Qaddafi Forces Advance on All Fronts Despite Bombardment

Leaders of much of the world agreed that Qaddafi must go on Wednesday morning at a conference in Europe.

Canadian jets pounded an ammunition dump on Wednesday morning near the beleaguered city of Misrata. US naval vessels launched Tomahawks at munitions storage points in Tripoli. And US ships fired on and chased away ships of the Libyan navy, which had been harassing merchant vessels carrying goods to the harbor of Misrata.

Qaddafi’s forces continued to try to take all of Misrata on Tuesday, pounding the city center with tank and artillery fire. The rebels made a stand at the harbor district and insisted that they continued to control it.

Likewise, Qaddafi sent reinforcements to the tank brigade that has been attacking the southwestern rural town of Zintan, among the first cities to have defied him

Qaddafi’s forces also pushed back the rag tag military forces from Ben Jawad. back to Ra’s Lanuf.

Qaddafi’s response to the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calling for the protection of Libyan civilians has been to launch a wideranging war against his opponents, with an eye toward consolidating his territory in the west (Zintan, Misrata, Ra’s Lanuf) in ways that the no-fly zone cannot impede.

Likely these advances will provoke further aerial intervention in coming days, leveling the playing field for the rebels.

Euronews has video:

18 Responses

  1. Two main points I do not understand in this plot:

    Why the counterattack against rebel positions in the east contravene the UN resolution while the rebel attacks do not? Armed rebels, militiamen, guerrillas, have never been considered civilians. In all wars they have always been fighters and proud to be. So stop claiming that bombing a side in a battleground is aimed at protecting ‘civilians’.

    All media agrees that Sirte population supports the governement and do not welcome a rebel attack. So, how on earth can we justify supporting the rebel advance through air bombing or arm providing? We are in fact helping an armed force to threaten an hostile civilian population! More so, yesterday there were several reports on local residents of Bin Jawad and Nawfaliyah fighting against the rebels in support of Qaddafi army. Rebels in the frontline recognized this civilian opposition.
    link to gulf-times.com
    link to publico.es
    link to latimes.com

    I say again, what if the civilian support enjoyed by the rebels is not so widespread as Obama and Sarkozy claim? What if we are not protecting ‘civilians’ but just helping an armed side in conflict to overpower the other side, and by doing so we are supporting the repression of thousands of civilians opposed to Eastern Rebels?

    • There has been a lull in UN 1973 strikes, but the overriding factor is the continued superiority of Gadaffi’s weaponry. When they run out of ammunition, the spine of the beast will be broken. If he runs out of money to pay his mercenaries first, then that will be the critical factor.
      Judging the Libyan people by their actions after the massacre of 17th February, I would not say they are a people willing to surrender to any kind of dictatorship in the future. After bitter struggles for freedom, people don’t.

  2. As difficult as it may be to accept isn’t it time that we recognised that the situation in Libya is not as simple as we are being led to believe. Gadaffi’s forces have taken a pounding over the last few days, but they still remain loyal. Surely the reality is now that Libya is in the throes of a civil war, and the West has chosen their horse so to speak? In that context, surely the legality of the western powers arming one side and bombing the other would have to be called in to question?

    Once again I think the media and the politicians may have seriously misinterpreted the reality on the ground in their rush to draw a picture of the Libyan situation that would be acceptable for their points of view. Prof Cole I have been a little disappointed by the stance you have taken which I feel is a little hawkish. Foreign intervention in Africa has very seldom if ever been straight forward, so we tend to be extremely sceptical of any action by the Western world. This escalation of the Libyan situation surely means the end game for the people of Libya is going to be significantly more expensive both economically and socially. I know people will argue that Gaddafi is a tyrant etc, but surely there should have been some attempt to negotiate with him?

    • I suppose there may have been, but when Qaddafi was stating, quite clearly and publicly, that he was going to wipe the opposition off the map, and made it very clear by his actions, I’m not sure that there was any room for or point in negotiations.

