About Patrick

Defence and security expert with comprehensive media experience, coupled with specialist knowledge of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and military operations past and present.

London-based security analyst, Patrick has worked for NATO as an analyst and is a former Captain in the British army's Royal Irish Regiment. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, studying the reform of the U.K's Army Reserve, cohesion and logistics. Patrick has appeared on international, UK and Irish television and radio to discuss security matters, and has written for leading broadsheets. His latest appearances were as an expert contributor to National Geographic's 'Nazi Mega Weapons' series, where he contributed to four episodes, including on the Atlantic Wall, the Wolf's Lair, the SS, and the Siegfried Line. He has specialist knowledge on the conflict in Afghanistan, having served in Sangin in 2008 and he has provided security research and analysis for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He also has expert knowledge of the current security situation in Libya and comments on wider security issues, including strategy, current military operations, military history, the role of the media in war, and ethics in war.

He has written for The Irish Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and has appeared on The National Geographic Channel/Channel 4, Sky News, BBC News, BBC News HardTalk, BBC Radio 4 Today programme, BBC File on 4, BBC Radio 5, and numerous Irish national TV and radio programmes.

His memoir, 'Callsign Hades', (Simon and Schuster 2010) has been called "the first great book of the Afghan war" and describes his experiences serving with Irish soldiers in the last Irish line regiment of the British army in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous places. It has since been incorporated onto the syllabus at Sandhurst, and excerpts from his work are also taught to Australian officer cadets.

Patrick was educated at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and King's College, London, where he studied Intelligence and International Security before attending the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was awarded the Trust Medal for Overall Academic Performance, The John Pimlott Prize for War Studies and the Defence and International Affairs Prize during his time there.

He has commanded soldiers on operations in Afghanistan and deployed to Cyprus, Kenya, Malawi and Malaysia.

He has also published in military and ethics journals and on defence issues on political blogsites. He has spoken at numerous universities and military command courses on security and ethics issues. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Royal United Services Institute, the Irish Military History Society, the Military Ethics Education Network, and former member of an IED and Radicalisation project funded by the US Office of Naval Research and Hull University. A full list of Patrick's publications are listed in the links section below.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Momentum Grows for Labalaba VC

In an excellent article in last week's Sunday Times (pay),  Lord Ashcroft outlined the exploits of Royal Ulster Rifles and SAS soldier Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba in the battle of Mirbat in 1972, when 9 SAS soldiers confronted an enemy force estimated to be between 250 to 400 strong.

Given the need to raise awareness of the valour of both Fijian Labalaba, and another SAS medic of Irish descent, Trooper Thomas Tobin, I have reproduced a large sections of the article below in an effort to spread the word...

“It was dawn on July 19, 1972, when the Adoo, a group of highly trained, heavily armed communist guerrillas, tried to seize the port of Mirbat on the Arabian Sea. After a series of setbacks, they were looking for a big military victory in their battle with the Sultan of Oman’s troops and their SAS allies.
The attack came during the monsoon season, on a day when it was raining lightly and with low cloud cover. The guerrillas’ initial aim was to target a small detachment of gendarmerie, slitting the throats of the eight men occupying a watch-point on the edge of the port.
However, things did not go to plan and an exchange of gunfire was heard by the nine SAS men staying in a nearby British Army Training Team house. As Kealy saw the waves of enemy rebels advancing, he was soon barking orders to his men.
Labalaba, known affectionately to his comrades as “Laba”, ran some 500 yards to a gun-pit to fire a 25-pounder gun single-handedly, even though, for maximum effect, it needed to be manned by five men.
Labalaba knew that if the gun fell into enemy hands, they would sweep through the port and so he kept up a relentless fire. As the enemy closed in on the sole soldier, Labalaba was eventually seriously wounded by a round from a Kalashnikov rifle.
“I’ve been chinned but I am okay,” he said over his walkie-talkie, his jaw in tatters. Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi, a fellow Fijian and close friend, responded by grabbing his self-loading rifle and running to the gun-pit under a hail of fire.
The two Fijians held off the advancing enemy for several minutes but Takavesi realised they needed more support, so he ran back to the small fort to get help, returning with Walid Khamis, an Omani gunner.
Khamis was the next man to be hit, falling to the floor and writhing in agony after being shot in the stomach. Shortly afterwards Takavesi was shot in the shoulder, meaning there were only two seriously injured Fijians to hold off the enemy from the gun-pit.
Labalaba realised he was almost out of ammunition and so he tried to reach a 60mm mortar nearby to continue his assault on the enemy. However, he was shot fatally in the neck as he reached for the weapon.
When the 25-pounder gun fell silent, Kealy and a volunteer, Tobin, ran to the gun-pit, again dodging enemy bullets. As Tobin tried to tend the wounded, he was shot in the face and fell to the ground.
Yet just as the situation appeared hopeless, the SAS had two strokes of luck. The first was that the cloud lifted and two jets from the Sultan’s air force were able to fly low over the scene, strafing the guerrillas with cannon fire.”
The article goes on to describe...

