After weeks of dithering the United Nations Security Council has authorized a “No Fly Zone” and authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from the onslaught of Muammar Gaddafi’s military. The vote came after days of urging by the French, British, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and belatedly the United States. The vote of 10 for and 5 abstentions authorizes member nations to act together to protect civilians in Libya and comes as Gaddafi has threatened to attack the rebel capital of Benghazi and to “show no mercy” in doing so. Gaddafi responded to the vote by proclaiming “The UN Security Council has no mandate. We don’t acknowledge their resolutions” and he promised to respond harshly to any UN-sponsored attacks stating “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.”
While Gaddafi pledged to mount an attack against Benghazi tonight his forces were repulsed for the first time by rebel forces at Ajdabiya with the rebels using tanks and artillery of their own for the first time. Gaddafi’s air force launched attacks on Benghazi but it is my assessment that these strikes were to instill terror in the civilian population and break the back of rebel supporters. His announcement that his forces were coming “tonight” was obviously a propaganda claim.
It is true that the situation on the ground has shifted in favor of Gaddafi’s forces and that they have enjoyed a run of success over the past week and a half. However the success is illusory as it came at the expense of ill equipped and trained rebel forces in the western part of the country near the main operating bases of the forces that Gaddafi has employed with the greatest effect. Likewise his success east of his tribal home of Sirte has come against rebel forces which had advanced too far and had neither the training or firepower to hold the ground that they had taken. Deployed on open ground with no air support they were no match for Gaddafi’s forces. The further east Gaddafi’s forces go the more that they will face military forces which went over to the rebels, forces that will do better than those in the west and this was evident today at Ajdalbiya.
The repulse at Ajdabiya is significant and more significant than some people will believe. Gaddafi’s Army is now operation far from their home bases and the trek across the Libyan Desert is probably facing logistical problems. The first is that they have had to advance hundreds of miles. His armored forces are probably not well maintained and likely are experiencing mechanical difficulties especially since logistic support in most of the Arab World’s militaries is not a high priority. Lacking skilled mechanics and technical personnel they have probably lost a good number of vehicles. Photos of Libyan forces show no military cargo trucks accompanying the Army which indicates to me that the pro-Gaddafi forces are operating at the edge of their logistical support system. Anyone who has operated in a dessert war can testify to this fact. Should the rebels yield to him at Ajdabiya they will fall back to far more defensible terrain to the southwest of Benghazi, the heavily forested and mountainous uplands of the Jebel Akhdar which would even the playing field in favor of the rebels who until now have been fighting in open terrain which would even the playing field. To further help the rebels the first confirmed shipments of Egyptian arms have reached rebel forces.
Another component to the story is that Gaddafi’s forces are divided. He has a significant number of troops attempting to overcome rebel forces at the town of Zindan about 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli. These forces are operating in a region less hospitable than those near Ajdabiya but because they are closer to their supply base have a better chance of success than those in the east.
However all of this goes away once the airstrikes from American, French, British and Arab air forces start pounding his exposed forces at Ajdabiya. These forces are operating outside of the range of the Libyan air defense network. What little anti-aircraft capability they have will not protect them against modern air forces. As soon as Gaddafi’s tanks and APCs start getting “brewed up” by air attacks the forces manning them will give up the fight. Likewise the air defenses that Gaddafi has in his arsenal are antiquated and no match for what will be coming after them. The fact is that many of the officers in command of these forces only stayed loyal because it appeared that the world would not stand up to Gaddafi and until today they were correct. This marriage of convenience will end once the bombs start falling.
What looked like a certain victory for Gaddafi will disappear as fast as a mirage in the Libyan Desert. At some point the officers that had reluctantly supported Gaddafi will turn against him as they would have weeks ago had the actions of world leaders matched their words. There will not be a need for ground troops and thankfully the U.N. authorization does not authorize occupation. The Libyan’s military and people knowing that Gaddafi stands alone will topple his ruthless regime on their own and because the west, led by the French acted to support them Al Qaeda and its allies who were hoping to commandeer this revolt will be left in the dust. As for Gaddafi he will be luck not to avoid the fate of another dictator who ruled Libya, Italy’s Benito Mussolini and end up handing from a meat hook.
Of course I could be wrong, but I expect that within a week the situation which looked so bleak for the rebels will look very different and Gaddafi will be fighting not for the survival of his regime but for his life. But it has to go down this way. Neither Egypt Tunisia nor Europe can handle the influx of refugees should Gaddafi survive. They all have a vested interest in stopping Gaddafi now as do we as we cannot let Gaddafi remain in control and turn Libya into a haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
One can hope that the carnage in Libya will end soon and that something of a democratic and peace minded Libya will be the result. Somehow I think that there is a chance for this now.