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Experts: Plan Now for Post-Gadhafi Libya to Avoid Chaos

A rebel fighter stands on the back of a pick-up truck mounted with a rocket launcher at a staging post on the road between Ajdabiyah and Brega in Libya, April 9, 2011
A rebel fighter stands on the back of a pick-up truck mounted with a rocket launcher at a staging post on the road between Ajdabiyah and Brega in Libya, April 9, 2011
Al Pessin

The United States and its European allies have called for the removal of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and are conducting daily airstrikes to protect civilians that ultimately are helping the rebels trying to oust him.  If their efforts succeed, experts say Libya faces an uncertain future, with many of the same ingredients that led to long conflicts after the fall of the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our correspondent reports from the Pentagon on lessons learned from those conflicts and the type of planning experts say should be done now for a post-Gadhafi Libya.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, American officials found they did not have enough troops to prevent widespread looting and lawlessness, and they did not have a detailed enough plan to establish government services and avoid the creation of the insurgency that plunged the country into years of war.

"Somebody needs to be doing the sort of planning that really had not been done in advance of the United States going into Iraq," said John Pike.

John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, says many of the same factors are in place in Libya that led to the instability in Iraq - including tribal rivalries, the widespread presence of weapons, the likelihood of creating a disaffected group of former troops and regime supporters, and the decades-long reliance on one man to lead the country.

"Moammar Gadhafi has so dominated that country for so long that there really are not effective institutions which could run the country in his absence," he said. "And there’s going to have to be some sort of post-Gadhafi international stabilization effort or the whole thing’s going to fly apart the way Iraq did when the [Saddam Hussein] statue went down."

The NATO operational commander, U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, acknowledged the likely need for some sort of international presence in a post-Gadhafi Libya during testimony before a U.S. Senate committee two weeks ago.

"When you look at the history of NATO, having gone through this, as many on this committee have, with Bosnia and Kosovo, it's quite clear that the possibility of [the need for] a stabilization regime exists," said Admiral Stavridis.

The admiral’s counterpart at U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, had this exchange with Senator Jim Webb the following week.

WEBB:  "I would assume that planners are considering the prospect that there might be an international force on the ground in Libya in the future if Gadhafi leaves.  Is that in the cards?"

HAM:  "Sir, I think that is certainly one potential outcome of this - an international force of some composition intervening between the regime and the opposition forces."

General Ham said such a force could involve U.S. troops, but he said that would not be ideal because it would likely result in negative reactions from people in the region.  Explaining the initial phase of the Libya operation three weeks ago, President Barack Obama said he would not deploy U.S. ground troops.

Now, even with senior officers saying some sort of foreign force will be needed in Libya if Mr. Gadhafi is forced from power, Pentagon officials can not provide information about any planning effort.  They note that the NATO military mission in Libya is being led by European allies, who they presume would also lead any post-conflict stabilization effort.

Again, security analyst John Pike:

"I’m concerned that there’s really not any planning going on in the Defense Department or State Department here, that it’s going to be left up to Italy, France and Britain," said Pike. "And I’m not sure that those countries have the resources to successfully implement a stabilization operation."

At the congressionally funded research organization the United States Institute of Peace, stabilization expert Beth Cole is more optimistic.  She says the United States and its key allies in NATO have years of recent experience with such operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, and they do not want to repeat the mistakes they made in those places.

"I have some faith that we actually have learned something from the last decade and that maybe NATO, the U.S., the French, the Brits and others who also have traveled a similar path are coming at this one with a little bit more knowledge and a little bit more willingness to partner among agencies," said Cole.

Cole says there is Libya planning going on behind closed doors among key U.S. government agencies, including the State Department, the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.  But she says nearly four weeks after the U.N. Security Council vote to authorize the use of force, the planning is at a relatively early stage.  She says there still is no agreement on key goals and the division of responsibilities, or on whether to use the Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction she developed with the U.S. Army in 2009.

Cole says situations like the one that can be expected in Libya if Moammar Gadhafi falls require international and inter-agency efforts aimed at promoting the rule of law, developing a stable economy and creating an effective government.  But she says it all depends on establishing security in what is likely to be a very difficult situation.

"Security is a pre-condition for doing anything else in these environments," she said. "There are a lot of security challenges and we have to really scope those very, very well in this planning process.  And it will require that you probably will need, in the beginning, a pretty robust stabilization force."

Cole adds that long-term stability will require not only a foreign security force, but also an effort to understand and address internal conflicts among Libyan tribes and interest groups - the kind of understanding and plan that did not exist in Iraq.

"If you don’t have a means to help resolve the differences among these entities, then you’re going to have a very insecure environment for a very long time," said Cole.

Cole says one reason that planning for a post-Gadhafi Libya is still in its early stages is that the attention of Western officials has been divided among so many urgent crises in recent months - from Tunisia and Egypt to Japan, Ivory Coast and now Syria, Yemen and Libya.  But Libya is the one crisis where Western military power has been brought to bear, and where NATO allies have declared regime change as their political goal.  Experts say a lot of preparation is needed, and quickly, so that success, if it comes, does not lead to the same problems the allies faced after they achieved their initial goals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

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