"Second, unknown to Kealy, other members of the SAS based at Um al-Quarif had learnt of the battle and had been ordered to travel the 35 miles to Mirbat to help their comrades.
After the cloud lifted and the SAS reinforcements were helicoptered to the edge of Mirbat, the guerrillas were soon on the retreat.
After four hours of ferocious and continuous fighting, the enemy had been defeated, leaving behind some 40 fighters who were dead or seriously wounded. The SAS lost two men — Labalaba and Tobin — but Takavesi survived and was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, while Kealy was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
However, Labalaba was simply mentioned in dispatches and Tobin’s bravery received no official recognition.
The reason given for the small number of gallantry awards was that the SAS were involved in a secret war and that to have awarded posthumous VCs would have drawn unwanted attention to their activities.
The failure of the authorities adequately to recognise the gallantry of Labalaba and Tobin rankles with the SAS servicemen past and present.
Peter Winner, a former SAS sergeant (whose name has been changed for security reasons), is one of the many aggrieved that Labalaba, in particular, has never received a posthumous VC.
Winner, who fought at Mirbat and later took part in the Iranian embassy siege, has said: “So to keep the war secret, all they gave him [was] MID [mentioned in dispatches]. You can get that for walking up the Falls Road [in Belfast]. The guy deserved a VC for what he did.”
A new book, SAS Operation Storm, co-authored by Roger Cole, who took part in the battle as an SAS corporal, has also championed the cause of both men.
Helen Tobin, a solicitor and one of the dead medic’s three sisters, wants justice for her brother too. “It was a battle in which a real band of brothers faced overwhelming odds and we do not believe their heroism, and that of their comrades, was ever given the recognition due. We hope ... that will be forthcoming,” she said.
The Victoria Cross was instituted by royal warrant in 1856 for what Queen Victoria said ought to be “for most conspicuous bravery or some daring pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”.
Surely these emotive words accurately describe the circumstances in which Labalaba and Tobin lost their lives. And surely, too, the time is now right for their bravery, at long last, to be properly recognised."
I fully support Lord Ashcroft's efforts and if you do too, get tweeting and facebooking...
Sgt. Labalaba

Monday, 18 July 2011

It's Great To Know

A former soldier responds to the findings of the Commons Defence Select Committee on Operations in Afghanistan.

It’s great to know…

It’s great to know that we could never have won.

It’s great to know we were undermanned. It’s great to know we had no helicopters. It’s great to know we had no strategy

It’s great to know the planners didn’t plan. It’s great to know there was no intelligence. It’s great to know we were overstretched. It’s great to know the Generals didn’t say.

It’s great to know the ministers didn’t know. It’s great to know the MoD was unprepared. It’s great to know the Land Rovers were useless. It’s great to know the IEDs were dangerous.

It’s great to know there were financial constraints.

It’s great to know Iraq diverted resources. It’s great to know there was no reserve.

It’s great to know there was no co-ordination. It’s great to know there were too many face changes.

It’s great to know they were fighting too. It’s great to know about the political battles.

It’s great to know our government doesn’t hold us responsible.

It helps us forget about the friends we lost.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Afghanistan: All over bar the shouting... and dying.

