A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

The revolution has failed. Let's hope David Cameron realises that.

Predicting the outcome of a war is not an exact science. Two very different people can pick up the same newspaper, and come up with wildly different ideas about where the war will go. A world-famous academic, an expert with decades of military experience, could walk into a shop, buy a newspaper, sell his theory to the press and be completely and utterly wrong on every subject. Meanwhile, a misinformed member of the chattering classes could walk into a shop, buy the same newspaper, discuss it over a pint with his friends, and be proven correct. But, that said, there are some general rules of thumb that the aspiring armchair general would do well to pay attention to. One of them is: if a revolution cannot succeed of its own accord, then it probably cannot form a stable government, and isn't worth backing.

The Libyan rebels, the Transitional National Council, can't seem to succeed, either of their own accord or with the backing of western air power. The frontline of the civil war is still barely a hundred miles from where it began, between the towns of Brega and Ajdabiya. There are some reports that Brega has been captured by the loyalist tanks, and there are even rumours of an assault on Ajdabiya that could drive the rebels right the way back to the eastern border. Admiral Mike Mullen has claimed that the loyalists have up to ten times the firepower of the rebel forces, and America's combat aircraft have officially pulled out. NATO is running out of options if it wants to see a revolution. The suggestion of arming the Libyan rebels has been harmed by the press-release from Captain Obvious that there were 'flickers of terrorist activity' amongst their ranks, so the only real option left is to send in ground forces.

This is an option that I hope no western leader would ever seriously consider; however, I do not doubt their capacity for such irrational decisions, and would not be surprised if ground troops were not deployed to the country. Such an intervention - should the government choose to go ahead with it - will result in chaos. The British army could barely function in a desert region before 1997; now, after twenty years of savage cuts and five conflicts, it is simply beyond its capabilities. The north of Libya could be subdued easily enough, if the rebels are as popular as they claim, but the south is the power-base of the current ruling classes; both the current leader's tribe and his sub-Saharan mercenaries are here. It is a vast expanse of sparsely-populated desert. It would be impossible for helicopters to land in the sand - more than eighteen inches and it is considered to be dangerous. The British army's surveillance aircraft have been scrapped, making traversing the desert a lot more dangerous for troops on the ground. And as there are no aircraft carriers, there will be relatively little air cover for the army.

Their opponents will be desert warriors, a loose coalition of tribes and sub-Saharan Africans, used to conflict and armed and equipped with the latest revolutionary kit. Most of the arms and equipment of the special forces will have been supplied by Britain, under an agreement signed between Blair and the Libyan leader. It is never advisable to send troops into a hostile environment which the army is not prepared for against an enemy of your own making. But now Britain has cut the things that would make such an intervention conceivable; let's hope that David Cameron's military judgement realises that, before he commits us to another war which the current British army cannot win.

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