Escalation: U.S. Sending Predator Drones To Libya

After stepping back several weeks ago, the U.S. is about to get more involved in the conflict in Libya:

President Obama has approved the use of armed drones over Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday.

The first flights began Thursday, but the drones were recalled because of the weather, said Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The drones can detect hidden enemies by flying closer to the ground than other weapons, he said at a press conference with Gates.

Gates called the drones a “modest contribution” to NATO’s efforts in Libya and a “limited additional role” on the part of the U.S. military.

The defense chief repeated that giving “non-lethal assistance” to Libyans is an “important contribution,” and he noted that American troops aren’t in the country. “I think the president has been firm, for example, on the boots on the ground — there’s no wiggle room on that,” Gates said.

A Predator, of course, is hardly non-lethal assistance¬† and, as we’ve seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the possibility of civilian casualties from drone attacks is fairly high, especially in close combat situations in urban environments.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    So your prediction of “Boots on the ground” is revealed to be “loafers in Langley” and “low quarters in Nevada?”

  2. How cute, you think Predators is as far as we’re going to go (unless the rebels collapse before we’re able to escalate more). I thought you said a month ago that a no-fly zone was as far as we were going to go. I know Obama did.

  3. michael reynolds says:


    I never said any such thing.

    I’ve never thought it was a no-fly zone. It’s a no-fly, no-drive, wide open air intervention. That was obvious from the first UNSC resolution. You remember: the one you said we couldn’t possibly get passed.

    I’ve never had any doubt our goal was to topple Gaddafi. I’ve said from the start I thought it was 60/40 in our favor.

    And I’ve made the argument that various hysterical pronouncements about ground troops, or the inevitable failure of the rebels, or that the rebels were Al Qaeda, were wrong.

    And by the way, before all that, I argued against both the idiotic idea that we had somehow “dithered” and the mistaken notion that we had somehow been led around by the nose by the French and the Brits.

    I’ve also pointed out the military realities, something very few people seem to want to talk about: the fact that Gaddafi still hasn’t taken Misrata, the fact that the “hapless” rebels just chased some loyalist troops across the border into Tunisia and took over a major Libya/Tunisia crossing. (If you check the map you’ll see that’s deep in supposedly Gaddafi territory.)

    And I’ve explained at tedious length that a see-saw desert battle in which a supposedly professional army can’t knock off a handful of kids in pick-up trucks, doesn’t bode well for the ability of that same army to march into Benghazi. And that Gaddafi will have a hell of a time maintaining an attack against the east across hundreds of miles of desert crossed by a single road.

    In other words, I’ve been pretty much right so far: No one still believes the US was gamed into this by our allies, a simple look at the timelines destroys the “dithering” argument, we do not have ground troops involved, Gaddafi has not rolled over the rebels.

    And my odds stand: 60/40. In fact, the only way “our” side loses is if it comes apart politically. If it stays politically united it wins.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    One other thing: total US casualties stands at zero.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, at this rate Obama will win next year’s Nobel Peace Prize too.

  6. john personna says:

    I think going from manned missions to drones is really de-escalation. It is a subtraction.

  7. john personna says:

    (Ye gods, Apache missions, that would be escalation!)

  8. michael reynolds says:

    The Libyan government has announced it is withdrawing from Misrata. There’s some face-saving blather involved, but if true — a big if, very big if — it means Gaddafi has given up consolidating the west.

    So. The east is apparently 100% under the control of the rebels.

    The west is something less than 100% under the control of Gaddafi.

    The rebels apparently still hold Ajdabiyah — enough so that they had time to memorialize the fallen journalists.

    Rebels took a border crossing between Libya and Tunisia.

    The Qataris are pushing weapons to the rebels, while Gaddafi has lost his air force and his armor, and clearly cannot advance against rebel-held territory — perhaps even within the Tripoli area.

    And now the Predators are on the way.

    I’ve been saying it was 60/40. If this latest report is true, I’d say it’s more like 75/25 now. If the rebels hold their sh*t together politically I think they’ve got this thing.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    Well, with drones in the sky, I’m sure no one will dare have a wedding party. The weapon has done so much to endear the Afghans and Pakistanis to us, what could possibly go wrong?