    • Or, isn’t it amazing how much of Misrata has held out against Qaddafi in the face of prolonged and intensive shelling?

      And, it has only been a week. Qaddafi still has most of his tanks and artillery.

      No one promised you a rose garden, much less an instant one.

      • I wouldn’t count tanks and artillery so exclusively in understanding the military balance between the loyalists and the insurgents. I think that the main strength of the loyalists is that they seem to have at least a core of competent maneuver units, something the insurgents haven’t shown that they possess, and more importantly, they use all of their forces, competent and ad hoc, much more realistically than the insurgents. Air power can take away their tanks and artillery, but not those more fundamental advantages.

        Perhaps the loyalists haven’t retaken Misrata because of the skill and courage of its defenders. I’m sure that’s part of the reason. But it also seems that the loyalists have wisely chosen not to commit their best units, the ones capable of maneuver warfare, to an all-out effort at taking the city. City fighting is a great equalizer, and imposes a leveling attrition on skilled and unskilled forces alike. A less prudent command, or a command that felt more pressure to end the PR hit of Misrata’s continuing resistance, might have committed the best troops to take Misrata by storm, and damn the casualties to those troops. The loyalists seem to have chosen instead to use their units capable of maneuver to fight maneuver battles in the East, which they are winning.

        That reasoned and disciplined economy of force seems to have been the general approach taken by the loyalist forces from the start. It seemed, as city after city in Tripolitania joined in the revolt of Cyrenaica, that surely Qaddafi must be done, he must not have the forces to retake these cities. When initial attempts on Zawiyah and Misrata were rather easily repelled, it was possible to believe that the loyalists had collapsed, that these attackers were their best units, and their best had failed. But in retrospect, it is clear that these were probing attacks to which the loyalists committed mostly militia, or ad hoc forces. After these probes failed to recapture cities, they set about carefully and methodically retaking the cities one by one, until only Misrata is left, and all with only minimal committment of their best troops.

        Perhaps they have not taken care of Misrata because of the tenacity of the defense. But perhaps they simply don’t feel they need or should, given other pressing priorities, devote to Misrata what it would require to take the city outright, and will settle, for now at least, for a siege. And perhaps there is this calculation in leaving Misrata untaken, that it constitutes an irresistable lure for the insurgents to try to break through the loyalist defense of Sirte in order to relieve the city. They’ve already had one rebuff just now, at unclear cost, trying to break through.

        Now, it is certainly possible that both sides are playing this game. By this theory, this latest insurgent attack towards Sirte was just a probe in which only ad hoc forces were risked, and the insurgents have their A team in reserve, a force capable of successful maneuver, which they will only commit after NATO air has finished prepping the battlefield by getting rid of more of that artillery and armor whose numbers you pay such attention to.

        But, frankly, unless that’s what’s going on, unless the insurgents have even more discipline in the economy of force than the loyalists, and there is a competent insurgent ground force that we haven’t seen yet just waiting on the proper moment to start the push to Tripoli, then we’re in for a very long war, and almost certain US committment on a humanitarian catastrophe scale.

        • @ Glen Tomkins — thank you for the clear and succinct analysis of the probable battlefield situation in Libya. As well, I appreciate your refreshing use of terms like “loyalist” and “insurgent” instead of emotionally freighted rhetoric like “monsters” and “liberators,” etc.

          Given your accurate assessment of the deteriorating plight of the insurgent forces — for the second time in two weeks — as well as the usual strategic ineffectiveness of the Magic Air Power Placebo, it comes as no surprise that the invested Western Powers have once again had to escalate their hands-on involvement, injecting their widely publicized “covert” operatives into Libya to (1) help target airstrikes on Gaddafi loyalists and (2) find out just who in the hell they’ve trapped themselves into backing at ever-increasing (and increasingly humiliating) economic, military, and diplomatic cost.

