International operations in Libya 2011


  • Fredrik Lindvall
  • David Forssman

Publish date: 2012-06-21

Report number: FOI-R--3447--SE

Pages: 81

Written in: Swedish


  • Libya
  • Gaddafi
  • NATO
  • USA
  • Frankrike
  • Storbritannien
  • international operations
  • capabilities
  • combat aircrafts
  • strikes
  • sortie


The purpose of this report is to analyze the complete sum of military operations directed against Libya in 2011, the Libya campaign, and to draw lessons for future military operations. The rationale for this study is the need to understand contemporary military operations. There are several factors that make the Libya campaign particularly interesting from a Swedish perspective, including the geographical proximity to Europe, the relatively large European contribution and the Swedish participation. One obvious feature of the campaign in Libya was the emphasis on air operations. By removing the regimes offensive capabilities the air campaign became the key for all other military activities. In addition, air strikes on strategically important resources, especially fuel supply, created a long-term pressure on the regime. But the output of the military campaign or at least the break-through on the ground are probably more closely linked to the rebels' increased military power and the overall impact of the multinational operation, than just to the air component. Even though the overall objectives were met, the intervention may not only be described in positive terms. The regime´s violence against its own people was stopped, but it took nine months to accomplish it. Few civilians died as a direct result of multinational operations, but many died in the war. The NATO members used only a small percentage of their total resources in the campaign, but Libya was not a sophisticated adversary. In certain niches and for several states the operation showed significant capability deficiencies for the Alliance. Experiences from the Libya campaign of interest for future operations, includes deficiencies with regard to air refueling, intelligence capabilities and precision ammunition when operating in or near Europe. Moreover, when it comes to getting the right volume of these capabilities, Europe is very much dependent on the U.S. This is especially true if the particular mission is limited by extreme restrictions with regard to collateral damage and if there is not an updated intelligence picture. There are also some trends and particular circumstances to be highlighted regarding the campaign in Libya. In many respects, a pattern is repeated from previous operations. States that have the right military capabilities and are willing to use them will intervene under American leadership. Like other campaigns, where there have been peace-enforcement mandates, the first aim is to shape the battlespace by attacking air defenses and key command and control functions. Participating states tailor their participation according to their unique national political preconditions. What the Libya campaign can say about the West's ability versus more resourceful and technologically more advanced adversaries than Libya is not clear. The resistance was limited and the West did not use its most qualified capabilities.