Libya: No Easy Victories Here


May 10, 2011: Although NATO countries have said they would support the Libyan rebels, there's been no rush to deliver weapons. Moreover, NATO says that it will only deliver weapons suitable for "self-defense." It's unclear what that means, but the rebels admit that they have not received any weapons yet. Moreover, there are apparently fewer than fifty NATO trainers and advisers actually in Libya. NATO countries are reluctant to be drawn into a ground war, and that means no one wants to send in a lot of trainers, or let them get anywhere near the fighting. NATO media advisors warn that video of NATO troops training Libyan rebels could be used by Kaddafi's propagandists to accuse the West of "invading an Arab state."

The reluctance to get involved has left the rebels at a disadvantage on the ground, despite the NATO air support. That's because there are a lot of rebel-held areas in western Libya, some quite close to Kaddafi-held Tripoli. It's been difficult for the rebels to supply, reinforce, or even communicate with these many separate rebel groups. Outside Tripoli, in the mountains, Berbers hold out against Kaddafi troops. The Berbers have always been hostile to non-Berber Kaddafi and are currently taking most of the casualties in the battle against Kaddafi. The Berber-held towns of Zintan and Yafran, southwest of Tripoli, are a messy battlefield, with lots of places for government artillery and rocket launchers to hide. It's a hit-and-run war up in the hills, and the rebels are able to get supplies from nearby Tunisia. But it's a war Kaddafi is winning, at least in terms of the number of rebel fighters and civilians he is killing. NATO has established radio contact with some of the Berber rebels, and is getting reports of where Kaddafi forces, especially their vehicles and ammo, are kept. NATO aircraft have begun hitting those targets. Air strikes on Kaddafi military headquarters and other bases in Tripoli continue. While NATO insists it is not trying to kill Kaddafi, bombs constantly seem to hit places where Kaddafi has just been.

As the old saying goes, "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics," the war in Libya will be won by the side that can best deal with obtaining and distributing goods to their civilian populations. Kaddafi, and Tripoli, are cut off by a NATO sea and air blockade. Already, there is growing tension in Tripoli between Kaddafi supporters (who get more stuff, especially fuel) and everyone else. Kaddafi always had enemies in Tripoli, and the worsening supply situation is creating more. Kaddafi is trying to use shortages to retake Misarata, as his gunmen in the city use rockets, artillery, machine-guns and mines to interfere with the movement of supplies into the port and through the city. This effort is causing growing misery in the city. The NATO aircraft overhead can bomb what they can see, but you can't see everything from way up there. The final battles are fought at ground level.

Time would appear to be on Kaddafi's side, but it isn't. Kaddafi feels that if he can keep the rebels from expanding into western Libya, NATO support will wane (wars become more unpopular the longer they go on). But that support won't disappear quickly enough, as Kaddafi is under siege by NATO air and naval forces in Tripoli. Kaddafi has land access to Algeria (run by a pro-Kaddafi dictatorship) and, far to the south, Niger (which is not as pro-Kaddafi, but is not hostile either). The Algerian access is via desert roads, to the south of the Tunisian (run by anti-Kaddafi rebels) border. Kaddafi has control of Tripoli, and its million residents, but not much else. Even many people in Tripoli are hostile to Kaddafi and there are armed rebels operating in the suburbs. But Kaddafi has thousands of armed and ruthless followers, including many mercenaries who will keep killing as long as they get paid. These, Kaddafi apparently believes, can be used to persuade the rebels to accept a ceasefire. The rebels also have problems policing and supplying the five million or so Libyans they are responsible for. Who wins this war depends a lot on the ability to keep food on the table and the lights on. Too many unhappy civilians makes a peace deal with Kaddafi more likely, and that would lead to the partition of Libya, and the continuation of Kaddafi's power, and appetite for revenge and terrorist mayhem. Everyone wants Kaddafi gone, but Kaddafi and his followers are ruthless and clever survivors. There won't be any easy victories here.

Columns of armed Kaddafi supporters continue to operate in the southern desert, attacking rebel held towns, especially those containing oil facilities (pumping stations for the pipelines). The rebels have largely managed to keep the raiders out, but have been unable to track down and destroy them. These columns (a dozen or more vehicles full of armed men) are hard to find in the desert, and the NATO air force does not have enough aircraft to watch the desert and hit the targets along the coast, where most of the fighting is taking place.

Some Arab countries are being very helpful to the rebels. Kuwait has set up a refugee assistance operation in Tunisia, as thousands of Berber civilians flee Libya each day. Qatar is acting as a broker for oil the rebels can ship out of Libya. Kaddafi is forbidden to sell any oil he can ship. Warships block access to any ports Kaddafi controls.

But NATO is making improvements in rebel capabilities every day. Communications systems between NATO aircraft and rebel commanders on the ground have been improvised. The flow of information between NATO and the rebels is getting more reliable. This increases the accuracy of NATO bombing, and lessens friendly fire casualties among the rebels. NATO trainers and advisors are concentrating on the rebel leadership, improving communications with NATO, and rebel commanders ability to keep in touch with rebel troops. It's not just a matter of using existing radios, but showing the rebels how to use this stuff most effectively.

May 9, 2011:  The government announced that some rebels had surrendered in Misarata, and some had also "confessed" to their crimes against the Kaddafi government. The rebels denied any surrenders, and later announced they had driven Kaddafi forces out of the city. This is seen as another effort by Kaddafi propagandists to portray the rebels as "evil pawns of Western infidels." Kaddafi wants to try and generate some street level support in the Arab world, because he has angered most Arab leaders over the last few decades.

In Misarata, Kaddafi forces moved on the main airport, and this led to a large battle with rebel gunmen.

May 6, 2011: In Misarata, Kaddafi forces set fire to fuel storage tanks, causing a huge, smoky, fire.

NATO governments announced that they would seek to transfer Kaddafi's cash, currently frozen in accounts in foreign banks, to the Libyan rebels. There's believed to be up to $60 billion worth of this, money stolen from Libya by Kaddafi, his family and cronies. Kaddafi announced that he would fight this, with lawyers, and he will probably be able to delay use of this cash by the rebels (who say they need at least $6 billion a year to run the two-thirds of Libya they control). The U.S. says it will deal with the Kaddafi lawyers, but that remains to be seen.

May 5, 2011:  Kaddafi forces are using Chinese made cluster bomb warhead on rockets fired in Misarata. The bomblets are anti-vehicle mines, which descend by parachute and just lie about waiting for a vehicle to run over them. If drivers don't watch out for these little nasties, they will have wheels blown off, and vehicles wrecked.

Kaddafi gathered several hundred tribal elders in Tripoli, as a show of support from the tribes. This was mostly for show. The tribal leadership is being very cautious when it comes to openly supporting Kaddafi. Here is where the NATO air power becomes a major factor. NATO knows where the tribes are, and can bomb assets and cut roads from the air. The tribes want to come out of all this unrest with as little damage as possible, and if that means showing up in Tripoli for a photo-op, so be it.

May 4, 2011: Qatar and Kuwait have pledged over $600 million in cash to help the rebels get needed suppliers to fight Kaddafi and sustain the civilian population. The rebels say they will run out of cash at the end of the month, and need $2-3 billion immediately to keep their government going.

The UN is seeking war crime indictments against Kaddafi and his key aides, using the attacks on civilians as the main evidence.

France has announced that it does not want to kill Moamar Kaddafi, just weaken is armed forces and halt the attacks on civilians in Libya.





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