BY BENJAMIN RUNKLE
History has a strange way of repeating itself, often more quickly than anticipated. Within hours of invading Panama in 1989, U.S. forces had decimated the Panamanian Defense Forces and were greeted as liberators by the long-suffering Panamanian people. Yet the failure to immediately capture Gen. Manuel Noriega, the thuggish, pock-marked Panamanian strongman, dominated perceptions of Operation Just Cause. At the first post-invasion news conference in Washington, reporters asked: "Could we really consider Just Cause successful as long as we did not have Noriega in custody?"
More than a decade later, coalition forces overwhelmed the Iraqi Army and seized Baghdad after a lightning three-week campaign in spring 2003. But the ostensible target of the invasion, dictator Saddam Hussein, disappeared. Despite the initial euphoria of liberation, ordinary Iraqis were plagued by a sense of growing unease and disbelief as graffiti praising Saddam began to emerge in Iraq's so-called Sunni Triangle, bearing messages such as "Saddam is still our leader" and "Saddam the hero will be back." While Noriega was apprehended within two weeks and the feared guerrilla campaign never developed, Saddam evaded coalition forces for eight months, during which time the Sunni insurgency that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly devastated Iraq coalesced.
Today, Libya's fate may similarly hinge on the apprehension of a deposed dictator. For even as forces loyal to the Western-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) storm Tripoli and attempt to consolidate control, the shadow of missing strongman Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi looms large over the country's future. The head of the NTC's provisional government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said Wednesday, Aug. 24,"The matter won't come to an end except when he's captured dead or alive" and "we fear mayhem and destruction from him because these are his values, upbringing, and practices." Or as a homemaker in Tripoli told the Wall Street Journal, "A part of me will always fear that he might come back, and until I see him in jail or hanging, that fear will remain."
In other words, capturing Qaddafi is critical to avoiding prolonged civil strife and achieving a strategically acceptable outcome in Libya. Recognizing this fact, the NTC announced a bounty of 2 million Libyan dinars -- approximately $1.35 million -- to anyone who captures the ousted leader and offered amnesty for past crimes to any member of the strongman's inner circle who either captures or kills him.
Given that deploying SEAL Team 6 is not an option, as Barack Obama's administration and Congress are united in their commitment to avoid the deployment of U.S. forces to Libya, what is the most likely way to capture Qaddafi? In my book Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to bin Laden, I recount the history of 11 previous strategic manhunts, examining which factors lead to success or failure in apprehending the targeted individual. I focus on six variables: the level of technology employed (both relative and absolute), troop strength, terrain, human intelligence, indigenous forces, and bilateral assistance.
I found four surprising conclusions. First, although U.S. forces almost always enjoy an edge in technology over their quarry, this advantage is never decisive. Second, troop strength is less important than the presence of reliable indigenous forces. Third, although terrain can influence individual campaigns, there is no single terrain type that predicts success or failure. Finally, more important than physical terrain is human terrain, or the ability to obtain intelligence tips from local populations or support from neighboring states to assist in the strategic manhunt.
Applied to Libya, these lessons suggest several courses of action necessary to apprehending Qaddafi.Read more.