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Air power alone rarely enough to decide conflicts

Foreign powers attacking Libya may hope air and missile strikes alone will topple Muammar Gaddafi and perhaps usher in democracy - but recent history suggests they could be in for a long and complex engagement.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2011 00:23 IST

Foreign powers attacking Libya may hope air and missile strikes alone will topple Muammar Gaddafi and perhaps usher in democracy - but recent history suggests they could be in for a long and complex engagement.

Air strikes aimed at halting ethnic violence had only limited effect in achieving their goals in Bosnia and Kosovo until backed with the threat of effective ground action or at least the deployment of well-armed peacekeepers.

In Afghanistan, an air campaign and special forces support was enough to oust the Taliban from power after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but that war is far from over a decade on with thousands of NATO troops battling an ongoing insurgency. In Iraq, more than a decade of sanctions, a no-fly zone and repeated bouts of air strikes that followed the end of the 1991 war helped Kurdish regions remain largely free from Saddam Hussein but otherwise allowed him to remain in power.

A change in western policy and overwhelming military force swiftly ended his rule in 2003, but that proved the beginning of a bloody civil war and protracted US-led military intervention is only just drawing to a close.

The speed with which Britain, the US and France have found themselves effectively at war in Libya at a time when much attention was focused on Japan's earthquake has meant there was little of the public debate that preceded the 2003 Iraq war.