Monday, March 21, 2011

The "Non-Targeting" of Moammar Gaddafi

"I can guarantee that he's not on a targeting list," Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters late Sunday afternoon at the Pentagon.

But does that mean the U.S. and it's allies are not trying to kill the Libyan leader, who is vowing to wage a long war to stay in power?

Uh, not exactly.

Technically, what Adm. Bill Gortney says is true. For one thing it's nearly impossible to kill a single individual with cruise missiles, or airstrikes, so the military is never going to admit they tried a "Hail Mary" shot on the slim hopes of decapitating the regime.

Reporters with longer memories may recall when the U.S. tried to killed Osama bin Laden back in 1998, with a volley of cruise missiles aimed at his mountain redoubt, the Pentagon steadfastly, and with a straight face, insisted bin Laden was not the target. Just "terrorist infrastructure."

The reason for that is simple. Infrastructure, which doesn't move, is infinitely easier to hit than people.

But just like in the opening days of the 2003 Iraq war, when the U.S. tried to killed Saddam Hussein with airstrikes even before the ground invasion began, you have to know that there was at least a hope that the whole messy situation might be resolved with a couple of well-placed cruise missiles, which were fired by a British submarine, by the way.

Adm. Gortney you will note, did not say the coalition was trying to avoid killing him. Gaddafi is fair game if he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, say inspecting a missile site. Or at his Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, which was destroyed Sunday. Or really anywhere allied forces strike.

And not being specifically "targeted" is a distinction that makes little difference to Gaddafi himself. He's well aware that the U.S. would be perfectly happy to see him dead, and is willing to use lethal force, as it did in 1986.

In this case military actions speak louder than words from a Pentagon briefer. And that message is: We'll kill you if we can, so get out now and save your skin.


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