Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finite Resources and Expanding Commitments

I snarkily responded to a tweet about the possible redeployment of armed drones from Afghanistan/Pakistan to use over/around Libya.  And now I see that Obama has approved such "low density/high demand" assets for Libya.  What this really shows is that the US does have finite means, as there are only fifty or so armed drones. 

This raises two questions.  First, is Libya really that important compared to Afghanistan?  Or do we control the airspace and ground enough in Afghanistan to rely on other means (blimps are all the rage these days)?  Having the US/NATO stumble in Libya is significant, but this does raise an important issue about priorties.

Second, what is really going on here is this: Obama is really trying to avoid increasing the US commitment, but is it a wise choice not to use other assets instead: A-10's and AC-130's, which are available?

The problem is that the international effort in/over Libya needs platforms that can fly slow and stay in one place to detect mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and other more modest weapons that the Libyan forces are using against the rebels (and journalists).  The Europeans do not seem to have much on the shelf that is good for this part of the campaign.  The US does not want to take the lead/ownership of this, but the reluctance to use some of the appropriate although perhaps riskier assets means that we have to reduce some of the scarce resources that have been dedicated to Afghanistan. 

I understand that Obama is in a difficult position, but I am not sure that preventing the use of attack aircraft is the right choice.  Yes, it reduces risks, but it also reduces effectiveness and imposes difficult tradeoffs.  Of course, Obama faces an Eleanor Roosevelt problem--damned if he does, damned if he does not. 

No wonder his hair is getting grayer.

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