President Obama’s decision on Wednesday night to begin withdrawing U.S troops from Afghanistan marks the beginning of the end of the surge he ordered 18 months ago. With America’s longest war now in its 11th year, military and civilian casualties still rising, and the war costing the U.S over $10 billion a month, Patrick Bury outlines the Obama surge’s impact on the strategic situation in Afghanistan and what the end game in Afghanistan may look like.
President Obama’s decision to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and a further 23,000 by September 2012, effectively marks the end of the surge he announced in December 2009. 18 months on, the surge has delivered operational successes where troops have been concentrated in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, but it has failed to deliver the strategic, and most importantly, political gains that Obama hoped for when he tied his presidency to the war in Afghanistan.
Leon Trotsky once remarked that “insurrection is an art, and like all arts has its own laws.” When President Obama announced the surge, he was acting on the advice of his military chiefs, who had asked for 40,000 troops to implement a comprehensive counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy centered on protecting the Afghan population. Obama gave them 30,000, choosing the COIN approach over the more limited counter- terror approach advocated as more realistic by Vice-President Biden and many others.
That such a COIN “strategy” could work was based largely on the fact that it had in Iraq, yet COIN itself was never, and never will be, a strategy in itself. It is merely the military part of an overall strategy.
Yet in Afghanistan, in the absence of coherent grand strategy, COIN has become the strategy as the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) mission crept further and further toward comprehensive nation building. Furthermore, as Trotsky outlined, the Afghan insurrection has laws of its own, quite apart from those of Iraq, which, combined with Afghanistan’s political, economic and social landscape, have meant that from the outset such a strategy had far less chance of success than in Iraq.
With Obama now signaling the end of the surge, he is acknowledging that these factors are insurmountable within a pragmatic political timeframe. The evidence of this is obvious for those who care to look. In a recently released UN report, Afghan civilian casualties in May totalled 368, the highest since records began in 2007 and effectively the highest since the war began in 2001. Military casualties have also soared with the surge, further undermining public support.
Also this month, the conclusion of a two year Senate Foreign Relations Committee inquiry stated that the impact of the billions of dollars of U.S development aid was questionable and in many cases had aided the insurgency. At present, military spending and development aid account for 97 per cent of country’s gross domestic product, a figure that shows just how unsustainable the whole nation building project is. And the fact that the inquiry questioned the very efficacy of using aid as a stabilisation tool over the long run has serious implications for the continued funding of an Afghan COIN/ nation building approach that is draining American coffers rapidly.
But the most significant issue that has eroded the political and public support for the war is the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan last month. There is no avoiding the fact that Al Qaeda was the reason ISAF went into Afghanistan. Now that their leader is dead and the terror network’s members number less than 100 in the country, it is very hard to explain to Americans and Europeans alike why they should fund, and their soldiers should die for, a nation building project in Afghanistan. Obama realises this, as does Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, who have both announced their own timetables for withdrawal. Their Afghanistan adventure, it seems, is all over, bar the shouting.
Indeed, Bin Laden’s assassination has shown Afghanistan up for what it has been for years: a sideshow. Pakistan, its nuclear arsenal and its large population are now the obvious strategic prize China and the U.S will compete for. As the Afghan Security Forces increase in quantity - and at a slower pace in quality - fewer Americans and Europeans will be needed to stop the Taliban re-taking Kabul by force. Political reintegration processes may yet help stabilise the country. But, ultimately, it is all about Pakistan now.
That is one of the main reasons why America will look to keep military bases in Afghanistan after the transition to Afghan security forces in 2014. And that is why they will probably keep about 25,000 troops in the country in an advisory role after that date too. A military presence in the centre of Asia, close to both Pakistan and China, has too much strategic potential to be squandered by a complete drawdown of forces. Moreover, these troops will be ready to conduct counter-terror operations in the Af/Pak border regions, finally confirming that the counter-terror strategy was the most viable all along.
Such a 180 degree reversal of policy is tragic for the Afghan civilians and ISAF men and women who died during the surge. And for those still on the frontline in Afghanistan, whilst the shouting continues, there is much dying to be avoided in the meantime...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Security, Symbolism and History for Queen’s visit

Former army Captain and Irish security analyst Patrick Bury outlines the security and significance behind the British monarchs visit to Ireland.

About 120 plain clothed and armed Met Police officers will be accompanying the Queen on her four-day state visit to Ireland. Most of these officers will be drawn from Special Operations 1 (SO1) who guard UK diplomatic VIPs abroad, and SO14, whose remit covers the Royals exclusively. Aiding these will be Mi5 and Mi6, who will be paying particular attention to the dissident republican threat. In doing this they will be assisted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) over the border.

The Irish and British security services have a long history of co-operation in fighting the violence of the troubles and there has already further evidence of this surrounding this visit. The PSNI have sent 2 water cannon to the Irish police (the Gardai), should they need it. There has been close surveillance of known dissidents, and some arrests both sides of the border. The Gardai have moved assets north, and close liaison between the intelligence services continues.

