Libya: Fighting To The Death

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June 8, 2011: In the last week, NATO air strikes have concentrated on targets in and around Tripoli. It appears that the NATO goal is to destroy Kaddafi's key assets (communications, weapons and ammo supplies) and, unofficially, kill Kaddafi and his key aides (including his sons).  NATO aircraft have flown over 4,000 sorties in the last 12 weeks. At least a fifth of these missions are for collecting visual and electronic information on what Kaddafi forces are up to. The primary, and very unofficial, target is Kaddafi himself. But anyone expressing any degree of control is being identified, located and bombed. This tells Kaddafi that the smart bombs are closing in.

NATO has established a safety system with rebel troops. In effect, there is a "red line" that, on one side, NATO aircraft will attack any armed men. On the other (rebel) side, they will not. The only exceptions are the few NATO air controllers on the ground, who can identify an enemy target anywhere, and call in a missile or smart bomb attack. Rebel troops are frustrated by the new system, which requires that they constantly call back to Benghazi to report their current position and their next objective. The growing number of rebel units (columns of dozens of vehicles carrying hundreds of fighters and supplies) means that there is not always a NATO warplane available before the rebel unit wants to advance, and move the "red line" west a bit. Once rebel headquarters calls in to confirm that the red line has been moved west, the rebels can attack. If the Kaddafi forces quickly retreat, which often happens, the rebels must halt when they hit the red line. By now, the rebels know that if they cross the red line, a NATO aircraft might show up unexpectedly (perhaps because its primary target in Tripoli was destroyed earlier than expected) and bomb them. The Kaddafi forces, out of necessity, are much more skilled at staying out of sight. So the rebel units halt at the "red line" and complain, but at least there are far fewer friendly fire losses.

There are also "red lines" in Tripoli, protecting most of the city, especially neighborhoods known to be anti-Kaddafi. It's believed that NATO is receiving some target information from these neighborhoods. The increased strikes on Kaddafi targets in Tripoli has made anti-Kaddafi forces in Tripoli bolder, and much more optimistic that the dictator will soon be gone. The rebel supporters in Tripoli need all the encouragement they can get, because Kaddafi's secret police have arrested thousands of people, tortured hundreds and apparently executed many of these. This is all an effort to find rebel spies, and discourage anti-Kaddafi demonstrations. But the spies and demonstrators are still at it.  Currently, some rebel columns are within 70 kilometers of Tripoli, and the "Battle for Tripoli" is expected to start soon. Kaddafi has been recently talking about "fighting to the death" and "never surrendering." This has encouraged the rebels, as it indicates that even Kaddafi knows the end is near, and that he does not expect to survive it.

The rebels are also rounding up pro-Kaddafi people, and often treating them harshly.  In part, this is because these men have been setting off bombs and killing people in rebel territory. There's not been a lot of this violence, but enough to be noticed, and that has led to more efforts to find Kaddafi supporters.

The rebels are having a serious, but largely unseen, battle with lawyers and diplomats trying to get access to Libyan government money and other assets. While foreign nations have frozen most of these assets (a lot of it cash), this was done largely to keep Kaddafi from it, not allow the rebels access. The legal procedures needed to get the rebel NTC (National Transitional Council) recognized as the official owner of these assets, takes time. Meanwhile, the rebels are having increasing difficulties covering their costs. Some of these expenses include hiring contractors, most of whom are involved in support functions. British and French firms are supplying most of these personnel. Kaddafi, on the other hand, has been caught freeing and arming criminals to fight (not very well) for him.  Many of Kaddafi's closest aides are defecting. Many of his low level supporters are fleeing as well, especially when Kaddafi is unable to supply food or other necessities. But NATO is concerned about the rebel NTC, and whether it will produce a democracy, another dictatorship, or an extended civil war.

June 7, 2011: NATO launched its largest number of daylight bombing attacks on Tripoli. This caused the streets to empty of traffic and pedestrians, but the only damage was of government and military compounds.

The NATO blockade force off Libya has been ordered to increase restrictions on what ships can enter or leave Kaddafi controlled ports (there are six of them in western Libya). There is an air blockade as well, and Algeria has agreed to join Tunisia and discourage overland smuggling of whatever Kaddafi might want. Egypt (and the Niger, Chad and Sudan to the south) officially forbid aid to Kaddafi, but the smugglers in those nations have huge, unguarded, borders they can cross. These smugglers move truckloads of goods, going more than a thousand kilometers over deserts. So stuff is still getting in, but not a lot of it, and not quickly.

June 6, 2011: Kaddafi's TV broadcasting facilities were bombed and shut down. This had been called for since the beginning of the violence. An official pro-Kaddafi website is still operating.

June 5, 2011:  Rebel forces in the western mountains (inland from Tripoli and its 2.5 million people) have driven pro-Kaddafi forces from these highlands, especially the few towns the Kaddafi forces held. These mountains are largely inhabited by Berbers, the original inhabitants of the region. Berbers don't like Arabs in general, and Kaddafi in particular.

June 4, 2011:  British and French helicopter gunships have begun hitting targets along the coast. The gunship pilots are more accustomed to dealing with commanders on the ground and, of course, the helicopters can hover. But not for long. The helicopters are operating from carriers offshore and that means they can linger over the battlefield for about half an hour, before returning to refuel and rearm. Fixed wing warplanes can refuel in the air and stick around longer.

 

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