Tag Archives: tripoli

“The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age” Stephen Decatur and the Defeat of the Barbary Pirates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who has followed my writings on this site knows that I love Naval history, especially that of the United States Navy. It was one of those subjects that I began reading about in grade school. Since I grew up as a Navy brat it is unsurprising that even after a detour of seventeen and a half years in the Army that I ended up in the Navy.

In 1803 the still very young United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  The Navy, which had been disestablished after the Revolution was reestablished by Congress to protect American merchant sailors who were constantly being accosted by British, French, and Barbary ships, on March 27th 1793.

For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of the Rulers of the Barbary states for free passage of its ships in the Mediterranean, as well as hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions as he had when the French demanded similar tribute in 1797.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him.

These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused to pay tribute, Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a Naval small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more without Congressional approval. Despite the fact that Tripoli had declared war on the United States, Congress did not issue a declaration of war, but instead authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships and commanded by officers that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the Brig USS Argus, the Frigates USS Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, EnterprisePhiladelphia, Schooner Enterprise and Brig Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolitan ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such a transfer would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber; but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge was lured into shoal water and ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner an imprisoned while the ship was floated off the reef by the Tripolitans. The ship was partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor. For the moment the powerful frigate was out of action until her foremast which had been cut down by Bainbridge in his unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal could be replaced.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble ordered Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers and make a plan to destroy the Philadelphia while the ship was at anchor and unable to put to sea.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well. The Intrepid was re-rigged with the

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolitan ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  The ship was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using an Arabic speaking Sicilian sailor to request permission to enter the harbor under the ruse that she was a merchant ship that had lost her anchors in a storm.

The request was granted the and Decatur sailed the Intrepid to bring her alongside the Philadelphia without Securing permission from the Tripitolan watch standers aboard Philadelphia to tie up alongside the frigate. When he drew alongside the massive ship Decatur ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control, and after ensuring that the ship was unseaworthy, he and his sailors set the frigate ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of Tripolitan shore batteries and gunboats.

The mission complete Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring, said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War.

In that final Barbary war, Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron, Rais Hamidu.

Following the defeat of the Algerian fleet, the  Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  More than any one man Stephen Decatur was responsible for the end their reign of piracy and terror in the Mediterranean.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Arab Spring Articles: Tahir Square to Sirte

It is hard to believe that Moammar Gaddafi is dead and that the people of Libya have thrown off the shackles of his tyrannical dictatorship which caused them and the world so much grief.  These are links and brief descriptions of the articles of this series.  There have been revolts across the Middle East as oppressed people have risen up peacefully against their repressive governments only to be met with force. Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria, each is rooted in history and each is different. Taken together they are inspiring others around the world.  I have not written much on Yemen or Syria but expect in the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of opportunities to look at the history, culture and unique aspects of these revolts and their potential impact in the region and around the world.  It is my belief that they are helping usher in a new age of revolution with results that will be as dramatic and important as the fall of Empires at the close of the First World War.  Looking at each article you can see how my thought process has evolved as the situation has developed.

Also a page update. I have updated the Middle East Page found in the top menu.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Egyptian Revolution and the Radicalization of the Middle East Published31 January 2011. An analysis of the probability of the radicalization of the Middle East as revolution spreads.

The Beginning of Chaos in Egypt: Watching and Waiting as the Situation Deteriorates Published2 February 2011 as the situation began to deteriorate in Egypt as Mubarak loyalists attacked protesters in Tahir Squar.

Egypt: As Mysterious as the Sphinx and as Dangerous as a Cobra….What Next? Posted11 February 2011.  A continuation of my observations of  the revolution in Egypt prior to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Danger in the Arabian Gulf: The Fires of Protest Spread to Bahrain Posted18 February 2011. The article deals with the protests in Bahrain and my experiences and observations having traveled there many times.

Damned if you do…Damned if you Don’t: The Middle East Protests and U.S. Foreign Policy Posted 19 February 2011. An examination of the difficulties facing U.S. Foreign policy officials in light of the recent spread of revolution in the Arab World.

