Earlier this week, Britain announced it was sending about a dozen military advisers to Libya to help the embattled opposition. Yesterday, France and Italy pledged to do the same. So is this a first step toward “boots on the ground” that NATO and the coalition seem to want to avoid? I’m not so sure. But it would appear that this decision is a recognition of two things: 1) we are in for a long haul in Libya 2) The humanitarian situation in Misrata is very, very dire.
Air power alone was not able to turn the tide against Qaddafi. If the ultimate (though unspoken) goal is regime change, limiting foreign intervention to the sky will not achieve that. Rather, creating a better rebel fighting force on the ground is probably what is necessary. This will take some time.
NATO’s mission is to enforce a UN mandate that calls for the protection of civilians. Given the events in Misrata over the past few days, it would seem that NATO is failing in this regard. The decision to send a few dozen military advisers is recognition that these NATO member states really do take their civilian protection responsibilities seriously and they are not willing to stick with the current, failing strategy.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the UN resolution authorizing the NATO-led military campaign against Qaddafi’s forces specifically excludes the presence of “foreign occupying forces.” Sending some military advisers certainly does not violate the spirit or principal of the resolution; a few dozen military advisers does not an occupation make.
So does this mean that we will eventually see “boots on the ground?” It is not likely. The USA has ruled that out and there’s not much appetite for it in NATO. Also, it would probably require a second UN Security Council resolution, which would be difficult to secure.