This development indicates to me that the coastal front will become active:
France plans to deploy attack helicopters in Libya, the first to be used in the coalition against Muammar Gaddafi's forces, a French newspaper reported on Monday.
Twelve helicopters were shipped out to Libya on French battleship Tonnerre on May 17, daily Le Figaro reported, to help break a military stalemate three months into an uprising against Gaddafi's four-decade rule. ...
According to Le Figaro's source, French special forces, who have been operating in Libya to help identify targets for NATO planes since the start of air strikes, could now be reinforced and deployed to guide helicopter attacks.
Let me digress for a moment. Tonnerre is not a "battleship." It is a an amphibious warfare ship capable of carrying helicopters. A "battleship" is not just another name for a "warship"--the generic word for navy combat vessels. A "battleship" is a very specific type of warship that we were the last to use. Editors please take note.
With French special forces on the ground to spot targets for those French attack helicopters, this team could spearhead an advance by newly organized and equipped rebel troops, along with the usual air support. British, French, and Italian advisers are doing the organizing, I assume. And planning the offensive. Egyptian special forces could provide advisers at the unit level on the rebel side.
I've long wondered what army would be found to drive into the loyalist areas and make Khaddafi "go." We may have an answer soon.
UPDATE: The British, too, will add attack helicopters from the naval task force I mentioned a while ago. The article says:
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said separately that London would deploy helicopters aboard its HMS Ocean aircraft carrier as soon as possible.
Perhaps recent NATO attention to striking Libyan naval assets was to pave the way for the French and British to move their amphibious carriers closer to the coast to launch missions without basing the helicopters ashore.
With a battalion of British marines in the task force, too, could the British and French be thinking about putting a multi-national brigade task force ashore to help the drive west?
The article also writes about more intense NATO air attacks on Tripoli:
An AFP journalist said the raids lasting more than half an hour began at around 1:00 am when powerful blasts were heard in the sector around Kadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya residence.
More than 15 strong blasts were heard in the neighbourhood, with the sound of warplanes roaring overhead.
Intensifying air attacks on Tripoli is risky since it provides more chances for something to go wrong on the propaganda front. One bad hit or loyalist success in portraying high collateral damage with good visuals could be fatal to the NATO air campaign.
To really be effective, the air attacks should have a ground component to exploit the damage done by the raids, otherwise the loyalists can recover from whatever damage the raids achieve.
I still think it is a race between the collapse of the loyalist will to fight and the NATO will to fight. NATO actions seem like they could accelerate both "clocks" for making resolution one way or the other take place faster.
Also, whatever happened to that precision weapons shortage that NATO was facing that I read about fairly early in the war? Are factories rushing them to the planes as fast as they are produced? Did the Europeans have war reserve stocks that they broke open? Did we manage to supply weapons they can use on their planes?
Or is the planned use of attack helicopters with their own precision weapons not part of a deeper plan to spearhead a rebel offensive but just a way to preserve aircraft precision weapons for deep targets? That is, might the French sail off of Ajdabiya to support the rebels instead of using aircraft around the city and the British sail off of Misrata to support rebels there?
UPDATE: The British say they are still in the pondering stage and have made no decision to use attack helicopters. Although Strategypage says France and Britain will use a dozen attack helicopters each off of their amphibious ships. Strategypage also writes that the Moslem world is turning more against Khaddafi, citing Turkey in particular. And I should note that Strategypage still thinks Khaddafi will lose this war.
Again, I'll agree that the competing existing vectors favor NATO victory. But I don't have high confidence that the trends will remain constant long enough for NATO to win unless we get lucky. I think the chances of the NATO vectors changing for the worse are greater the longer the war is unresolved.