Libya: The Last Stand Is Extended


September 29, 2011:  NTC fighters have been stalled outside Bani Walid (population 50,000, 170 kilometers southeast of Tripoli) for most of the month. This town is dominated by 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 NTC tried to avoid a battle for the town, but that failed. Now a lot of Warfala are getting killed and this will cause a hostile relationship between the new government and the nation’s largest tribe. One of Kaddafi's sons, Seif al Islam, commands the defenders in Bani Walid.

On the coast, Kaddafi hometown Sirte (population 100,000, 360 kilometers east of Tripoli) has been the scene of even more intense fighting. One of Kaddafi's sons, Mutassim, commands the defenders in Sirte, which is considered the center of the remaining resistance. NTC forces have fought their way into Sirte, but the defenders keep fighting. The Kaddafi tribe runs Sirte, but is not the majority there. The Kaddafi tribe is less than two percent of the Libyan population and widely reviled. Once Sirte and Bani Walid fall, Kaddafi's supporters will simply be scattered groups of armed criminals, to be hunted down and killed or captured.

The NTC has brought up tanks and artillery for the battles of Bani Walid and Sirte. But these have not been decisive and NTC has called on NATO warplanes to break the resistance. NATO aircraft are still flying about a hundred sorties a day, but only about half of them can be used against the two towns. The rest are for support (mostly refueling and intelligence). The NTC forces are still basically an armed rabble, that cannot stand up to determined resistance.

NTC fighters are increasingly heading for the southern desert, to hunt down Kaddafi forces there. Kaddafi gunmen are believed to still hold some small towns in the south, but no one is sure. Communications are difficult, and it's all very wild west/outback down there.

Moamar Kaddafi has disappeared, and is believed to have taken refuge with one of the Tuareg tribes living along the Algerian border. Kaddafi has long treated the Tuareg well, and those who benefitted are obliged by tribal tradition to provide refuge for their patron. Kaddafi is still getting messages out via the Internet, urging resistance to the NTC to continue.

Kaddafi spent over $100 billion on weapons during his decades of rule, and much of this stuff is simply being carted away by NTC men, or anyone that can get to it. For the NTC, many of the weapons are distributed to new recruits. But for most people, the weapons are loot, to be sold or, if you are a criminal, or someone living in a rough neighborhood, kept for later use. Smugglers are buying a lot of this stuff, and moving it out of the country. For the last few months, the U.S. has had small (but growing recently) teams of weapons experts helping to find, identify and secure the most dangerous of these weapons (mainly chemical weapons and portable anti-aircraft missiles). Egypt has been making a major effort to catch the smugglers, because one of the most lucrative markets for these buyers is among the many Islamic radical groups based in Gaza.

In many parts of the country, the NTC victory has ugly side-effects. Areas known to be pro-Kaddafi (especially if they benefitted economically) are subject to looting or worse (rapes have occurred). As a result, many Kaddafi supporters have fled their homes, creating another wave of refugees. Thus as anti-Kaddafi refugees leave camps in adjacent countries, they are replaced by pro-Kaddafi refugees.

Actually, Kaddafi spread the money around during his decades of rule. But if he could not buy your obedience, he would use force, and it's the secret police, and other security forces, that became so hated. Anyone who worked for these outfits, or is related to someone who did, is in danger these days.

The NTC is having a hard time getting the economy and public services going again. The economy was propped up by oil revenue, and extensive government payments to nearly all Libyans. Oil income has been cut sharply over these last few months, and finding and getting possession of the Kaddafi family billions has taken time. So, at this point, people are going hungry and losing access to medical care and basic services like electricity and clean water. There is also a problem with the thousands of NTC gunmen who came to Tripoli, and are just hanging out, taking whatever they need. The NTC also has a problem with the dozens of militias that comprise their armed forces. The commanders of these militias do not always obey orders, or simply see an order as something to be debated. There is still no agreement about who is going to run Libya, and how. Already, Islamic conservative groups are demanding religious lifestyle restrictions, which most Libyans oppose. The Islamic conservatives have to be careful, since most Libyan men (and many women) now have firearms and are determined to not be bossed around anymore.

September 28, 2011: NTC gunmen captured the port area of Sirte. But the pro-Kaddafi forces are holding other parts of the town, and are refusing to surrender.

September 27, 2011: Outside Bani Walid, senior NTC commander Daou al-Salhine al Jadak was killed by a barrage of rocket fire from the pro-Kaddafi defenders of the town. NTC fighters took dozens of casualties that day, and were repulsed by the town's defenders.

September 25, 2011: At a Tripoli prison, NTC fighters found a mass grave, containing over 1,200 bodies. This confirmed the long rumored massacre of over two thousand prisoners in 1998, as Kaddafi faced an uprising. That massacre remained a rallying point for anti-Kaddafi Libyans ever since.

September 24, 2011: NTC gunmen fought their way into the outskirts of Sirte. For the last few days, civilians have been fleeing Sirte, fearing retribution for their decades of enthusiastic support for Kaddafi (which includes joining the secret police and security forces.)

September 23, 2011: A French firm revived production on an offshore oil platform. This facility produces about 40,000 barrels a day. That's worth over $40 million a month to the NTC.

September 21, 2011: Tunisia arrested Kaddafi's former prime minister (Al Baghdadi Ali al Mahmoudi), who had fled to Tunisia and hoped to get asylum. Al Mahmoudi was sentenced to six months in jail for entering the country illegally.

NATO has extended its Libya operations for another 90 days, and hopes this is enough to finish things off. NATO countries are spending over $5 million a day to support their Libya operations.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close