Saturday, July 09, 2011

Slow Grinding in Libya

Camille Tawil provides a useful look at the status of the Libya War. After describing NATO's success is degrading Qadhafi's forces, she looks at key campaigns:
"NATO attacks succeeded in reversing the situation on the ground in the rebels’ favor. In the east, opposition forces moved from Ajdabiya toward the oil port of Brega (al-Burayqah - some 80 miles to the west), but they have not yet been able to take it, despite heavy bombardment by NATO from air and sea. It has been reported that one of Qaddafi’s sons, Muatasim, is leading the defense of Brega, which, if true, indicates how important the town is to his father (al-Hayat, May 19). The fall of Brega can open the road for the rebels to reach Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace and a stronghold of his tribe, the Qadadfa.

"In western Libya, the rebels of Misurata have also been on the offensive, after breaking the siege laid by Qaddafi’s forces on the city since the start of the uprising in February. However, the rebels have been trying for weeks to overrun the nearby town of Zliten, which blocks their advance on Tripoli, around 100 miles to the west. The rebels claim that they have not entered Zliten yet because they are waiting for the town’s own rebels to rise against Qaddafi. Despite claims that the rebels are indeed active inside Zliten, the town is still held firmly by Qaddafi, either because the majority of its own citizens are still loyal to his regime, or because of fear of his troops stationed inside the town. Here, again, it has been reported that Qaddafi has deployed one of his sons, Khamis, the head of the 32nd Brigade, to lead the defense of Zliten (al-Khaleej [UAE], June 2).

"But if the rebels in the east have failed to overrun Brega, and their colleagues in Misurata have also failed to enter Zliten, the opposition forces in Jabal Nafusa, south west of Tripoli, have managed to score an important victory against Qaddafi, whose forces were pushed out from almost the entire region, which lies 70 miles west of Tripoli. In June, the rebels of the Nafusa Mountains broke the siege which Qaddafi forces had laid against them from the start of the uprising, and they quickly advanced north towards Tripoli. In order to continue to Tripoli, they must first take Gharyan from loyalist forces, a task the rebels are confident can be achieved sometime this month. Rebel success in this region seems to have been the result not only of their patience and courage, but also due to weapons drops from French aircraft, including Milan anti-tank missiles (Le Figaro, June 28). The rebels are also reported to be receiving weapons from Qatar and are known to have received aid smuggled in via Tunis. Even if the Nafusa rebels manage to take Gharyan, they will soon find themselves facing major populated areas still loyal to the regime."

The overall picture I came away with is that the rebels are slowing grinding out progress, but the emphasis is on "slowly." Qadhafi's best hope for survival is simply to keep fighting and hope for NATO to tire of the mission, perhaps enshrining a division of the country in the process. Tawil notes that he can probably take heart from the fact that the rebels have failed to inspire large-scale revolts in areas still under his control, suggesting his regime may have some genuine loyalty, or at the very least a critical mass of fear in the population, in the areas still under his control.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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