After months of waiting to see whether air power alone would be enough to decide things in Libya, the French government has apparently decided to up the ante in the confrontation with dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This development, which was first reported by Le Figaro and since picked up by the New York Times and other papers, represents a slight escalation in the three-month-old conflict. A French military spokesman said they had “airdropped arms and ammunition several times, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers” to rebel forces.
NATO clearly is hoping the Libyan dissidents will now be strong enough to overcome Qaddafi’s forces hit hard by air strikes. Apparently, the turnaround in the fighting in which government troops went from being on the offensive to losing ground in the past few weeks coincided with the French arms drop to the rebels.
But the rebels still have a long way to go before they roust Qaddafi out of Tripoli. Given the fact they were barely able to hold onto their eastern strongholds prior to being given these weapons, the quality of their ragtag army is still very much in doubt. Though the rebels and some NATO sources have continuously predicted the imminent collapse of the Qaddafi regime ever since the foreign intervention began, the dictator still sits in his capital and has control over a diminished but still potent army.
With President Obama still intent on avoiding direct American participation in the fighting and with Congress nipping at his heels over the administration’s refusal to comply with the War Powers Act, there’s little doubt NATO is desperate to end this stalemate one way or the other. However, it may take more than a cargo of small arms to finally topple Qaddafi. That leaves the onus on the coalition to redouble its efforts to either decapitate his regime from the air or to start delivering even more firepower to the rebels. Both courses of action are potentially dangerous, especially since we still don’t know much about the opposition. But the idea the situation will soon resolve itself without further tough decisions by the West may be nothing more than wishful thinking.