NATO And Operation Unified Protector In Libya


By the end of 2010, very few members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could have anticipated that the treaty would be leading humanitarian protection operation in North Africa. Surprisingly, NATO took care of the events that unfolded in Libya in the year 2011. The NATO led operation known as the Unified Protector, became successful under the leadership of the Combined Force Air Component (CFAC) commander (Taylor 2011). Operation Unified Protector’s intention was to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions of 1970 and 1973. These two resolutions gave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization the powers to apply every means possible to protect civilians from vicious attacks. An International Coalition led by the United States, United Kingdom, and France ensured that NATO achieved its objectives. In order to achieve maximum success during the Operation Unified Protector, NATO made significant strategy changes to avoid challenges encountered during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (Taylor 2011).

Military objectives of Operation Unified Protector

According to Taylor (2011), Operation Unified Protector has been launched to fulfill three main objectives. The first objective is to enforce the United Nations arms embargo in which warships, fighter jets, and patrol aircrafts from NATO countries are used to monitor aircraft and ships entering Libya. All ships and aircraft that are found to carry weapons into Libya are intercepted and escorted to secure ports for further scrutiny. The second objective of Operation Unified Protector is to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya where naval vessels are used to provide real-time monitoring of the country’s airspace to ensure that no aircrafts enters the no-fly zone without prior authorization. Its third objective is to offer maximum protection to civilians and all civilian centers. During the Operation Unified Protector in Libya, NATO intends to use operational commanders to conduct surveillance and gather relevant information to identify and control forces that may be a source of threat to civilians (Taylor 2011).

NATO’s transformation and strategy changes: Operation Unified Protector

As Phinney (2014) explains, a clear vision and achievable strategies are key elements in creating a winning team for any organization that is willing to fight its opponents. It is therefore important that the body charged with formulation of strategies be very careful when preparing its operation plan. The strategy division guiding the Operation Unified Protector is the Combined Force Air Component (CFAC). The Combined Force Air Component (CFAC) commander has to create a strategy corresponding with the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) plan used at Naples. The commander begins by directing its air component to create an independent strategy that will directly influence the CFAC strategy. He then commands the air component to form a “red team” that will formulate strategies and predict their possible outcomes. Being a large country, the Combined Force Air Component (CFAC) commander has been forced to travel across the nation and concentrate in one area for a prolonged period of time in order to make as many snapshots as possible. This called for careful planning because the aircrafts uses could not allow rapid reposition. The strategy allowed the Combined Force Air Component to divide the country into nine different regions, thereby allowing aircrafts and fighter jets to monitor movement of aircrafts in prioritized areas (Phinney 2014).

The strategies used by the Combined Force Air Component have assisted greatly in intimidating military forces harming civilians and targeting civilian centers in Libya. The Combined Force Air Component commander has recognized that it will be possible to deal with forces harming civilians if the strategy division has proper knowledge of their geographical locations. For this reason he has collaborated with the CJTF staff to guide the division to foster a geographically based awareness program. NATO has the capacity to engage any military force that is a threat to civilians, and in Operation Unified Protector, the treaty is in a very good position to coerce the Muammar Qadhafi’s forces. The strategy division has therefore focused on disrupting the Qadhafi’s regime command together with all its military forces (Phinney, 2014).

The geographical awareness program has assisted NATO to come up with four different approaches on how to protect civilians across Libya. In the first approach, NATO has focused on interrupting the Qadhafi’s regime and control forces, especially around the Greater Tripoli region. This strategy is intended to reduce the regime’s ability to threaten residents. In the second approach, NATO has recognized that it will weaken Qadhafi’s regime by working in collaboration with Ajdabiya and Brega which are the forward elements of the regime. This strategy works well to protect civilians living in the Jalu Brega region in Libya. NATO’s thirds approach of protecting Libyan civilians is focused on understanding the environment in which Qadhafi’s regime is operating. This strategy is aimed at preventng further insurgence between the regime and the neighboring towns, and is mainly applied in the northwest region adjacent to Tunisia border. The final approach used by NATO to protect Libyan civilians from oppression by Qadhafi’s forces is focused on understanding the military activities used by the regime in the battle fields. This has assisted the treaty to identify the most appropriate activities that it should apply in the battle space, especially in the battle areas near Ajdabiya, in order to limit the powers of the regime (Phinney 2014).

