Is Libya like Kosovo?

Can air power alone force regime change? There's not much evidence. Even the 1999 Kosovo campaign raises doubts.

REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Katherine Windish/Handout
Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 510th Aircraft Maintenance Unit avionics craftsman, performs scheduled radar maintenance on an F-16 fighter jet at Aviano Air Base in this U.S. Air Force. The aircraft has been deployed to support Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Politicians and military officials in the United States and Europe continue to wrestle over strategy and command of the Libyan campaign. In just one week, the goal has evolved from instituting a no-fly zone to attacking Muammar Qaddafi's tanks and artillery to what now appears to be regime change.

President Obama and other coalition leaders rule out a ground invasion. But can air power alone remove Qaddafi from power? The best precedent is Kosovo, where in 1999 NATO warplanes spent 2 1/2 months bombing the Serbian military.

As the sorties went on day after day, military leaders reluctantly began planning a ground invasion, which they knew would be costly. Before getting to that point, however, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, under Russian pressure, caved in and allowed NATO to enter the province.

How similar was Kosovo to Libya? Not very. Serb forces could retreat to Serbia-proper, and Milosevic could stay in office, which he did for another 18 months. Qaddafi is bunkered in Tripoli. He and his loyalists have few escape options.

The point is not that there should be an invasion. But if removing Qaddafi is the new goal, it is difficult to see how bombing alone will accomplish that.

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