          The New York Times (i.e., the U. S. Government’s mouthpiece) has the story today entitled “C.I.A. Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes and Meet Rebels.” That didn’t take long. So much for another of President Obama’s mealy-mouthed promises not to commit American ground forces into the Libyan civil war. He has no doubt already violated U. N. Resolution 1970 establishing an arms embargo on Libya.

          As Marx said, history does repeat itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. When the “Can’t Identify Anything” crowd arrive on scene, you can pretty much call the game over.

      • Your comments remind me of George Orwell’s essay “Catastrophic Gradualism.” Wrote he:

        “The formula usually employed is ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ And if one replies, ‘Yes, but where is the omelet,’ the answer is likely to be: ‘Oh, well, you can’t expect everything to happen all in an instant.'”

        The longer President Obama continues breaking eggs in Libya without producing the expected omelet — meaning “no more Gaddafi” — the more tortured and convoluted his definition of “omelet” and “instant” will become. Just basing that statement on America in Vietnam, America in Iraq, America in Afghanistan/Pakistan, and so on and so forth. Broken eggs almost beyond counting. No expected omelets. Somehow, though, we always get the the bill for the omelets we never get to eat. What a sweet deal for rogue American presidents.

        • You invoke Orwell to justify leaving freedom fighters to their deaths at the hands of a western-armed dictator? You obviously don’t mean the George Orwell who wrote Homage to Catalonia and who was injured fighting for freedom, and who was pursued from Spain by Stalinists determined to crush the revolution, and who went on to denounce Britain and the west for abandoning Spain to fascism, laying the ground for the Second world War.
          That Orwell would not have whined at bombing Gadaffi’s tanks.

  3. It is difficult to speak with any confidence about the outcomes of a military conflict in which neither side’s forces are a known quantity. We are constantly surprised by how well or poorly a given armed force actually performs on the battlefield, versus its apparent strengths or weaknesses in the years of peace before war broke out. In civil wars such as this in Libya, we are even more at sea than usual, because the warring armed forces are both scratch forces, two armies thrown together in haste from the sundered bits of Libya’s peacetime military establishment, plus newcomer volunteers and draftees.

    But after you make all due allowance for the difficutly predicting this latest turn of events, two points remain:
    1) the loyalist forces have consistently performed better than the insurgents
    2) the difficulty of predicting military outcomes meant that our intervention was always going to be an open-ended committment, because our hoped-for limited involvement, was a hostage to the insurgents winning quickly and easily once we sent in the bombers.

    The betting now has to be that the insurgents are not going to win quickly and easily with just air power assistance alone. That best case, of air power being so effective that it could win this war practically unaided, with only very weak insurgent ground forces, was never realistic. The efficacy of air power alone has always been grossly exaggerated.

    The worst case now is that we will have to send in ground troops just to keep the loyalists from occupying the entire country.

    But air power can be fairly effective at allowing even a much weaker ground force, such as the insurgents now clearly have, to hold ground, especially when fairly large expanses of fairly open terrain must be covered by the attacking loyalist forces to reach the insurgent cities in Cyrenaica. So the perhaps most likely outcome now is a stalemate, in which the insurgents can hold onto an enclave in Cyrenaica under a NATO air umbrella, but the loyalists hang on to the rest of the country.

    Will the US political system long tolerate such a stalemate without dire consequences? Maybe pre-9/11, maybe in some place like the former Yugoslavia that doesn’t press any paranoia buttons with the electorate — but in 2011, in an Arab country? How long until we’re destroying Libya in order to save it? How long will we hold off from doing a Fallujah to loyalist Libya?

    This intervention only made sense on humnitarian grounds if there was a fair degree of confidence that the insurgents were going to win quickly. But we only finally acted because the insurgent forces were being decisively defeated, a circumstance that made reasonable observers doubt the possibility of a quick insurgent win. Only a very naive belief in the magical powers of air forces would have produced confidence that just sendng in the planes was going to put the insurgents back on the express track to total and rapid victory.

