Libya: The Pre-Ramadan Rush

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July 21, 2011: Fighting is expected to slow down for a month, starting August 1st, as Ramadan begins. During that month, Moslems are expected to eat or drink nothing during daylight. This is a major restriction for those fighting during the torrid Libyan Summer (which, in itself, is slowing down the pace of combat a bit).  As a practical matter, Kaddafi will make a big deal about observing Ramadan, as a way to slow down the rebels. But the rebels are likely to point out that Moslem custom allows soldiers to eat and drink in daylight during Ramadan.  Rebels also expect Kaddafi to increase his use of civilians as human shields, the closer rebels get to Tripoli. Using human shields will often stop NATO bombers from hitting Kaddafi troops, and will slow down the rebels as well. While casualties (for both sides) are running at about a hundred a day (dead and wounded), that is expected more than double if the rebels make a pre-Ramadan push in the next ten days.  NATO appears to be preparing for a rebel ground offensive, as more explosions are being hear in and around Tripoli. The rebels apparently have a growing informant network inside Tripoli, because Kaddafi forces are being hit even if they are hiding ammo and armored vehicles in civilian facilities.

Although rebels took the city of Zawiyah in March, they were pushed out a month later and have been fighting a guerilla war there ever since. Zawiyah is only 40 kilometers west of Tripoli (between the capital and the Tunisian border), so close that Kaddafi is unwilling to let it go without a big fight. Kaddafi forces have destroyed much of Zawiyah in expelling the rebels, and during the continuing guerilla fighting. This battle is forcing Kaddafi to keep some his best (and most reliable) troops tied down in Zawiyah, which motivates the rebels there to keep up the violence.

Rebel forces are 80 kilometers east of Tripoli, while Berber groups are about the same distance south of Tripoli. The NTC (National Transitional Council) has tried to represent all rebel factions, but is barely in touch with many Berber factions south of Tripoli. The NTC is more of a shaky coalition than a unified government. This is particularly harmful when it comes to distributing medical and ammunition supplies, as well as basic weapons (assault rifles, pistols, grenades, machine-guns) and radios. Some NATO nations have put some people on the ground to coordinate the distribution of this equipment, and discovered that most factions will not share. Thus many armed factions are difficult to contact, and are constantly running out of ammo and medical supplies. Despite that, the rebels know that time is on their side, not Kaddafi's.

But supplies and NATO trainers are getting through, mainly in the east, but also in the West. In the Berber held towns of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, uniformed and trained (marching in formation at least) rebel fighters have been seen. Many more of these uniformed rebels are showing up along the coast road. The uniforms mean the rebel fighters have gone through the few weeks of combat training being offered by NATO trainers and, increasingly, rebels with military experience (more and more of Kaddafi soldiers are defecting).

Government troops holding parts of Brega, a port for oil shipments in the east (160 kilometers south of Benghazi) refuse to surrender. Kaddafi troops have been driven out of most of the city, but left lots of land mines and booby traps behind. This is delaying the rebel occupation of many areas. The rebels don't have much experience or mine clearing equipment to deal with this sort of thing, although they eventually manage to cope (and lose some people in the process). Another complication is that about 200 diehard Kaddafi troops are inside a Brega refinery complex, and the rebels don't want to damage this facility, because it would be very expensive and time consuming to replace, and destruction of it would be bad for rebel morale. So the Kaddafi fighters are being talked to, in an attempt to reach a peace deal.

The head of Libya's National Oil Corporation has fled to Italy (because of the violence, not Kaddafi.) While the rebels control most of the oil facilities, they do not have the trained manpower and equipment needed to make repairs and get full (or even much partial) oil production going. Most of the manpower, working in the oil fields, consisted of foreigners (who all fled when the fighting began months ago). Getting any of the foreigners back is complicated by the fact that the NTC has very little money. By now, most major countries have recognized the NTC, and most Libyan banks have as well. But Kaddafi's lawyers can still delay NTC access to Libyan money held overseas (usually in Kaddafi's name). Once Kaddafi surrenders, and the fighting stops, it would take a few months to get oil production back to a million barrels a day (less than half what Libya used to ship).

While Russia refuses to recognize the NTC, it has also made it clear that it will no longer supply weapons to Kaddafi (a good customer for Russian arms since the 1970s).

July 20, 2011: French diplomats are trying to persuade the NTC to accept a peace deal that would allow Kaddafi to surrender, but go "into exile" within Libya. But so many Libyans want Kaddafi dead that this sort of peace deal is considered very unlikely.

 

 

 

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