deployment of air assets badly needed elsewhere.

For eight cities, you’d have to have at least two fighters aloft above each 24/7. Add about four AWACS radar aircraft, three or four tankers and repositioned reconnaissance satellites and other assets. But don’t forget that those pilots are human. The fighter pilots can’t fly more than four or five hours at a stretch, so instead of 16 to cover eight cities, you need at least 64.

And you may need eight or 10 AWACS ships, more tankers and all the rest. The more “tooth” you add, the more “tail” you need. And that presumes you can base the air forces out of the NATO base at Sigonella, Italy.

The other bases are so far away or politically off-limits (Turkey won’t allow the use of bases there) that it gets more complicated and more expensive. It can be done, but only at huge expense and at the risk of depriving US forces in action of needed air cover, unless NATO could come up with a carrier force to accomplish the mission.

But, of course, only America has a capable carrier fleet. The Brits have one jump-jet ship which isn’t capable of much and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle is, well, French. It’s beautiful to look at, but it breaks down.

Of American carrier forces, the Chief of Naval Operations has obligated himself to keep two carriers on station to help CENTCOM’s campaign in Afghanistan. Which leaves eight to meet U.S. naval obligations in the rest of the world.

It would be very different if Americans were being held hostage or even if Libyan oil was our economy’s life-line. But neither being the case, we must not strip badly-needed forces from Afghanistan and elsewhere to rezone Libyan skies.

Much of Europe depends on Libyan oil. It’s a shame that most of Europe has disarmed itself to such a degree that it can’t protect its own interests there.

Author Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration.

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