US Faces Major Limits on Libya Intervention

Western Plans for Libya Escalation Still Coming Together

The Obama Administration has made very public their intention to get heavily involved in Libya for months on end, and finally started doing so last Monday, with airstrikes launched at the request of the “unity government” against the city of Sirte.

It’s still early going, but with the US keen to get heavily invested in Libya, the “unity government” could prove a major hindrance, as the faction has little territory, very little capacity for offensives to justify US air support, and a very rudimentary system of organization to grow that involvement.

The capture of Sirte has been seen as a major goal for all the different would-be governments in Libya, and the “unity government” didn’t seem particularly likely to take it on their own, which led to them asking for US help. It was the excuse to intervene that the US had been waiting for, but came at the price of throwing their weight behind one of the least formidable of the many limited Libyan factions.

The “unity government” hasn’t really fleshed out plans for what comes after Sirte, because winning Sirte was such a centerpiece goal and their forces so limited, it didn’t pay to look past that fight. At the same time, France and Italy have ground troops in Libya, part of what was being positioned as a Western intervention, and they’re backing another government, the Tobruk Parliament.

Western plans for overt intervention in Libya have been growing for awhile, but weren’t meant to start this soon. The US military involvement, and their choosing of a side so quickly is likely throwing a wrench into a lot of those plans, forcing rethinks.

So the US has gotten its wish, and ended up in Libya. That military intervention is sure to last a long, long time, but the justification for the sort of endless escalations we’ve seen in their other wars just aren’t in place yet, which could leave them spinning their wheels for some time.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of