In Ireland itself the biggest security operation in the history of the state is now fully underway. 8,000 uniformed Gardai, out of a force 14,000, are directly involved, supported by 2,000 members of the Irish Defence Forces on standby. Other Irish units operating are the Special Detective Unit, the Emergency Response Unit (specialist armed police, like the Met’s SO19) and Irish special forces, known as the Army Ranger Wing.

These will fulfill a myriad of roles, including, surveillance, close protection, air defense (a dissident plot to buy surface-to-air missile launchers was recently uncovered) and crowd control within Dublin itself. Although the threat from dissidents remains high, as seen by the viable and hoax IEDs reported this morning, the Guards are more concerned with the prospects of violent protest. To this end, over 30 streets in Dublin have been closed and riot police traveling in fleets of buses will follow the Queen on her journey around the country.

The itinerary itself is bold and ambitious for the first visit by a British monarch in 100 years. Today, the Queen will visit the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city center, where she will lay a wreath and observe a minutes silence at the foot of a memorial dedicated to those who” fought for Irish freedom”

It will be a hugely symbolic and historic moment, hopefully not disrupted by the groups of dissenting nationalists who plan to broadcast anti-British rebel reels through speakers to disrupt the ceremony.

But neither will any of the public be able to catch a glimpse of the Queen. Security is so tight that no members of the public will be able to get anywhere near the Garden, according to reports.

Another of the 11 venues on the Queen’s agenda is Croke Park, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association and the sight of the infamous British massacre of 1920. Hopefully that visit will go some way to healing old wounds.

Tomorrow will also see a visit to the War Memorial at Islandbridge, where the Queen will pay her respects to over 300,000 Irishmen who served and over 40,000 who died, many fighting for Britain, in the First and Second World Wars.

The Queen’s visit marks an interesting point in the continuing evolution of Anglo-Irish relations, perhaps finally and comprehensively showing both nations coming to terms with their often diverse, sometimes antagonistic, yet strangely common, collective pasts. This visit I believe, highlights these.

An old historiographic saying holds “The Irish would do well to begin letting go of the past, the English would do well to begin remembering it.”

For us Irish it shows that we are growing up, for the English that they are owning up. 

Either way, for those responsible for the multi-faceted security operation, the next four days will be tense.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Symbolic significance of Al-Qaeda leader’s death has far reaching geo-political implications.

 While the symbolism of killing Osama Bin Laden is a major victory for the West in its long war against Jihadi terrorism, “decapitation” of a Hydra-like organisation is as futile as trying to ‘kill’ an idea, writes former Army Captain Patrick Bury.

Killing Bin Laden is important for three reasons: firstly, the rough justice it serves to victims of the 9/11 bombings. Secondly, the unequivocal message it sends to international terrorists for whom each day Bin Laden remained at large was a propaganda victory: that the US can, eventually, find you and kill you, even if you are being protected by a so called ally. And thirdly, it denies the much degraded jihadi movement its symbolic figurehead and one of its strategic planners.

According to Peter Bergen’s ‘The Longest War’, since the September 11th attacks, Bin Laden issued over thirty video and audio tapes which have been watched by many millions around the globe. These tapes have not only instructed Al Qaeda affiliates to continue their mission of killing Westerners and Jews, they have also often given specific instructions that have been carried out by Bin Laden’s accomplices to devastating effect.

In 2003, Bin Laden called for attacks against coalition members in Iraq: soon after the British consulate in Turkey was attacked. Commuters on their way to work in Madrid were bombed in 2004, an act that convinced Spain to pull its troops out of Iraq altogether. In December 2006, Bin Laden called for attacks against Saudi oil infrastructure: in February 2006 Al Qaeda operatives duly attacked the most important oil production facility in the world in Abqaiq. And in 2007, after Bin Laden called for attacks on the Pakistani state, suicide bombings rose sharply in the country.

So Bin Laden was not just a symbolic figure in the world of Jihadi terrorism; he had operational knowledge and/or control of terror plots that were carried out around the globe by various groups. However, the September 11th attacks marked Bin Laden’s and Al Qaeda’s zenith of power. Pursued by the US intelligence services and with a $25 million bounty on his head, the wealthy Saudi with royal connections was forced into a lifestyle that meant he could not maintain day to day oversight of Al Qaeda operations. But the “hermit on the hilltop” still kept the ideological flame of Jihadism alight.

In a private study of over 600 extremists arrested in Saudi Arabia in the last eight years, participants said Osama Bin Laden was their most important role model. In a 2008 study of Muslim opinion in Morocco, Indonesia, Jordan and Turkey, respondents expressed more “confidence” in the Al Qaeda icon than in President George Bush. Even in Pakistan last year, approval ratings for the most wanted man in the world stood at 18 per cent, according to one source. If this man could inspire whole populations through his ideology, he also certainly had no problem inspiring fellow extremists.

