Libya: The Big Problem Here Is Not What You Think


July 14, 2011: Berber rebels are advancing from the south of Tripoli, but more slowly because Kaddafi has sent more gunmen to oppose them. Moreover, the Berber rebels suffer the same disorganization, lack of training and general inability to work with the NATO bombers above as their Arab allies advancing along the coast road. The big problem here is not what most people realize, but it is simple. Kaddafi has more effective troops, especially the closer you get to Tripoli. In addition, Kaddafi has no trouble getting determined new recruits. Many individuals, families and tribes that have long been associated with Kaddafi live in and around Tripoli. They know there will be retribution if the rebels win. While the wealthiest Kaddafi supporters can flee (and an increasing number are doing just that) many cannot. So the young men of these families feel obliged to join up, even if they have no military experience. But most of the male Kaddafi supporters and beneficiaries do have military training. That was one of the reasons Kaddafi has stayed in power for over 40 years. If you got economic benefits from Kaddafi, the men in your family were expected to serve at least a few years in the military, if not make a career of it. Kaddafi has many retired military officers he can call back into service, if only to protect their pensions. This loyalty and  ability also provides some effective countermeasures against smart bombs and NATO reconnaissance. The Kaddafi loyalists have studied how to deal with hostile air power and the many techniques of deceiving and avoiding those warplanes. This keeps the NATO intel analysts jumping, the rebel fighters stalled and Kaddafi in play. The result is the rebels advance is slower the closer they get to Tripoli. Rebels leaders are discussing some kind of amnesty announcement to take the enthusiasm out of Kaddafi's armed followers.

While Kaddafi supporters, although only a minority of the population, are united and capable, the NTC (National Transitional Council) that leads the rebels is full of dissent and demands for more help (money, weapons, food, and stuff in general). Two generations of Libyans have lived in a welfare state, where most everyone was poor, but kept alive by government subsidized food and other goodies. This is all gone now because the fighting has halted most of the oil exports. Most of the administrators who ran the Kaddafi welfare state have fled, and the rebel replacements are learning on the job. But there is no money and foreign nations are reluctant to send any because of the incompetence and corruption. Over 20 nations have now recognized the NTC as the true government, but far fewer are willing to write checks. Despite this, the rebels know that time is on their side. Kaddafi is blockaded, and short of food (even though that is allowed in), cash (which has been cut off) and fuel (ditto). But letting the fight go to the end would get very ugly. Many Kaddafi supporters would fight to the end (when they are killed, many in family compounds, surrounded by dead and dying kin.) Rebels, who have long suffered under Kaddafi, and recently seen friends and family killed, are not bothered by this ending. But the more media-conscious among the rebel leadership are. And the NATO nations are horrified by the prospect.

Another post-war problem, both for the rebels and their foreign supporters, is whether democracy will take hold. Already, the Berbers are talking about demanding recognition of their cultural identity (which Arabs have been trying to suppress for over a thousand years). Various rebel factions have lists of things they want, to add up to far more than what is available. The war won't be over when Kaddafi is defeated.

Amidst all this, France is leading an effort to arrange for a peace deal that will send Kaddafi and his family into a safe (prosecution free) exile and get amnesty for his armed followers (to get them to stop fighting). But many of the rebels, including some of the leaders, are insistent on getting revenge for the decades of Kaddafi oppression. So far, the French have not been able to conjure any diplomatic magic to solve this dispute.

There are still over a thousand casualties a week, most of them among Kaddafi supporters. The rebels keep advancing, despite an occasional setback. The advance is slower, but it is still an advance.

Kaddafi is calling in favors from foreign journalists (who have been bribed, or otherwise treated well over the years) to get certain stories published (usually in Arab or African media, where some are picked up by Western editors). The main thrust is that NATO bombs are killing too many Libyan civilians (over a thousand, compared to over 15,000 by Kaddafi's armed supporters) and that the rebels are looting captured town and hurting, or even killing, Kaddafi supporters. In the Moslem world, any time you have infidels (non-Moslems) killing the faithful, there's a media headline that must be used (even if the Moslem victims are supporters of a tyrant). It's just the way things are in the Islamic world.

July 11, 2011: An Egyptian court finally agreed to take 14 Libyan TV channels off an Egyptian owned satellite. This cut Kaddafi's main propaganda outlet.

July 10, 2011: Rebels advanced on a town southwest of Tripoli, and cut an oil pipeline providing most of the fuel for Kaddafi forces.

July 8, 2011: Kaddafi has threatened to unleash terrorist attacks on Europe if NATO does not halt operations against him. In response, NATO counter-terror agencies and national police rounded up some of the usual suspects and checked their threat reports. Kaddafi appeared to be just talking, and not actually doing any terrorist activity. Many terrorists who have been hiding in Libya for a long time, are reported to be on the move. But these bad boys appear to be seeking new sanctuary, not fresh targets. In any event, most of these killers are retired, and their former support networks gone or much degraded.





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