Major-General Julian Thompson: The West has learnt few lessons from past conflicts

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The Independent Online

The deployment of Apache helicopters in Libya, and the intensification of the bombing campaign, is further evidence that the mission was ill-thought through from the outset.

It has been shown at various times in the past that no-fly zones very rarely work, and, as many predicted, we are now in a position of utter stalemate in Libya. The mission is now stuck, and with Nato unwilling to employ ground troops, there are few available options.

The first, which would of course be passed off as accidental, is to target Colonel Gaddafi himself. It is entirely possible that this has already been tried, especially with the various attacks on his compound in Tripoli. If the allies were to kill the Libyan leader, and successfully suggest it was an accident – that Gaddafi happened to be under a bomb, rather than being targeted directly – it would serve to remove an important figurehead for the Libyan regime.

The more likely scenario, especially now that the helicopters are being used, would be to better arm the rebels and allow them to call in specific support. This could easily be combined with the deployment of covert special forces on the ground, who would act in support of the rebels, and as guide for those newly engaged helicopters.

Should Nato choose this course, it will be lost on none of the conflict's detractors that ground troops, which were specifically ruled out at the start, had been employed; comparisons with Iraq will not be far behind.

All this is, of course, a long way from the initial mission, and may seem to be pie in the sky compared with the mandate, which was to defend civilians from Gaddafi's aggression. What it does demonstrate is that there is plenty of indecision over what to do next.

By embarking on this mission, Nato and the West has demonstrated that it has learnt few lessons from the past and is again stuck in a messy situation.

Major-General Thompson was British land commander in the Falkland Islands during the first phase of the war in 1982