Mohammed Sidique Khan, the leader of the group that carried out the July 2005 London bombings, described Bin Laden and his  second in command, Ayman Al Zawahiri, as his “heroes”. Similarly, Abdullah Ali, the ringleader of a plot to destroy aircraft over the Atlantic in 2006 declared in his ‘martyrdom’ video that: “Sheikh Osama warned you many times to leave our lands or you will be destroyed”.  Nicky Reilly, a 22-year-old covert to Islam, wrote in his suicide note that: “Sheik Usama has told you how to end this war… but you ignore us… Leave our lands and stop your support for Israel”, before attempting to blow himself up in an Exeter restaurant in 2008.

Such an efficient summary of Bin Laden’s basic politico- religious message by a disturbed young British man demonstrates the traction that his ideology can have with both home grown extremists, seasoned jihadi terrorists and elements of wider Muslim populations alike. And it is precisely due to this strength of Bin Laden’s ideological currency that the importance of his death on Sunday evening is undermined.

For Bin Laden, his Islamic crusade was not against the West per se. It was against the West’s foreign policy, most notably America’s, and its support for Israel. In this it is interesting to note that Bin Laden never used the liberal West’s way of life as a pre-text for attacks. Instead, enraged by the loss of Jerusalem to Israel in 1967, Israel’s invasion of the Lebanon in 1982, and the presence of American troops on Saudi soil after the Iraq war in 1991, he said he felt the loss of Muslim lands to the infidel “like a burning fire in my intestines”. And driving this loss, in Bin Laden’s basic strategic view, was the tacit support of America for Israeli actions and ‘apostate’ regimes in the Middle East. Indeed, it is this tenet of his ideology that gives it traction with a small percentage of Muslims around the world. And it is the basic truth within this vision that will see it endure long after his death.

So, Bin Laden’s ideology will live on. But what of his organisation? Severely depleted and dispersed to avoid detection, Al Qaeda will still remain a global threat in some shape or form for years to come. Zawahiri is still at large, and has more operational control over the loose organisation than its iconic figurehead had. Even killing him may not be enough. Cutting off the heads of the Al Qaeda Hydra is not the best way of defeating an organisation that has as its basis an idea. Moreover, martyrdom is expected and hoped for amongst hard core members of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, many who will see Bin Laden’s death as he himself did: “as a beacon that arouses the zeal and determination of (our) followers”.

But there will be other significant repercussions to Bin Laden’s death. The location of his capture, barely a kilometre from the Pakistani equivalent of Sandhurst, will further sour already deteriorating US-Pakistan relations. That elements of the Pakistani intelligence services could be as duplicitous to allow the key fugitive of an ally to hide safely in a relatively obvious compound does not bode well for the future of the American-Pakistan relationship, or Pakistan’s internal dynamics. Neither does it bode well for Afghanistan, which NATO invaded to catch the newly infamous Bin Laden 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Libya’s Gaddafi has been given food for thought, and India can look forward to a budding geo-political alliance with America against Chinese and Pakistani influence.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Royal Irish 'Clear the Way' in Helmand... but what's next?

Good report on British Army's Royal Irish Regiment's efforts, progress and challenges in central Helmand this winter...


Thursday, 31 March 2011

Libya: A- Symmetry becomes Symmetrical…

Amidst the changing political landscape and the to-and-fro of the coastal battles in Libya, Gaddafi loyalist forces are adapting new tactics that complicate coalition operations and are indicative of how a-symmetry is becoming the new norm in modern warfare, writes Patrick Bury.

A-symmetrical (or“unbalanced”) tactics are those used by the weak against the strong, pitting the weaker forces’ strengths against their enemies’ weaknesses. They often ignore the international laws, formed by convention, that were designed to govern state-on state warfare. Therefore they employ “non-conventional” tactics and weapons that are as wide and varied as man’s imagination and his innate ability to harm others, and include small arms ambushes, suicide bombers, assassinations and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices. Most forces employing these tactics will use the population as a shield when conducting their operations; dressing as civilians to melt in with the local population and not carrying their arms openly. This, of course, makes them difficult to detect and destroy.

It is for precisely this reason that, in face of overwhelming coalition air strikes, it appears Gaddafi’s loyalists have ditched their conventional tactics centred on armour and artillery and taken up an a-symmetrical approach.

