Libya: Preparing For The War After The War

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August 8, 2011: The July 28 killing of general Abdel Fatah Younis has caused unrest within the rebel coalition. Younis belonged to the Obeidi tribe, which is from the eastern city of Tobruk (150 kilometers from Egypt with a population of 115,000). The Obeidi want to know what really happened with Younis. It’s now been revealed that an arrest warrant for Younis had been signed by members of the NTC (National Transitional Council). The Obeidi want to know if there’s a connection between this arrest warrant and the killing, and who did the shooting. The NTC is blaming a pro-Kaddafi militia in Benghazi, which had been pretending to be rebels.

This brought to light a major problem with the NTC, that it is a very loose coalition of anti-Kaddafi groups. Many, if not most, of the rebel gunmen are not out fighting government troops, but have instead taken control of towns, cities and villages all over the country, mainly in the east. The NTC has some control over rebel militia coalitions in major cities and around the key oil facilities. But in many other areas, guys with guns are doing whatever they want. Some of these “rebels” are operating like bandits, taking what they want, “in the name of the revolution.”

NTC efforts to form a unified army have largely failed. Most of the militia groups want to continue as part of a military coalition, not a formal army. This, of course, makes it easier to go from rebellion to civil war, once Kaddafi is defeated.

NATO air strikes are more frequently being concentrated for specific operations. These usually involve a rebel effort to take a town of city, or to destroy government forces and resources in Tripoli. Kaddafi has learned to keep moving his armored vehicles and troops around, because the rebel’s informant network in Tripoli is getting more and more effective.

Many Libyans in the western part of the country are turning against Kaddafi, but these rebels are outnumbered and poorly armed compared to the government forces. The coastal city of Zawiya (population 290,000), 50 kilometers west of Tripoli, has been out-of-control for months. But no one was really in charge, yet. The rebels grow stronger there each week, although the pro-Kaddafi forces are desperate to hold on, knowing that they will lose everything if Kaddafi is defeated.

The Kaddafi forces are more mobile, despite the damage from NATO air power, and rebels are still fighting for control of towns and cities along the coastal highway. Rebel fighters have advanced from Misarata to Zlitan, along the coast road. Zlitan is 100 kilometers east of Tripoli, and government forces have fought hard to keep the rebels out. NATO air power gives rebels the edge, causing most of the government casualties and forcing Kaddafi forces to restrict their movement.

Kaddafi has been reaching out for allies, and not had much luck. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has sent words of encouragement, but little else. Someone helped Kaddafi buy a tanker load of petrol (gasoline). But the ship and its 30,000 tons of fuel was seized before it could reach Tripoli and diverted to a rebel controlled port. One of Kaddafi’s sons announced negotiations with Islamic radical groups (who had long been persecuted by Kaddafi), but nothing came of that.

As the weeks pass, Kaddafi has more problems in Tripoli, where shortages of fuel and consumer goods cause more unrest. At the same time, the rebel fighters gain more combat experience each day, and Kaddafi’s troops lose more men to casualties and desertion (especially the mercenaries, who sense they are on the losing side, and seek to get out with what they have earned so far).

While all this fighting is going on, the economy is a mess. The NTC says it needs $3.5 billion a year to run a minimal government. Foreign nations are loaning the NTC lots of money, and hoping these funds are not plundered by corrupt officials.

August 7, 2011: Government forces have counterattacked south of Tripoli, where advancing rebels threaten to cut the main road bringing in smuggled supplies from the western borders. This is Kaddafi’s main supply line, since the NATO blockade keeping sea and air supply lines shut down.

August 6, 2011: South of Tripoli, rebel units left the mountains and moved onto the coastal plain. Two villages, 80 kilometers south of Tripoli, were captured as some 2,000 rebel fighters moved in. One of the rebel units, called the “Tripoli Battalion” is largely composed of men from Tripoli, who got out of the city and joined the rebels. In one day of fighting, these rebel units suffered over fifty casualties (including eight dead). This 2-3 percent casualty rate per day is pretty high by modern standards. This is because the rebels are poorly trained and few are equipped with body armor.

In Misarata, a large air transport from the Persian Gulf city-state of Qatar landed, and off-loaded six pickup trucks full of ammunition, which promptly drove off. Qatar, and other Gulf states, has been enthusiastic supporters of the Libyan rebels.

August 3, 2011: Off the coast, a British frigate was fired on by government rocket launchers. The inaccurate fire came nowhere close to the ship, which used its 115mm gun to fire back. Elsewhere off the coast, an Italian warship noted a missile or rocket hitting the water some 1,200 meters from the ship. It was unclear where along the coast, the projectile was fired from. 

Rebel leaders revealed that they have, for some weeks, been holding very unofficial talks with former members of the Kaddafi government. The rebels are negotiating with former senior government officials who have no “blood on their hands” and are seeking to ease the transition once Kaddafi’s gunmen are defeated. The rebels need experienced administrators to get the government, and economy, running again.

August 2, 2011: Rebels entered the coastal town of Zlitan, but encountered strong resistance. Far to the west, rebels are having similar problems in the city of Brega.

July 31, 2011: In Benghazi, the NTC discovered that one of the many rebel militias was actually a pro-Kaddafi outfit, waiting for an opportunity to strike. But the true loyalty of this outfit was discovered, and fighting broke out. This led to dozens of casualties, mostly among the pro-Kaddafi gunmen, and nearly a hundred of them were arrested. The pro-Kaddafi group was found to be planning terror bombings in the city.

July 30, 2011: NATO bombers attacked transmitters for government TV. NATO and the rebels believe that Kaddafi is using his control of the national TV network to encourage, and communicate with, his supporters. 

 

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