Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Libya: Rebels continue to push west from Misrata
By Gabriel GatehouseBBC News, Misrata
Scenes from the front line near Misrata, as the rebels push towards Zlitan
Libyan rebels are continuing to make progress as they battle west from Misrata towards the key town of Zlitan, on the road to Tripoli.
After more than six weeks of stalemate, the rebels have in recent days pushed back the forces of Col Muammar Gaddafi, despite rocket and mortar fire.
Progress is slow and the rebels have taken heavy casualties, but they say morale is high.
The capital remains some 200km (125 miles) away.
Accompanied by a fighter by the name of Ali, we drove several kilometres beyond the entrenched positions that had, for the past month and a half, constituted the front line west of Misrata.
He brought us to a ditch, lined with pine trees and set among olive groves some way back from the coast.
Men were busy digging in. As they dug, they came under almost constant fire from Col Gaddafi's forces, some 500m away.
Rockets and mortars thudded into the earth nearby, bullets whizzed and cracked overhead. The smell of burning cordite mingled with the fragrance of pine needles, heated by the midday sun.
Until just a few days ago, this was Col Gaddafi's front line. Now the rebels hold it and they are slowly pushing their way forward, ditch by ditch, kilometre by kilometre.
Abu Baker, a 22-year-old fighter wearing flip-flops and an Argentina football shirt, said he was not afraid of the shells and the bullets.
"Everyone here has only one thing on his mind," he said. "If we kill him (Gaddafi) we win. And if we die, we go to heaven."
These men are not soldiers. They are students and shopkeepers, accountants and farmers. Their lack of military expertise has cost time and lives. But their commander, Muftah Mohammed, told us morale was high.
"We will hold our ground," he said. "Gaddafi's soldiers are fighting for money, but we are fighting for our freedom and our honour."
As these fighters inch their way westwards, they are gaining in confidence and in experience.
Rebel gains too slow to hurt Gaddafi badly
Published Date: July 10, 2011
By William Maclean
More battlefield gains in rural areas will help raise flagging morale among Libyan rebels impatient for victory but won't shift the military balance decisively against Muammar Gaddafi soon. Without more outside help, such advances are unlikely to inflict the sort of pressure that would compel him to negotiate a peace settlement in good faith or set off an uprising by rebel sympathisers in the capital Tripoli, Western analysts say. On Wednesday rebel fighters seized Al-Qawalish, a village south of the Libyan capital, and another group advanced towards Tripoli from the east in the biggest push in weeks towards Gaddafi's main stronghold.
The capture of Al-Qawalish is important not only for rebel momentum and battlefield morale, but because beyond it lies the larger town of Gharyan which controls the main highway to the capital. Gharyan has came under attack in recent days from NATO warplanes. While real enough, such gains are too gradual to give decisive momentum to opposition forces in a situation where Gaddafi still holds the capital, has better armed land forces than his foes, still has lots of money and confronts an alliance suffering
internal strains over the war, experts say.
That being the case, there is little to erode Gaddafi's apparent belief that he has time to sow discord among his foes. "There's been a bit of progress by the rebels and things have slightly deteriorated in Tripoli, but the degree of both achievements ... seems not to be massive," said Benjamin Barry, a land warfare specialist at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). "So in terms of how much longer the regime can last, it is anyone's guess." On the diplomatic front, Gaddafi appeare
d to suffer a setback on Thursday when China's Foreign Ministry said a Chinese diplomat met with leaders of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council at their base in Benghazi, building deeper relationships with rebels seeking to oust the Libyan leader.
Jon Marks, chairman of Cross Border Information, a consultancy, said there were increasing signs of an endgame in Libya, but a turning point had not yet been reached. "You have a rebellion in the Jebel Nafusa (mountains southwest of Tripoli) which may not be the ultimate game changer that some people have tried to talk up, but it's definitely an element that's added to the stranglehold on Gaddafi, and the Western strategist planners are aware of that. But the critical question remains, is Gaddafi really go
ing to go in a negotiated end on any terms that would be acceptable for his opponents or indeed the international community, and quite frankly that would defy belief.
A June 29 note by the Eurasia consultancy said while the military balance had slowly shifted towards the rebels, disorganisation and rifts would continue to hurt their effort, and they were highly dependent on the pace of NATO air strikes. Other experts say the campaign's progress was been slow because NATO's effort, spearheaded by France and Britain, has had inadequate support from European member countries. Former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as saying tha
t the campaign in Libya was "taking longer to achieve than it should". "I think the European allies - especially those that are doing nothing at the moment - need to do more," says Robertson.