As the Operation Unified Protector continues with its presence in Libya, NATO gradually transforms into a mature organization that comprises of a cohesive team. In roughly three months, the treaty has made tremendous improvements on its deliberate and dynamic targeting and has become more adept in solving more severe problems (Phinney 2014). Additionally, NATO has made improvements on weapon selection strategies and it has developed the processes used to combat operations. Although there are limited assets on hand, the CFAC has creatively maximized the use of available resources. Moreover, the support teams have effectively concentrated on prioritized areas in the battle space and they have succeeded in fighting the hostile forces. The main factor that has led to NATO’s success during Operation Unified Protector in Libya is involvement of all concerned parties from top to bottom. The leadership at NATO during the early days of Operation Unified Protector has shown dedication and gave their all throughout the operation. As Niculescu (2012), points out, strong leadership is very critical in every national endeavor, and in a multinational operation like the one led by NATO, good leadership by the operation’s commander is very essential.

Lessons learnt from NATO’s military operations in Libya

Effective communication is very essential during periods of strategic pressures and when the issue at hand is targeting diverse groups of people concurrently. At times of pressure, proper accomplishment of tasks requires the leader’s to control important messages in a large environment that may seem uncontrollable. Basically, efficient communication is very crucial during military operations, but due to management issues, effective communication may not occur, leading to strategic failure (Engelbrekt, Mohlin and Wagnsson, 2013, p. 187). During Operation Unified Protector, the NATO partners and the British military have based their communication methods on the notion that their extraordinary efforts will yield positive results. The CAFC commander has successfully communicated the intended messages to the right people because he has a mature understanding of the relevance of effective communication in military operations. Operation Unified Protector led by NATO teaches historians about the significance of effective communication during periods of strategic pressure (Niculescu 2012).

Challenges faced by NATO during Operation Unified Protector in Libya

Although NATO’s strategies contributed to the success of Operation Unified Protector in Libya, the treaty still faced a number of challenges which impeded its ability to carry out air operations. The first challenge is related to structural barriers that disrupted the unity of the Alliance. At the beginning of the Operation Unified Protector, NATO had agreed that operations will be distributed across various divisions of the alliance. However, due to Libya’s large size, the CFAC commander could not be physically present with the entire entity to ensure that commands were properly executed (Niculescu 2012).

Another challenge faced by NATO during Operation Unified Protector is lack of skilled personnel throughout the strategy division. This challenge was largely felt when there was need to come up with strategies to protect civilians because the forces used by the Qadhafi’s regime were strictly humanitarian. Since there were few skilled and experienced staff in strategy division, NATO was compelled to take more time to prepare and execute combat operations (Phinney 2014). Additionally, CFAC struggled to ensure proper management of skilled personnel during Operations Unified Protector. The main sources of management problem were limited finances and political factors.

Moreover, the United States’ policy decision to take a secondary role in the Operation Unified Protector prevented NATO from effectively accomplishing its mission in Libya. This is because only few countries in the Alliance had national capability to collect and analyze intelligence, and provide the right targeting materials. NATO also experienced difficulties in formulating an initial air strategy in Libya. At the beginning of Operation Unified Protector, NATO lacked clear political guidance and there were differing views between the CJTF and CFAC staff. This reduced the time that was available for the alliance to formulate a comprehensive strategy (Phinney 2014).


 Operation Unified Protector was launched at time when NATO was planning to reduce the structure of its military. The strategies that the Alliance’s leadership formulated and executed were effective in assisting the Operation Unified Protector realize its objectives. NATO’s sources of success during Operation Unified Protector were the kinetic exercises applied during the military operations, commitment of teams, and effective strategic communication between the CFAC commander and the Alliance’s partners.

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