When the debate over imposing a no-fly zone in Libya was going on, Pentagon sources warned that what was in store would prove radically different from a sterile videogame.
Their point has just been proven, as an American F-15 Eagle fighter bomber went down several hours ago near Benghaz,i Libya. The Americans have already recovered one pilot and the other is said to be safe in the hands of the Libyan insurgents. There was some doubletalk on the latter issue, because ostensibly the no-fly zone is intended to protect civilians and the coalition forces are not supposed to be coordinating with the insurgents.
Military sources claimed that a malfunction rather than ground fire from the government forces had resulted in a plane crash. Still, American military history is studded with examples where. American pilots were exploited for propaganda purposes in Vietnam, Somalia and Saddam Hussein's Iraq by the opposing side. The American planners must feel that they just managed to dodge a bullet.
While the cost of the Libyan intervention may vitiate the Republican-inspired budget cuts, the worst thing that can happen to this repeat of Clinton's air-only strategy in Yugoslavia during the 1990s is to have dead or captured crewmen early on.
Speaking from Moscow, Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted that the aerial activity will slow down with the establishment of a no-fly zone across northern and populated Libya.