Barry, of IISS, said the "one thing that could change the game is significantly better coordination of rebel forces on the ground with NATO's firepower in the air." However that would only be achieved by NATO being prepared to deploy limited numbers of boots on the ground as forward air controllers, or have Muslim allies deploy their own.
In Brussels, a NATO official told Reuters there was no discussion or any indication that any of the allies or partners are interested in exploring putting ground troops in Libya. "That has not stopped us from striking targets with great accuracy repeatedly ... there have been days when we have struck dozens of fighting units and stationary targets, so it's not hampering us from doing what we are supposed to be doing," he said.
Gaddafi is widely seen as lacking adequate fuel supplies. But Barry said that while this was generally very important it might not be critical in some areas. "What his heavy metal (armour) is doing is hiding in urban areas and taking pot shots at the rebels and stopping them advancing. You don't necessary need a lot of fuel for that ... It's not as if he is trying to send armoured brigades across the country.
Some analysts say Gaddafi, indicted by the world court at The Hague, would be willing to quit in return for the right to live in Libya, have immunity from prosecution and have one of his sons given an official position in a post-war government. But many suspect this apparent offer is insincere and is more likely an attempt to play for time. Rebel officials have ruled out any role for him or his family after the war.
Saad Djebbar, a former legal advisor to the Libyan government, said that when Gaddafi said he was ready to negotiate, it did not mean he was ready to leave power. "I don't trust him until I see him dead and buried. Gaddafi is a manipulator of the first degree and he will do everything to stay in power," he said. "It will be a big error of judgement if you bank on any deal which would allow any of his family or direct cronies to keep any position of power. They have to be defeated, and defeated to the point
where they can choose only to leave or be killed." - Reuters
Libya's ragtag rebels said they had moved a step closer to becoming a coherent military force, as they announced a unified command structure for the first time.
After more than four months of battle against strongman Muammar Gaddafi's regime, fighters from the volunteer brigades said on Tuesday they would now fall under the command of the minister of defence, Jalal al-Digheily.
"Now the national army and the union of revolutionary forces have come under the ministry of defence," said Fawzy Bokatif, a rebel commander.
This union comprises all the revolutionary forces which are present at the front lines," he added.
The consolidation of revolutionary fighters and ex-Gaddafi forces under one command could end the type of ad hoc attacks and poor coordination that has cost the rebels dearly in blood and munitions.
National Transitional Council (NTC) insiders and diplomats from NATO countries have long complained that generals in Benghazi and fighters on the front line have poor communications and divergent tactics.
NATO has often gone straight to fighters on the ground for information about enemy positions and rebels' own force posture, bypassing Benghazi altogether.
Bokatif said he hoped the unification would help push the rebels towards Tripoli, help support the National Transitional Council and control the spread of arms.
"There is a coherence between the two and the defence minister has full control between those two armies," he said.
But there were also signs of lingering mistrust between the largely youthful revolutionaries and the career soldiers - many of whom serve commanders who had been close to Gaddafi until recently.
"Each group of revolutionary forces in each area do have the initiative to ... operate," said rebel field commander Abdul Jawad.
"They are actually operating independently. It is not a structured military operation in the sense that they take their commands from central command."
Asked if the revolutionary forces fighting in the west had agreed to better coordination with troops in the east, Jawad replied: "Just about."
But the move is the latest in a series of steps taken by rebels to create a better fighting force, after beefing up training and securing more and better arms from France, Qatar and elsewhere.
Ismail Al-Salabi, commander of the February 17 Brigade, said those improvements had made advances possible in the coming days, after weeks of stalemate on the eastern front.
"The reason that we stood in the Brega area is for organisational and tactical reasons and to solidify the front line."
Now, he said, "our objective is Tripoli".
Meanwhile, France's foreign minister said on Tuesday Paris has had contact with emissaries from Gaddafi who say the embattled Libyan strongman is "prepared to leave" power.
It was not immediately clear whether such an offer is credible or amounts to a potential breakthrough in the Libyan crisis. But Gaddafi has refused to leave or give up power.
