Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Airstrikes More Difficult as War Moves to Tripoli: "Change in tactics is needed" -- Hmm, ground troops perhaps?

The NATO air campaign that was instrumental in helping the rebels advance into Tripoli is hamstrung in many ways now that the fighting has turned into complex house-to-house urban warfare, American military and allied officials said Tuesday.

For legal and practical reasons, as well as to avoid the perception of bombing indiscriminately inside Tripoli, the Libyan capital, allied warplanes will continue to prowl for targets, but mostly on the outskirts of the city where government troops might be trying to escape or reinforce Tripoli — and where the risk of civilian casualties is much lower, allied officials said.

A NATO spokesman, Col. Roland Lavoie, said at a news conference in Naples, Italy, on Tuesday that “there are still weapons out there and there are still targets that we could hit if we have any signs that they could represent a threat to the civilian population.”

But he and other NATO officials acknowledged that the urban environment in Tripoli, a city of about two million people, was “far more complex” for airstrikes than past targets have been.

Until now, the vast majority of targets attacked in Tripoli have been sites suspected of being military command headquarters or weapons-storage buildings that NATO monitored closely for days or weeks with surveillance aircraft, including Predator drones, to ensure that no civilians were living or working there.

Allied targeting experts and fighter pilots do not have that option with the rapidly shifting battle lines in block-by-block combat carried on by fighters on both sides dressed in civilian clothing.

“It could be difficult, because the use of air power, to a large degree, is negated when you get into this kind of urban warfare,” Senator John McCain said Tuesday on “The Early Show” on CBS. “It’s hard to identify targets and hard to be effective. But I don’t think there’s any doubt of the eventual outcome.” more