To the Shores of Tripoli: The Flames of Revolution Spread to Libya as Gaddafi Fights Back Posted February 21st as the protests in Libya provoked a response from dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi said We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet… We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”

Göttdammerung in Libya: Shades of Hitler as Gaddafi Promises to Die as a Martyr Published 22 February 2011 Moammar Gaddafi promises “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end… I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when i do, everything will burn.”   Moammar Gaddafi accurately predicts his death.

The Guns of March Published 9 March 2011. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman Libya in the context of the broader Middle East and US Military capabilities.

Gaddafi Taunts the West and Kills his People: Our inaction speaks so loud he can’t hear a Word that we are Saying  Published 11 March 2011.  The cost of inaction and the risks of making threats that you do not back up with force.  When I wrote this I believed that if nothing was done that Gaddafi or terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and others could turn this revolt into a regional war.

Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn Published20 March 2011. The beginning of the NATO air campaign in Libya.

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya Published March 21st 2011.  War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.”- Karl von Clausewitz The opportunities and peril associated with the NATO intervention in Libya.

Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli Published 21 August 2011.  The fall of  Tripoli, the Libyan Rebels drive out Gaddafi.

The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History  Published 18 October 2011. Putting revolutions around the world in context.

Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now? Published 20 October 2011. The death of Moammar Gaddafi and questions of what comes next.

Why the Libyans were able to Overthrow Gaddafi and what We can learn from It: A Lesson from the work of T E Lawrence  Published 21 October 2011 What NATO and theUnited States did right inLibya and a look at Middle East History.

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“The most bold and daring act of the age” Stephen Decatur and the Burning of the USS Philadelphia at Tripoli

 

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Stephen Decatur

This is the latest of a series of articles that I am writing this month in celebration of the brave men and proud ships of the United States Navy on its 236th Anniversary. Thursday October 13th is that day and I ask my readers to wish any United States Navy Sailor that you know a “Happy Birthday” and thank them for their service in this time of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

In 1803 the United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of these states for free passage of its ships and hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him. These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused the demand and put his beliefs into practice Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more. Congress did not issue a declaration of war but authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia and Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolian ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such an event would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron under the command of Captain William Bainbridge ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner and the ship floated off by the Tripolians partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor until her foremast could be remounted having be cut away by Bainbridge in his  unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble order Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers to destroy the Philadelphia at anchor.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well.

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolian ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  Posing as a Tripolian ship he was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using a Sicilian sailor who spoke Arabic to request permission. This was granted and Intrepid approached Philadelphia and when close enough ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control of the vessel and set it ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of the shore batteries and gunboats.

Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War. Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron Rais Hamidu.  The Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  Stephen Decatur more than any one man ended their reign of terror against Christian Europe.

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Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli

A rebel fighter destroys a poster of Gaddafi found in the administration centre after rebels seized full control of Az-Zawiyah [Bob Strong/Reuters]

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/08/201182122425905430.html

It appears that the end is near if it has not already come for the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.  After nearly six months of civil war in which a rag tag coalition of rebels aided by NATO airpower, Special Forces and intelligence agencies has reduced Gaddafi’s zone of control to the Bab Al-Aziziya-Jazeera stronghold.Green Squarethe center of many pro-Gaddafi rallies since the beginning of the uprising is now decked out in the pre-Gaddafi flag that has served as a unifying symbol for the rebels who span the spectrum from pro-Western democrats to Islamists as rebels and residents of Tripoli celebrated together amid rifle fire.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said from the Green Square: “There’s a party in the Libyan capital tonight. The people are in charge of the city. They’ve decided the square is now called Martyr’s Square, the original name. They’re shouting ‘we’re free’ and shooting at a poster of Gaddafi.”

The regime began to collapse this week as rebels captured the key western city of Az Zawiyah and rapidly advanced from the west into Tripoli gaining its outskirts by Saturday even as other rebel forces advanced from the south and east, a move that Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC said “There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They’ve been preparing for a while. There’s co-ordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south.”  As they did most military resistance by pro-Gaddafi forces began to collapse.  There are reports that the unit in charge of Gaddafi’s security has went over to the rebels with its commander instructing his soldiers to “lay down their arms.”  The rebel forces also overran a key Libyan Army base which was the home of the Khamis Brigade named for his youngest son Khamis who serves as its commander.

