Libya – Feb 21/22


Note: Some early thoughts on the creation of a provisional government in Benghazi can be found here. This particular post has been somewhat overtaken by events.

An excellent crowd-sourced map on Google on the uprising in Libya has been created by one Arasmus, here. It’s useful in trying to sort out all the various reports, to get a sense of the ebb and flow of control. Here’s what seems to be happening: the eastern cities are protester-controlled, but Tripoli has at least temporarily been bludgeoned into submission and is saturated with pro-regime forces (update, the NYT reports barricades still up in some neighborhoods), other western and central towns are reportedly under attack by military units, and now Qaddafi is contemplating how to regain control of the east before his authority completely unravels. The regime seems to have a shortage of reliable forces, as the army is reportedly divided along tribal lines. (My very uneducated reading of a list of Qaddafa and allied officers in Mansour O. El-Kikhia’s Libya’s Qaddafi, pub 1997, suggests that they were then concentrated in about six or seven of the army’s 45 armor and infantry battalions, although it might not be a comprehensive list).

A few units (maybe Khamis al-Qaddafi’s 32nd brigade?) appear to be loyal, a few units (in the east) have mutinied, but the rest are presumably in limbo — they have not actually mutinied but the regime does not want to commit them, as they may well mutiny as soon as they are ordered to fire on civilians. Libyan opposition websites are confidently predicting the defection of entire tribes, which may be an exaggeration, but the diplomatic defections do suggest that there is a major breakdown of the regime’s legitimacy. Hence, Qaddafi needs to supplement his loyal units with mercenaries recruited from sub-Saharan Africa, although probably they would need to be backed by some Libyan armor. The mercenaries are reportedly being flown into airports outside major cities like Benghazi, with the intention of marching on the center. There are unconfirmed reports of mercenary attacks on the smaller eastern cities of Darna and al-Bayda (Ben Wedeman from CNN, coming from Egypt, seems to have made it as far as Tobruk as of 12 GMT without encountering any pro-regime forces – Darna and al-Bayda lie between Tobruk and Benghazi). This suggests that the regime might be trying to subdue the rest of the country before tackling Benghazi. If the protesters in Benghazi have obtained enough heavy weapons and organized a serious enough defense, they may be able to hold out for some time. Syria in 1982, with a much larger and more ideologically and ethnically cohesive regime defense reserve, took weeks to subdue the similarly-sized city of Hama.

The question now is whether or not an international body (NATO, the UN) can declare a no-fly zone. Given the size of Libya, the fragility of the regime, and the apparent dependence of the government forces on air supply, this may not be as toothless as it first sounds. A no fly ban (if it is enforced) could complicate the assemblage and the supply of mercenary forces, and avert an offensive against Benghazi that might lead to tens of thousands of civilian casualties. Even a few more days of respite for Benghazi might see more tribes (and more military units) drift into the anti-Qaddafi camp — one presumes that if the repression is anywhere as near as brutal as it sounds, many officers will soon be hearing of the deaths of close relatives. On the other hand, any sort of foreign intervention would reinforce a regime narrative that Libya is under attack by outsiders — the Egyptian experience suggests that that xenophobia is the embattled despot’s best friend — and could lead to many unforeseen complications, particularly if Libya slips into a prolonged civil war

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10 Responses to Libya – Feb 21/22

  1. eworc says:

    I liked your anbalysis. Surprising how little we have heard from liberated Benghazi. One just hopes they have enough military weapons , vehicles and knowledge to resist any attacking forces. I think it would be very hard for Gaddafi’s forces to cover the large areas involved even in the east so it could only be a town by town attack. That would mean that significant land Gaddafi forces would be available still to use there. A key question then is; are there major bases in the East side still loyal to Gaddafi? And what is now ranged against them in terms of defected troops or militia?

  2. i love u says:

    Wondering as to why u are manufacturing stories like these. why cannot people like u just shut up and leave Libya alone. when i looked at the unrest in Egypt i saw unarmed people being detained but when i saw the so called protesters in Libya i saw them yielding rocket launchers. Wondering when will US learn from mistakes. People here don’t have jobs and the nation is in a 200 thrillion dollar debt and still we love sowing weeds all over the world.

