Launched against the regime of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi on 19 March, UN-mandated Operation "Odyssey Dawn" has a feel of déjà vu about it.

The first apparent parallel comes from 1986, when the USA attempted to depose its adversary by launching a strike from the UK using F-111 bombers. The opening salvoes of the current coalition campaign, fired using US Air Force B-2 stealth bombers, Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s with Storm Shadow cruise missiles and with ship- and submarine-launched Tomahawks, was also reminiscent of the so-called "shock and awe" phase of the second Iraq War, which started on the same day in 2003.

But one of the clearest comparisons can be found by looking at the current effort to enforce security council resolution 1973 and the no-fly zone in Libya against NATO-led Operation "Allied Force" against Serbian Slobodan Milosevic over his action in Kosovo 12 years ago.

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Not for turning: Gaddafi fooled Western leaders

As in 1999, allied forces swiftly overwhelmed and degraded their enemy's air defence and command and control system, while air superiority has all but grounded opposition aircraft from mounting aggression against civilians. But just like before, with the air war seemingly won, the focus has switched to one of having to provide over-watch cover. How long will this continue, and how effective can it be in guarding against attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces in Benghazi and, perhaps more crucially, in other towns where there is less surveillance activity?

Without putting friendly boots on the ground, it is hard to see how the coalition can see through its tacit desire for regime change, unless Gaddafi's remaining armed forces are to turn on their leader. If the latter fails to happen then the participating nations and NATO could be looking at a lengthy stalemate, which would further sap resources already tried by the demands of the much larger mission in Afghanistan.

Western leaders got it badly wrong in courting Gaddafi over the years since he abandoned his programme to develop weapons of mass destruction, as events have shown that this despot was not for turning. There will be much embarrassment too among the major defence contractors who rushed to Libya in a bid to modernise his largely poorly equipped armed forces and secure valuable export sales.

Had a few more years passed before the recent uprising against him took hold, then the coalition act of "kicking down the door" could have been a much tougher and altogether bloodier affair.

Source: Flight International