Libya: Rebellion Readies For Round Two

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October 7, 2011: NTC (National Transitional Council) fighters began yet another attempt to take the coastal town of Sirte (population 100,000, 360 kilometers east of Tripoli). This is Kaddafi's birthplace and the home of many of his core supporters (including many members of the Kaddafi tribe). One of Kaddafi's sons, Mutassim, commands the defenders in Sirte, which is considered the center of the remaining resistance. Thus the NTC has announced that the new government will not be formed until Sirte is conquered. This is not a well thought out policy (although it was presented as such), but a practical move by an NTC that isn't in charge and lurching towards a second round of civil war. In this conflict, the various anti-Kaddafi factions will battle it out to see who the new Libyan dictator will be. Moamar Kaddafi, hiding out somewhere in Libya, is calling for his supporters to get ready for the next round of fighting, and the possibility of the Kaddafis regaining power, or at least a place at the table.

The lack of discipline among NTC gunmen could be seen in the outskirts of Sirte, where homes of Kaddafi supporters were spontaneously looted, despite calls from some pro-NTC militia leaders to not do so. Even in Tripoli, there are hundreds of armed men, from one militia or another, who roam the city, setting up checkpoints, firing their weapons in the air and indulging in some light looting. Intimidated locals often just give the gunmen stuff, or do not present a bill, in the hope that these guys will move on.

In response to the chaos in Tripoli, a former Islamic radical leader (Abdullah Ahmed Naker) announced that he had formed the Tripoli Revolutionists Council, backed by 73 militias and over 20,000 gunmen. This new force would police the city and impose law and order. It is unclear how much of that announcement is puffery, and how much is real.

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. Criminal gangs have been trying to smuggle these weapons out of the country, with mixed success. 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. So now the Libyan arms are showing up in Sudan, where Darfur (western Sudan) rebels are working with Libyan smugglers to get the weapons into Sudan.

The other major Kaddafi stronghold is Bani Walid (a town of 50,000, some 150 kilometers southeast of Tripoli). 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). But the NTC fighters have been slowly clearing pro-Kaddafi gunmen out of Bani Walid, and expect to capture it shortly.

October 3, 2011: Another "final assault" was launched on Sirte. This one also failed, as Kaddafi loyalists shot up and repulsed the advancing NTC gunmen. Skirmishing then resumed, and NTC forces continued to capture (and often loot) villages and neighborhoods on the outskirts of Sirte. The NTC brought up more artillery (cannon and rocket launchers), to be used in bombarding Sirte. These shells and rockets tended to hit random non-military targets, as the NTC men manning the artillery had little idea of exactly where the pro-Kaddafi fighters were. NATO aircraft were still overhead, but information about what those aircraft could see on the ground, only got through to some NTC commanders.

October 2, 2011: After being warned by the NTC about the coming attack, over a thousand civilians fled Sirte. In the last few weeks, over 10,000 people have fled Sirte. The pro-Kaddafi forces are believed to have 5,000 armed men in the city. About 15,000 NTC fighters surround Sirte, backed by dozens of NATO fighter-bomber sorties per day.

September 30, 2011: The NTC brokered a truce and prisoner exchange at an oasis some 600 km (370 miles) southwest of Tripoli. Here, pro-Kkaddafi Tuareg and pro-NTC Arabs have been skirmishing.

 

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