    • Mr. Sir says:

      First off- we are $14 trillion in debt. So the question is why did you feel the need to grossly misrepresent this figure?
      Secondly- You have shown in your post that you have no issue with telling a blatant, and easily fact-checked, lie to promote your agenda. Why should anyone give anything else you say a second thought?
      Thirdly- Thank you to the writer of this article and please ignore the troll.

  3. John Soutter says:

    Why don’t we send Sir Tony Blair to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gaddafi and ensure that Lord Martin Gilbert is there to get this historical moment on paper?

  4. Bob666 says:

    Qaddifii is certifiably insane.
    He needs to be locked up in an asylum along with Tony Blair,George Bush,John Howard and a large number of other so called kings,presidents,great rulers, popes,princes and all the other ego maniacs that strut before the population spouting lies and religious garbage to incite stupid people to follow them.
    When the going gets tough the leaders run away to play with their stolen fortunes,.
    When anyone asks you to follow them,go the other way.

  5. WS says:

    While most analysts see Qaddafi’s regime as crumbling, key figures close to him deserting, and his militiamen and mercenaries controlling a shrinking zone around Tripoli, you envision the regime going on the offensive in the east and laying siege to Benghazi. With opposition forces moving in, Western journalists inside Benghazi and moving into other cities controlled by Quaddafi’s opponents, it is hard to see how he could launch a counterattack to retake cities he has lost while holding onto his Tripoli fortress. Surely the major risk in the next week (if Qaddafi survives that long) is to the unarmed civilian population of Tripoli as his diehard loyalists and mercenaries go on a rampage “house to house”.

    The humanitarian concern of all outside governments who are in a position to help should be urgent and clear: to offer non-military assistance to the Libyan people — from food, medical supplies, a cordon santaire in the east, foreign media — so that they can gather their forces and drive Qaddafi from power as quickly as possible. But they need to take the risks and do all the fighting so that, in the end, the victory is all theirs and no credible observor can say outsiders intervened to topple the regime.

  6. abusilawa says:

    WS — This particular post was written several days ago. I don’t think that you can rule out a Qaddafi comeback, as many army units remain uncommitted. But the likelihood now is, as you say, either that his regime will collapse, or that there will be a period of stalemate. Later posts address this.

    • WS says:

      I didn’t note the date — sorry. Nick Kristof of NYT reports yesterday on the large number of wavering, and largely inactive, wait-and-see military units. He usefully suggests that foreign governments could furnish ‘exit ramps’ to defectors — friendly ports and landing fields nearby, monitoring and jamming the regime’s communications, etc. As the opposition gets organized and marshals its forces for a drive on Tripoli and other Qadaffi strongholds, they will doubtless be thinking of how to provide inducements and opportunities for the fence-sitters to come over to their side. I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be over soon, but regardless of the external assistance provided, I feel strongly that the Libyan people must do their own fighting and oust this brutal regime without outside military intervention, so that the victory is all theirs, and no one can credibly claim that Qadaffi was taken down by foreign forces. I think that is crucial to their capacity to deal creatively with the aftermath, to overcome tribal and regional divisions, build national institutions, share power, and create an empowering, unifying narrative of this defining moment in their history.

  7. abusilawa says:

    “I feel strongly that the Libyan people must do their own fighting and oust this brutal regime without outside military intervention, so that the victory is all theirs, and no one can credibly claim that Qadaffi was taken down by foreign forces.”

    I would agree with that, and with the rest of your post. At this point, the main scenario in which I would even consider advocating foreign military intervention would be if it appeared that Qaddafi were able to turn things around and threaten the east, and that looks ever more unlikely.

  8. Regarding your reference to Benghazi. Difficult to imagine a succesful attempt by Gheddafy loyalists to take Benghazi. You’re all welcome to visit published in Malta, the closest European safe haven to Tripoli.

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