When Operation Odyssey Dawn began over the weekend, its objective was clear; to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s aerial defence capabilities, command centres and missile bases.
The aim of the surgical strikes is to set up a much vaunted no-fly zone to protect civilians, the idea being that control of the skies will stop Gaddafi from bombarding his own people.
The second phase of the operation, which is already underway, is to cut off supply lines and logistics to Gaddafi’s forces. But that is where the UN resolution enters murky waters.
So far, much of the fighting has taken place outside large cities, but if fighting increases in urban areas between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces, what will the coalition do to protect civilians caught in the crossfire? And what if forces loyal to Gaddafi dig in and do nothing? It is unclear whether the West has the stomach for a long campaign.
For many military experts, the answer to such questions lies in putting soldiers on the ground. But the leaders of the operation, France, Britain and the United States, have all categorically ruled out committing any troops to a ground assault.
The UN resolution does give the coalition much leeway to protect civilians, prompting speculation over whether Gaddafi himself is a legitimate target.
France’s Air Force Chief of Staff Jean-Paul Palomeros refused to be drawn: “We are acting under the resolution of the United Nations and the orders that are given to us by the head of the armed forces and the President of the Republic. The no-fly zone and the protection of populations, that is our objective,” he said.
So what happens now? With the United States eager to hand over the reins to NATO, divisions over the scale of the operation and what to do are threatening to crack apart the coalition.