No-fly zones are complex and dangerous

April 10, 2013

In his April 7 Sunday Opinion commentary, “Moral and strategic,” Scott Cooper encouraged the establishment of a U.S.-led no-fly zone over Syria. While no-fly zones are strategically and tactically effective, Mr. Cooper’s experience paints an inaccurate portrait of the realities of establishing one. These operations are dangerous, expensive and extremely complex. The nation’s political leaders and the public must be well informed before embarking on such a mission.  

Mr. Cooper’s essay seemed to add to the general perception that no-fly zones are essentially bloodless events that are relatively easy to establish, need few resources and require no airstrikes or bombings. The opposite is true. No-fly zones require huge planning efforts, strategic cooperation, allied basing privileges, overflight rights, significant intelligence preparation and substantial commitments of strike, air-refueling and command-and-control aircraft, search-and-rescue platforms and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. They are, by their very nature, offensive military operations and require bombings, airstrikes and countermeasures before they can be effectively established and sustained.

Mr. Cooper is correct in that no-fly zones can be effective and decisive. The no-fly zone in Libya was key in permitting uncoordinated insurgents to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. No-fly zones have been instrumental in Bosnia and in the Iraq conflict, but each operation was distinct, with differing political, military and diplomatic objectives. The application of force is, of course, a political decision, but our political leaders would be well served to receive advice from airmen rather than from others who postulate with limited experience and historical vignettes.

Stuart K. Archer, Fairfax Station

The writer is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. The views expressed are his own.

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