The government of neighboring Tunisia has recognized the Nation Transitional Council as the legitimate government ofLibyaon Saturday joining a number of western nations in doing so.

The International Criminal Court has confirmed that Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam and his brother Saadi have been captured by rebel “Special Forces.”  Saif who has been the face of the regime for much of the rebellion was indicted with his father and the head of the State Intelligence Chief earlier in the year for the ruthless crackdown on Libya’s “Arab Spring” demonstrators was captured very early Monday morning inTripoli.   SkyNews has reported that the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told CNN that talks will be held with the Rebel National Transitional Council about transferring Saif toThe Hague.

Another report through Al Jazeera reported that another of Gaddafi’s son’s Mohammed cut off an interview after gunfire was heard telling the reporter “I..I… I am being attacked right now…inside, inside my house, inside.” According to Al Jazeera he refused to surrender, his guards shot at rebels. One rebel was killed and one bodyguard was injured and that he and his family are “safe” but Mohammed has confirmed to Al Jazeera TV that he “has been detained and is under house arrest.” Mohammed said in the interview “I’ve never been a government or security official; however I can tell you the absence of wisdom and foresight is what brought us to here today. Our differences could have been solved easily.”

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said “We are still very strong. We have thousands and thousands of fighters who have nowhere to go but to fight.”  He also claimed that 65,000 “professional soldiers” were ready to defeat the rebels.  Despite this there are reports that defecting Libyan soldiers are now clashing with the loyalists and African mercenaries that remain.  The TNC admits that it does not yet completely control the city but is working on it.

As for Gaddafi himself there are some reports that he has fled even as he announced that he would not go into exile and said “We will fight to the last drop of blood,” he said. “We will never give up.”  I his radio address Sunday night Gaddafi appeared to be begging for help from the people of Tripoli.

You You !
Come out of your houses and do this !
That is your duty !
Death or Life !
Come on, swarm the city of
Tripoli !
From the inside and from the outside !
The women, who had weapon training, come out with her weapons!
You are all armed in the city of
Tripoli
There is no excuse, just come out !
The collaborators of occupation are very small groups
How can you allow
Tripoli, capital of Lybia, to fall under occupation another time, after the Revolution and Liberation and… ?
How can an armed population allow a handful of mercenaries, of traitors, of rats to open the way to occupation in the city of Tripoli
That is unacceptable
This is, this is dangerous
Tripoli burned and became like Baghdad, what is our excuse, why ?
The
Tripoli that was safe and beautiful
What became of her when they made it a war zone?”

The situation is rapidly changing and at times chaotic.  As in every revolution there is turmoil and it I am sure that there will still be some heavy fighting as loyalists aided by African mercenaries hired by Gaddafi continue the fight.  The rebels themselves are not well organized but have the advantage of momentum and apparently the support of many citizens inTripoli.  The fact that three of Gaddafi’s sons are now prisoners and that no major units of the Libyan Army appear to be intact indicates that Gaddafi’s regime is on its last legs. Despite this the rebels are preparing for more battles with Gaddafi supporters who they think will attempt to retake Green Square which has been renamed by the rebels “Martyr’s Square.”

What will come next is uncertain.  The rebels represent various factions and many are Libyan expatriates who have returned to oust Gaddafi including a good number from the United States.  In the mix are pro-Western democrats, Islamists, Socialists and others. Some represent the NTC while others represent tribes opposed to Gaddafi and some may be affiliated with Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups.  The problem is that the Libyan people, despite their passion for their country have no experience in governing and with the exception of expatiates from the United States and Western European countries no experience in democracy.  Thus when Gaddafi is finally overthrown the fate of Lybia and its people will be uncertain.  NATO has offered assistance and support to a post Gaddafi Libya. Likewise we have to wonder how this will impact the rest of the region in the coming months.

President Obama stated that the “United States will continue to work with partners to protect people of Libya and support shift to democracy” and that “Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.”

