Chris Chivers is a former Marine officer and an experienced combat correspondent. So his take on the Libyan opposition forces is worth paying attention to. He writes in the New York Times that
by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.
With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in.
Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.
It is no surprise that such ill-organized, badly armed, and undisciplined forces have been unable to drive the Qaddafi loyalists out of most of the cities they have occupied.
At the same time the Qaddafi forces are getting savvier about dealing with air bombardment. As another report in the Times notes, “Qaddafi forces are now hiding their troops and weaponry among urban populations and traveling in pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s rather than military vehicles, making them extremely difficult targets.”
All this is fairly predictable and shows the difficulties of trying to dislodge any regime from the air. It is still possible that Qaddafi will accept some kind of deal to leave power, but barring that, we could be in a for a long, costly stalemate.
There are, however, ways to ramp up the pressure. As Fred Kagan argues in the Weekly Standard, airpower could systematically target Qaddafi’s heavy weapons whether or not they are being used in offensive operations. The flow of infantry arms to the rebels could be increased—especially anti-tank weapons. And more of an effort could be made to train the rebel forces and turn them into a more effective army.
CIA officers and British Special Forces are reportedly already on the ground, and no doubt they are already engaged in some of these tasks. But clearly a larger commitment needs to be made—not only to overthrowing the Qaddafi regime but also to ensuring that there will be an organized security force that will be capable afterward of keeping order and warding off the kind of chaos that gripped Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Some will no doubt argue that there is not enough time to train the rebels. At the pace things are going, alas, time may not be in short supply.