Calling the current operation in Libya a no-fly zone is simply inaccurate. Despite President Obama's assurances that U.S. operations will be “limited in their nature” and his multiple references to a “no-fly zone” in his address to the nation, the U.S. is involved in directly attacking ground targets that have nothing to do with Gadhafi's air power.
Reports continue to come in that Allied forces are actively seeing ground targets to engage. Early accounts singled out French aircraft engaging government tanks outside of Benghazi, but now others of the coalition are also attacking ground targets.
Today the Wall Street Journal reported that Allied troops attacked government ground units engaged in the siege of rebel city Misrata. U.S. Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the operational command has admitted that the United States is now seeking out ground targets.
“We are interdicting and putting pressure on Qaddafi’s forces that are attacking population centers,” Hueber said at a Pentagon briefing. He went on to say that targets would include armor, artillery and missile launchers.
But even with the added benefit of air superiority and Allied airstrikes, the rebels will be hard pressed to take back their country. Fortunately enough for those who want to see the U.S. get dragged even deeper into the conflict, the U.N. resolution raises the possibility for ground troops to assist the rebels.
The U.N. resolution that gives the U.S. the international authorization to use military force in Libya only puts limits on intervention through “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” It does not, however, specify that ground troops cannot carry out operations.
Already British forces have mobilized to carry out military missions on the ground. British forces have also been inserted to help communicate with rebel forces. Small strike forces that don't technically consist of an “occupation force” could be seen as legitimate under the current resolution. The U.S. is conducting airstrikes against targets outside the range of a no-fly zone. At least one other nation has inserted ground troops for small diplomatic missions and has signaled its willingness to conduct more extensive operations.
The U.S. and Allied forces were never solely engaged in constructing a no-fly zone. Instead the coalition forces have initiated a mission of almost unlimited airstrikes and opened themselves up to putting troops on the ground.