U.S. drones in Libya: 'A new kind of mission creep'?

America sends armed, unmanned aircraft to join the NATO-led assault on Moammar Gadhafi. Is the U.S. wading deeper into the conflict?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) visited Libya's rebel opposition leadership, just as the U.S. began deploying Predator drones targeting Gadhafi forces.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

American involvement in Libya's civil war is evolving. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a high-profile trip to meet with Libyan rebels, the Obama administration deployed a new weapon — armed Predator drones — to target the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Military officials said the drones would make it easier to protect civilians in rebel strongholds facing attack by government soldiers. But is this just a way for the U.S. to focus on toppling Gadhafi without sending in American troops?

Yes, Obama can send drones where he can't send soldiers: Deploying drones in Libya amounts to "a new kind of mission creep," says William Saletan at Slate. Drones can't win the war in Libya, any more than they have in Pakistan. But with them buzzing over the battlefield, "risks to civilians, U.S. troops, and pilots might diminish to the point where we feel emboldened" to overthrow Gadhafi. And if that works, we may go after other dictators the same way.

"Terminators to Tripoli"

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The mission is not expanding, just dragging on: If we're going to be firing missiles in Libya anyway, says Adam Serwer at The Washington Post, at least the Predators will be "better at distinguishing a military target from a civilian one than an F-15." But drones, which have become a seemingly permanent fixture in the skies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, have become a symbol of "our seemingly endless, unwinnable military conflicts." Now that they're flying over Misrata, it appears we're stuck in "a long, open-ended involvement in Libya with no foreseeable endpoint."

"Drones aren't the problem. The stalemate is the problem"

This is literally the least we could do: The first Predator strike against Gadhafi's forces on Saturday provided a big psychological boost for the rebels, say Ned Parker and Patrick J. McDonnell in the Los Angeles Times. But only two drone patrols — each capable of carrying just two Hellfire missiles — have been assigned to Libya, and such a limited deployment won't make a huge difference. Obama is just trying to "satisfy those favoring greater force in Libya while not substantially escalating the U.S. involvement."

"U.S. drones may provide psychological edge in Libya"

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