Jack Keane on Libya

by Rich Lowry

Jeffrey Brown interviewed retired General Keane last night on the NewsHour about Libya. His bottom line: Militarily, things have gone reasonably well so far, but we’re going to need air-ground teams in some form with the rebels to coordinate the air campaign and the mission now should be to destroy Qaddafi’s military in its entirety. Read more after the jump.

GEN. JACK KEANE (RET.), U.S. Army: Well, I think they have done a remarkable job in a short period of time. Establishing a no-fly zone, I think, is something of a misnomer.

We have destroyed their air forces and we destroyed their air defenses. And the decisive force in Libya has always been his ground forces, and we’re beginning to destroy them. They have got some problems with it.

You just on the report — those forces that are committed forces, that is, they’re engaged with the rebels or are in proximity to civilians, we have to destroy those forces. To be able to do that, we must put air-ground teams with the rebels on the ground to be able to identify those targets.

JEFFREY BROWN: Air-ground teams means put people in?

GEN. JACK KEANE: Put people in. We did this against the Taliban in 2001 with special forces teams on the ground that directed the airplanes to the target. We do it every day in Afghanistan today. And we did it routinely in Iraq as well.

. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, General, the administration has said from the beginning that no ground troops would be in — no U.S. ground troops would be involved. So what specifically do you think is doable? And are you talking about U.S. troops, or British, French? What do you see?

GEN. JACK KEANE: Well, U.S. troops would be ideal, because we have so many of them, and they’re so experienced at this.

But if that’s not in the cards, the U.K. has capability, and so do — so does France and other militaries who have a modern suite of air-force airplanes that have to perform this mission. The mission is called close air support. It’s done in proximity to ground forces who are normally fighting or in proximity to civilians to avoid friendly fire of civilians or our forces.

And that’s the reality of it. The second thing I think that needs to be done, though, to be able to pave the way for what I think everyone wants to happen — and that is the removal of Gadhafi — is, the military should be assigned the mission to defeat Gadhafi’s military.

It’s already defeated its air forces and its air defense, but to defeat its entire structure of ground forces, its command-and-control, its logistics, its committed forces, those who are in the fight, and its uncommitted forces, who are not yet in the fight.

JEFFREY BROWN: But this goes well — this goes beyond the mission as stated so far, agreed to by the U.N.

GEN. JACK KEANE: Well, sure. But I think it’s something that they could agree to, if the desire is to permit the rebels to march on Tripoli, unimpeded, to force Gadhafi’s removal.

If that’s not in the cards, then this incremental approach that we’re taking just to protect the population — and we’re not able to do that until we get air-ground teams on — is the step we should stick with. But, in my mind, American prestige is clearly on the line in terms of Gadhafi.

If he stays in power, and we have some kind of a stalemate, that’s a totally unsatisfactory outcome.