Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libyan Targeting

(On top of Norfolk's only hill, a Tornado GR4 armed with Storm Shadow stirs.)

I'm not involved in the targeting for the on-going operations in Libya. But all of the evidence is that those who are taking the care that I would expect, especially when it comes to so-called "collateral damage". Indeed, I was thrilled when I heard this morning that the RAF aborted a pair of Tornados when there were concerns that there were civilians in the area. It might be 1,500 miles from home, but if you're not certain, then you take the bombs 1,500 miles home again - and this is exactly what I would expect from the US forces, France and the other allies involved.

Bravo. Genuinely excellent - BZ to the crews.

But there are a three issues I wanted to deal with tonight. First, what is collateral damage? Second can we target Gaddafi personally? Third, what happens next? 

Is this legal?
Collateral Damage
It is said that the truth is the first casualty in war. This may be true, but personally, there are two other things that annoy me. Firstly, to all of the journalists out there any armoured vehicle with a gun is not necessarily "a tank". (See below). Second, lots of ill-informed nonsense about "collateral damage", ostensibly an Orwellian term for killing innocent civilians. 

So what is "collateral damage"? 

There are four kinds of damage that military action can occasion on a target. Primary Damage, Secondary Damage, Collateral Damage and War Crimes. 

Primary Damage occurs when a legitimate military target is attacked and damaged. Legitimate military targets are defined by Article 52(2) of the 1st Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, 1977. Art 52(2) states:

"2. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage."

So the test is two-fold: not only must the target offer an "effective contribution to military action" but if the attack is successful, it must offer a " definite military advantage". I would argue that Art 52(2) is customary international law, and therefore binding on all States.  

"Secondary Damage" is the damage inflicted on a legitimate military target within the ambit of Art 52(2) caused by an attack on something else. So if you attack a weapons dump in a barracks, and the force of the blast destroys some military vehicles, it's "Secondary Damage" and legal.
"Collateral Damage" is damage inflicted on a civilian object (or civilian) - in the course of attacking a legitimate target under Art 52(2). So if you're attacking an ammunition dump, and as the bomb goes in, the proverbial "schoolbus full of nuns" drives by, then sadly this is "collateral damage".

The point of discrimination, though, is that if you were to aim at the "schoolbus full of nuns" then you'd be committing a war crime, the fourth type of damage.

 (Not a tank - a BMP-1 Armoured Personnel Carrier)
Can we target Gaddafi personally?
An interesting question. 

OP 4 of UNSCR 1973 is explicit in allowing States

"to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". 

This must include targeting that is in concert with international law, specifically Art 52(2) of AP 1, above. 

 ("My agent is holding out for Ali-G to play me in the biopic.... these negotiations are like way too stressful.")

So can we "get Gaddafi"? 

Because we don't like him? No. 

Because (to borrow a phrase) he's an "evil doer"? No, that's what the ICC referral was for.

Colonel Gaddafi and his immediate advisors (notably his sons Saif and Khamis) are exercising military command roles, and therefore if they were killed, it is likely to have a "definitive military advantage". As such, provided that they were targeted as part of the command and control apparatus, then I believe that it is legal to do so. 

(Also not a tank - an Italian Oto-Melara Palmaria 155mm self-propelled howitzer. Do keep up at the back.)

What happens next?
It's unclear. The appearance of - please note - French airpower appears to have saved Benghazi from a Gaddafi armoured column on Saturday afternoon, and the continuing attacks on the Gaddafi forces' equipment will be having an effect. But not only does UNSCR 1973 explicitly ban occupying troops, the free Libyan forces bravery is not matched by training and organisation. So expecting them to be able to take on the regular Libyan forces under Saif Gaddafi and Khamis Gaddafi is asking a lot, even with air superiority and close air support. 

(Tornado GR4 with dual-mode Brimstone)

But this picture released by the British RAF is interesting. It shows an RAF Tornado GR4 carrying dual-mode (laser and radar) guided Brimstone missiles - a UK development of the American Hellfire system, designed to kill Russian tanks near the Fulda Gap. Brimstone can be used in an autonomous mode, and is designed to kill ex-Soviet tanks. If - and this is a big if - the UK wanted to do so, it could, under UNSCR 1973, use this to attack Gaddafi armoured forces anywhere in Libya, and specifically in Tripoli. If the regime loses the ability to control Tripoli, then it will collapse much faster. 

(A tank! Finally! In this case, a former Soviet T-55.)

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