The real question now is where Gaddafi is and what will happen to him?  I do not suspect that he will be able to escape at this point with a no-fly zone and with rebels in control of all major routes in and out of Tripoli if he did not make his way out of the city before Sunday.  If he is able to make his way to a country willing to shelter him is hard to say, however if the rebels catch him the question is will he fight to the death or will he surrender?

There will certainly be more to follow and Lord knows what will happen.  We can all pray for the best even as the rebels continue to liberate their country and President Obama and NATO leaders continue to work with the TNC. As my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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All necessary Measures….the Coming End of the Gaddafi Regime

Gaddafi (Reuters photo)

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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To the Shores of Tripoli: The Flames of Revolution Spread to Libya as Gaddafi Fights Back

Muammar Gaddafi: A Fight to the Finish

The regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is now in a fight to the death against the Libyan people in the streets of the capitol Tripoli.  In the eastern part of the country it appears that the revolutionaries have gained control of major cities including Libya’s second largest city Benghazi.

Gaddafi has ruled his own country with brutal force and exported terrorism throughout the Middle East and Europe for decades. When I served in Germany during the Cold War it was Libyan agents that attacked American servicemen and women and blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland.

Saif El Islam Gaddafi: Civil War

The Gaddafi regime has turned to brutal force to attempt to curb demonstrations that began in the wake of the successful Tunisian and Egyptian revolts that overthrew Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Gaddafi is a ruthless animal when it comes to his readiness to violently crush any dissent against his regime and has not hesitated to use political assassination on Libyan dissidents abroad.  However he is survivor who knows how to use money and oil to get his way with governments. He has occasionally reached out to appear in a more moderate and reasonable persona such as when he gave up his Weapons of Mass Destruction to the Americans and British in 2004 and when he paid 271 million dollars to the victims of the Lockerbie attack.

 

Libya is different than Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. The rulers of those countries, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt while dictators they were not psychopaths and ceded power peacefully. Likewise the Bahraini leaders have backed down to opt for negotiations over the heavy handed force that they employed last week. Gaddafi has long viewed himself as the leader of the Arab World and Africa although his stock has fallen in recent years. He will not go peacefully.  His son Saif El Islam a Western Educated Ph.D. went on state television last night and predicted thousands would be killed in a prolonged civil war and said that “Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms, we will not be mourning 84 people, but thousands of deaths, and rivers of blood will run through Libya…” He further said “We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet… We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”

Saif’s threats are being taken seriously. Since the protests broke out Gaddafi’s security forces have launched vicious attacks on protests and even the funerals of those killed. Using heavy weapons, aircraft and helicopter gunships Gaddafi has turned dogs of war against his people, reportedly using mercenaries from other nations to do what native Libyan soldiers and airmen will not do.

Protesters are being joined in some places by Libyan soldiers and elsewhere two Libyan Air Force Colonels defected with their fully armed Mirage F-1 fighter aircraft to Malta stating that they refused to fire on their countrymen. Around the world Libyan diplomats are condemning the regime and even in the country the Justice Minister and many judges in Benghazi have joined the protests. Other reports suggest that Libyan Border Guards and Coastguard personnel have left their posts along the Egyptian frontier. Libya’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s told reporters on Monday that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has “declared war on the Libyan people and is committing genocide.”

Protests in the city of Tobruk (Reuters Photo)

The situation is escalating. On Tuesday the United Nations Security Council will meet for the first time to discuss the issue. Some have suggested that the Security Council impose a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace to keep Gaddafi from flying in more foreign mercenaries or use his air force against the protesters.

What is certain is that blood will continue to flow and that if Gaddafi goes down he and his sycophants will kill as many of their own people as they can.  The most interesting thing about this whole situation is that if Gaddafi falls it will be the first time an anti-Western or American regime has fallen signifying that the flames of protest and revolution are much more about overthrowing despots and bringing the people some measure of freedom than anything else. The situation is dangerous, fraught with peril and fluid but it could be the start of a change in the Middle East that takes the wind out of the sails of Al Qaeda and other terrorists groups who draw their support from those repressed by dictators.

It shall be interesting to see how this continues to develop. Pray for the people of Libya.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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