AFRICOM's Libyan Expedition

How War Will Change the Command's Role on the Continent

Courtesy Reuters

Until Operation Odyssey Dawn began in Libya on March 19, U.S. Africa Command -- the United States’ newest combatant command, established in October 2008 -- was largely untested. There was reason to worry that AFRICOM, which would lead the operation, was too green, and its mandate too soft, for it to perform up to U.S. standards.

Yet in launching the U.S. intervention in Libya, AFRICOM, led by its commander, General Carter Ham, acquitted itself well. On the first day of the operation, it coordinated the combat operations of 11 American warships and dozens of aircraft, fired 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and delivered 45 Joint Direct Attack Munitions to ground targets. By March 23, AFRICOM-led coalition forces had steadily expanded the no-fly zone from northwest Libya and parts of central Libya to the entire coastline. And on March 26, AFRICOM began coordinating operations to destroy armored vehicles, effectively (if not with specific intent) providing close air support to rebel forces. AFRICOM lost only one aircraft -- an F-15 fighter that crashed on March 22 due to a mechanical malfunction -- and suffered no fatalities.

There was, however, political backlash to AFRICOM’s active fighting role in the conflict. Although the three African non-permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda -- had acquiesced to UN Resolution 1973, the bill that green-lighted the intervention, the African Union unequivocally opposed it. After the campaign began, the AU even tried to arrange a cease-fire, under which Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi would have opened channels for humanitarian aid and undertaken negotiations with the rebels but would also have been allowed to stay in power.

Qaddafi, of course, had been the driving force behind the creation of the AU, in 2002 (an effort he hoped would revitalize his geopolitical relevance). Many African leaders, from relatively enlightened ones such as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to incorrigible rogues like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, could well view Operation Odyssey Dawn as a harbinger of new liberal interventionism in Africa, and AFRICOM

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