Libya: The Great Escape

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September 6, 2011: Kaddafi loyalists still hold two towns (Bani Walid, population 50,000, and Sirte, population 100,000) near the coast. The rebels have given Kaddafi loyalists until September 10th to surrender. The rebels are hoping that their supporters in these towns can persuade the rebels to give up, or simply change into civilian clothes and flee. The rebels only have names and pictures of a few hundred key Kaddafi supporters, thus most Kaddafi men can just change clothes and make a run for it. The black African mercenaries from the south are having a harder time of it. Rebels have been arresting most black Africans, even though most of them are illegal migrants or legal foreign workers in Libya. Black Africans caught with weapons are usually killed.

Even though the rebels still have NATO air power, going into these Kaddafi held towns will still get a lot of rebels killed. With the rebels in control of most of the country, there’s reluctance among the rebel fighters to be the last one to die.

Moamar Kaddafi has disappeared. He may either be with one of his sons, or in a convoy of vehicles crossing the desert, headed for a border. One son (Seif) is in Sirte, threatening to fight to the death. Another son, Saadi, is trying to negotiate surrender (allegedly with his father’s consent). The other two sons have fled to Algeria, with their sister, and received asylum.

Sirte is on the coast and is Kaddafis birthplace. Bani Walid is 150 kilometers southeast of Tripoli and most of the inhabitants belong to the Warfala tribe (which accounts for 15 percent of Libya’s population). Kaddafi treated key members of the Warfala tribe well and many of those pro-Warfala men are trapped in Bani Walid. The rebels have the town surrounded, and want to avoid a battle (which would get a lot of Warfala killed and cause a hostile relationship between the new government and the nation’s largest tribe). In Sirte, the Kaddafi tribe is in charge, but is not the majority of the population in Sirte. The Kaddafi tribe is less than two percent of the Libyan population and widely reviled.

The rebels don’t want to burn down either town just to get at the armed hard-liners within. But in both towns, the Kaddafi loyalists fear retribution, and the negotiations have made it clear that the rebels are in no mood to discuss any amnesty deals. That’s because over 40,000 people died in six months of fighting, most of them civilians killed by Kaddafi gunmen. Many of these killers are trapped in Sirte and Bani Walid.

Kaddafi loyalists also control Sabha (in the center of western Libya, 800 kilometers from the coast, deep in the desert). This town of 130,000 was favored by Kaddafi, but still contains many rebel supporters. Kaddafi loyalists still hold the major air base of al Jafra, 600 kilometers south of Sirte. There are still more Kaddafi men driving around the interior, heading for a border and an escape from justice.

NATO warplanes are still in action, attacking obvious military targets in and around Sirte. In addition to bombs, surrender leaflets are also being dropped. More valuable are NATO air reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping capabilities. Trying to track down remaining Kaddafi supporters in a country as large as Libya would take years without NATO assistance.

Rebels captured the headquarters of Libyan intelligence intact. There they found written instructions to destroy all documents if the rebels seemed likely to capture the place. But the Kaddafi supporters fled at the approach of the rebels, and left the paper record of Kaddafi’s 42 year rule intact. It shows a dictator that got sloppy, and an intelligence organization that began to believe its own propaganda, and misread the signs of coming revolution. The documents also show decades of deals made with Russia, China and Western nations, as well as Kaddafi’s neighbors, and his meddling in other African nations.

September 5, 2011: In Niger, to the south, a convoy of several dozen Libyan military vehicles crossed the border. The convoy apparently contained members of Kaddafi’s internal security service, escorted by Tuaregs (nomadic tribes in southern Libya) still loyal to Kaddafi.

September 3, 2011: Over the past few days, several UN agencies have returned to Tripoli, which again has a functioning police force. Efforts are still underway to restore essential services (electricity, water and sanitation.) The new government is negotiating with European nations to gain control of over $100 billion the Kaddafi clan has stashed overseas, and to hire help in restoring oil shipments.

August 31, 2011: Kaddafi son Saif announced that he was mobilizing forces to retake Tripoli. No one believes him and this sort of talk is believed intended more for Kaddafi loyalists who are tempted to flee.

 

 

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