As a number of interesting articles over the last few days have highlighted, the loyalists have enjoyed another round of quick military successes by using highly-mobile armed groups in 4x4 vehicles to counter the rebels’ thrust. These vehicles, known as “techincals” in military parlance, have been a key factor in African warfare over the last 20 years.

Gaddafi’s loyalists are now using these vehicles decked out with Soviet-era Dushka heavy machine guns, ZPU anti-aircraft guns, 82mm mortars and Grad rocket systems to provide the majority of their firepower. They have coupled the use of these weapons with their better understanding of military tactics, flanking the rebel forces on the coastal road and then ambushing them from the desert. Such tactics have induced the panic seen in the rebels’ retreat lately.

Moreover, by using the same technicals as widely employed by the rebels, it is far harder for coalition air forces to identify friend or foe. The best way to target these smaller and more mobile forces is to have ‘eyes on’ on the ground; usually special forces relaying targets to overhead air platforms. Although intelligence and special forces assets are already operating in Libya their mission will be complicated by the fact that Gaddafi’s forces are now fighting (and may well be masquerading) as the rebels to gain tactical advantage.

It is hardly surprisng that when faced with the total superiority of coalition air-power Gaddafi’s forces have changed their tactics. What is surprising is the speed at which this has occurred. Of course, measure and counter-measure has always been a decisive part of warfare, but the speed at which Gaddafi’s forces have abandoned the conventional fight and adopted a more a-symmetrical approach show just how mainstream a-symmetry has become as a both a tactic and as a wider strategy. It also shows the limits of conventional military power. This has serious implications for the technologically superior West’s security.

Many heads of western militaries, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, have been at pains to highlight the changing nature of warfare and the threat it poses to conventional military power, its procurement and to political decision making. When states’ militaries seem to adopt a-symmetrical tactics this quickly, he has a point. A-symmetry, and military tactics to counter it, are now firmly in the mainstream.

In fact, at present it appears a-symmetry is the new symmetry.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Libya: NATO Takes over...Or Does It?

Last night, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the organisation would be taking control of all military operations in Libya with “immediate effect”. However, the reality of the situation on the ground and the political wranglings needed to gain endorsement of such a takeover suggest that this will not actually occur for some days to come.

As an excellent piece in today’s Guardian has highlighted,
while NATO has appointed a Canadian General, Charles Bouchard, to command the air strikes, there seems to be a delay in handing command of them over to NATO. This cannot be fully explained by the official line that the lengthy handover period will ensure that it is smooth, as General Bouchard has been controlling the ‘No Fly Zone’ part of Operation Unified Protector since Friday. The real reason is likely to be the problems in establishing consensus for NATO operations within the alliance.

Firstly, it can be argued that the current coalition air strikes in Libya are pushing the boundary of the intent of UN Security Resolution 1973 by continuing to attack Gaddafi’s forces in areas where they may actually enjoy popular support from Libyan citizens, such as Sirte. This being the case, some NATO member states, most notably Germany and Turkey, have probably used their influence to restrict the rules of engagement for NATO air strikes once the organisation takes command of this aspect of military operations. Such restricted rules of engagement will probably curtail NATO forces from striking any forces that are not attacking civilians, therefore barring it from attacking Gaddafi’s defensive lines.

Secondly, given the rebels quick run of successes in capturing the strategically important towns of Brega and Ros Lanuf yesterday, the more bullish members of the coalition (read Britain and France) are keen to continue prosecuting their air-strikes while the rebels have momentum. They will now be hoping for a quick advance all the way to Tripoli that will ultimately unseat Gaddafi and deliver them the majority of the victor’s prestige. They understand that the air strikes have been vital in giving the rebels their momentum and have therefore managed to retain the possibility of strikes against Gaddafi’s forces for a few more days.

Finally, where does this leave NATO? Despite the overt diplomatic manoeuvring by members, the Alliance responded relatively quickly to the Libyan crisis, and prevented the high probability of a massacre of Benghazi’s citizens last week. Even if this response was relatively ad hoc, and whatever the ultimate outcome, the organisation has proved it stands alone in terms of capability and willingness to act.

But, like Britain and France, it too will be looking for a quick victory that can boost the perception of an organisation that has been damaged by involvement in Afghanistan.

The trick in an intervention such as this, therefore, is knowing when to stop. And as the history of conflict over the last half century tells us, this is the hardest trick to learn.