Gen. Carter F. Ham, the former U.S. commander of coalition Libyan operations, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he would not recommend regime change be added to the military mission there.
“It would make the investment and extent of American involvement much more uncertain than it is today,” said Ham, who heads Africa Command. Adding regime change to the mission would also probably end support for Libyan operations from the U.N. Security Council, some NATO countries and the Arab League, he said.
However, in response to questions, Ham said, “[Gaddafi’s] removal by any means would end this relatively quickly.”
Ham frankly assessed as “a low likelihood” the opposition being able to get to Tripoli and replace Gaddafi by force. But he agreed with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (D-S.C.) that the most likely scenario for success is that Gaddafi’s inner circle would force his departure, rather than the opposition forces gaining a military victory.
His testimony reflected statements made two weeks ago by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. A former CIA director and longtime intelligence analyst, Gates suggested scenarios for ending Gaddafi’s reign that included: “a member of his own family kills him or one of his inner circle kills him, or the military fractures, or the opposition, with the degradation of Gaddafi’s military, rises up again and is successful.”
French forces may have set the pattern, aiding in the arrest of the errant Ivory Coast president, Laurent Gbagbo, in his bunker in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital. Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, winner of the recent election, took Gbagbo into custody, and news reports said Gbagbo’s forces had announced they would give up their weapons and end the fighting.
Ham said that while he was commander there was no attempt to go after the Libyan dictator individually. “We made no effort at tracking him personally or attacking him,” Ham said. But he did say attacks on Tripoli were directed at regime command-and-control targets, some of which are in Gaddafi’s home compound. He described Libya’s 32nd Brigade as a “very specific target for us.” It is commanded by Gaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis, and considered “the regime’s inner protective force,” according to Ham.
Asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) what would be needed if the mission were expanded to include getting rid of Gaddafi, Ham responded that it would require a “pretty significant” increase in intelligence collection just to track him. He is “a difficult target . . . because this is a very practiced individual in terms of concealing movements,” the general said, and the human intelligence involved would probably require agents on the ground in Libya.