Now that Gadhafi has been eliminated we thought we’d take a look back at NATO’s military campaign to support the Libyan rebels.
As of this writing, NATO has conducted a total of 26,089 sorties, including 9,618 strike sorties against Gadhafi’s forces since March 31. Just yesterday, NATO jets conducted 16 strike missions and flew a total of 19 overall sorties.
The U.S. only lost an F-15E Strike Eagle (the pilot was rescued by an MV-22 Osprey) to mechanical issues and a Navy MQ-8 Fire Scout drone chopper was shot down by Gadhafi’s troops. Not bad considering the amount of missions flown. The U.S. has spent about $1.1 billion on Libyan ops — not a ton of money in the Pentagon’s world.
At first, the U.S. and NATO allies threw almost every piece of high-tech weaponry they had at Gadhafi, starting with long-range strike missions by B-2 stealth bombers on March 20 aimed at knocking down the crazy colonels best air defenses and paving the way for further attacks. The B-2s were joined by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets, Eurofighter Typhoons, French Rafales, and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Mediterranean Sea by U.S. and British ships and subs.
(French jets actually flew the first strike missions just before NATO operations officially started.)
It’s worth noting that the Libyan ops marked the combat debut of the Growler, Typhoon, the Block IV Tomahawk cruise missile and the U.S. Navy’s new guided missile submarine, USS Florida — a former ballistic missile sub.
Meanwhile, Air Force officials tried to explain why the service’s premier jet was left out of the fight by saying that the F-22 Raptors were simply based too far away from Libya to warrant using against Gadhafi.
As Gadhafi’s air defenses were wrecked slower moving planes were brought into the mix; by April, everything from AC-130 gunships and carrier-borne Apache attack choppers to P-3 Orions were taking out pro-Gadhafi targets. These weapons were supported by a host of intel planes ranging from RQ-4 Global Hawk drones to giant RC-135 Rivet Joints.
Two other significant events happened in April, the U.S. handed over the lead in operations to NATO (the UK and France, in particular) and we began to see Western special operators arrive on the ground in Libya to train and equip the rebels, and provide targeting info to NATO. It was also in April that Air Force Predator drones arrived and drew their first blood. The UAVs were brought in to hunt down Gadhafi’s troops who were hiding so close to civilians that fast movers were having trouble finding them and hitting them without killing innocents.
There were also rumors that as European NATO members took over ops, they were actually running out of ammunition. Heck, France even began dropping concrete bombs!
This is also when concerns (that still exist) began to rise about Gadhafi’s stockpiles of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles falling into the wrong hands as his government disintegrated.
As the rebels took over more of the country and seized more and more of Gadhafi’s weapons, they began pressing those weapons into use, creating Mad Max style gun trucks and even armed robots made from kids toys! Pro-Gadhafi forces tried to fight back with makeshift weapons of their own like these floating booby traps.
By summertime, the rebels — who were receiving weapons, comms gear, medical equipment and military training from NATO — controlled a large enough portion of the country that, with NATO’s blessing, they were able to field their own air force complete with jet fighters and transports. Oh, and don’t forget the rebel- operated UAVs that were used to gather intel on Gadhafi’s troops.
Gadhafi, meanwhile was becoming increasingly desperate as the rebels closed in on his capitol of Tripoli. In August, he began firing Scud missiles in an absolutely useless attempt at slowing the rebel advances. His compound fell on August 23rd and the Rebels effectively ruled Libya within a few days after that.
Gadhafi fled Tripoli and in the months since, everything from Western commandos and RC-135 Rivet Joints were probably employed in the hunt to track him down. That hunt apparently ended today.