Alain Juppe said that while the contacts do not constitute proper negotiations, "everyone (involved in Libya's civil war) has contacts with everyone else. The Libyan regime sends its messengers all over, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris.
"We receive emissaries who are saying, 'Gaddafi is prepared to leave. Let's discuss it'," Juppe said, without identifying the envoys.
The US State Department said that Washington, too, is getting visitors.
"We have a lot of folks claiming to be representatives of Gaddafi one way or the other reaching out to lots of other folks in the West," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "But the messages are contradictory, and we remain to (hear) a clear-cut message - more importantly, the TNC remains to have a clear-cut message - that Gaddafi is prepared to understand that it's time for him to go," she said.
French officials and their allies have insisted that Gaddafi's giving up power is key to ending the hostilities, which began in mid-March, and Juppe said that more and more countries agree on that point.
"There is a consensus on how to end the crisis, which is that Gaddafi has to leave power," Juppe said. "That (consensus) was absolutely not a given two or three months ago.
"The question is no longer whether Gaddafi is going to leave power, but when and how," he said.
Report from Benghazi
Reflections from Benghazi: Colour, Life and Hope
By Tawfik Manurey (Director of International House, Benghazi http://ihbenghazi.com/
Nowadays, I drive around town in Benghazi and I see colours and faces of real people on the many billboards around the city. Not so long ago, there weren't many colours just a green rag flapping everywhere you went from the city streets, hotels and even tied to car antennas. The only face you saw was that of the menacing Gadhafi glaring down into your car as you drove by.
Even the flow of traffic was cut off by Gadhafi's Compound being built in the centre of Benghazi dividing the main street of Jamal Abdulnaser. Most destinations required that you snake around the base to get there; so, wherever you went you had see pictures of Gadhafi and his warped green book propaganda.
I always remember cursing under my breath -- to avoid being seen by the many intelligence gatherers -- about what an ugly pessimistic face we had to look at day in and day out throughout our city.
His pictures hung everywhere from schools, hospitals, all public buildings and public and private offices -- anything less was a sign of being a traitor to Gadhafi's one and only party.
TV and radio programmes were also all about the glory -- gory - of Gadhafi and his odd green book that was supposedly going to save the world.
The liberation flag of 1951 with its lively tricolours of red, black and green was changed by Gadhafi to a plain green flag -- everything green belonged to him including all of Libya's wealth.
Libyan currency not surprisingly was printed with pictures of the delusional leader. The Libyan Dinar has a picture of "the philosopher', as he liked to call himself, with his hand placed on the left side of his face as if in deep thought about what else he could do to humiliate the Libyan people. The 20 Dinar bill has a picture of the self-proclaimed "King of African Kings' standing in the middle of his African subjects who were happy to pose for millions stolen from the Libyan people.
Stamps also featured the one and only Gadhafi and his green book propaganda. Even the shutters of all shops in the city had to be painted green. Everything was Gadhafi and the only colour was green. Libya was a country alien to its people who could only look on in suppressed silence.
It's no wonder that even during the protests while still under heavy gunfire and artillery fire, the people tore down all his pictures, green book propoganda and burned down the buildings which were the offices that Qaddafi used to repress them for so long.
Today, in place of all the pictures and billboards of Gadhafi and his alien green world, now stand pictures of Omar Al-Mukhtar - The commander of the Senussi force (who fought against the Italian occupation in the 1920s and was executed in 1931). You also see images of real heroes of everyday people standing up to liberate their country.
Instead of the billboards and many signs painted on all buildings and schools advertising the warped ideas of the green book, such as "the home belongs to its occupant" (which was another way of saying the government supports squatters) or "people who join political parties are traitors to the regime'; these days, the signs are used to inform people of their role in the new Libya from keeping the city clean, to taking care of public property, to slogans of freedom and patriotism.
The green rag of a flag was burned and the liberation flag with its tricolours now flutters proudly with the many other flags of the world that have brought colour, life, and hope to the people of Libya.
All of this has brought back the Libyan peoples' true identity; whereas, previously you would hear people --behind closed doors- swearing at the country, its green rag and all it stood for; nowadays, you see contentment on people's faces, you can almost feel the solidarity of the people.
These days, as I drive around Benghazi, I rarely mutter under my breath anymore -- except for the odd driver. Instead of the feelings of shame and despair I used to have, now, I drive around with my head up high in honor of all those brave people who were gunned down on these same streets to make all this possible.