  4. What this intervention signifies is the rapid approach of the demise of the nation state. If this precedent holds, it means that the only bulwark left to individual states, to save them from the threat of an ‘intervention’ (following an uprising supported from abroad) is a nuclear arsenal. On the basis of this Libya intervention a couple of hundred thugs shooting up a town on the Colombian border, in Venezuela, would, if the government took action to restore order, justify a Security Council decision to intervene “to save civilian life.’
    The same, of course, is true of Iran.
    Those who argue that the principle- that of protecting civilians from oppressive governments- is worth sacrificing sovereign states for, conveniently forget that the current intervention, like those in Iraq and in Afghanistan, is concurrent with moassive human rights abuses, including the use of foreign mercenary forces carrying out massacres of peaceful civilians, under the aegis of precisely those powers attacking Libya.
    The fact of the matter is that this is not about principles- what principled action is to be expected from Saudi Arabia or Colombia?- but about hegemony. Libya is the target because it makes a grand example, necessary after the discomforting of the Clinton family friend Mubarak and the proximity of shia democrats close to the USN Base in Bahrain, to anyone else about to rebel against American puppets.
    Perhaps this is a good thing, and the era of sovereign states needs to be replaced by Orwellian blocs. This brings us closer to One World and one revolution, la lutte finale. It also brings us closer to a closed society subject to power, unqualified by law, which is re-written to order by the White House, exercised on behalf of haute finance.

    • The nation state was a product of the steam engine and has been dead since the jet bomber. The change is nothing new. For generations power has been in the hands of monopolistic corporations, not elected politicians, and with it any dreams of ‘national sovereignty’.

  5. I do not think that there is any significant chance of Western ground forces being deployed into Libya. Even if the rebels prove unable to defeat the Gaddafi loyalists or in the even more extreme case if somehow the Gaddafi loyalists actually win the ground war it seems unlikely that Western troops would be deployed.

    There is an impossible to precisely determine, but non-negligable chance that Western governments will send military trainers to assist the rebels and will begin to provide various types of military equipment.

    • Say that the insurgents are not able to hold even with air support, and loyalist forces start taking their cities in Cyrenaica. Politicaly, how does Obama not commit ground troops to stop that?

      We started the bombing to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the massacre of insurgents that we are convinced would ensue if loyalists were allowed to retake Cyrenaica. Well, at this point, Qaddafi’s vengeance is bound to be even worse, there would be worse massacres. And now, after our intervention, part of the reason for such massacres will be that the insurgents cooperated with us, or even just that the bombing of Libya was done for their sake, in their name.

      So, Obama’s answer to people who criticize him for allowing this massacre when US ground troops could have stopped it, will be what, that it was worthwhile bombing to prevent such a result, but ground troops, well, that’s too steep a price to pay to do the right thing?

      Not that it will be a simple matter of altruism by then. The way the US electorate has been encouraged and allowed to think about foreign powers with whom we find ourselves at war, is that they are both absolutely evil and a clear existential threat to our very existence. Obama doesn’t even have to propagandize in that direction, he can in fact strenuously try to avoid invoking that way of thinking (not thinking, really), and the electorate will still project onto the simple, bare decision to commit any sort of US force, what they think of as the necessary concommitant, that the power we are committing our forces to combat is pure evil and an existential threat. That’s what Americans think war is, it’s all they can imagine war being. It would not even be as great a leap into paranoia as we make on a daily basis in Afghanistan to say then that we absolutely have to close down those training camps in which Qaddafi, if not taken down, will have a safe haven to stage another Lockerbie.

      If it comes to that, the insurgents losing, the decision will be taken out of Obama’s hands if he balks at doing the stupid thing and committing ground troops. If he refuses to scare the hell out of the Americna people over Qaddafi, there’s tons of Republicans who won’t mind at all doing that in order to replace him in the WH.

      A stalemate would not set us down this path quite as rapidly, and therefore not as surely, but I doubt that we could avoid being sucked in to ground forces even by just a stalemate.

  6. Professor Cole, I respect your position as always, but it is possible for a person to be saddened that President Obama has broken American law by not asking Congress to approve war with Libya. At least respect a person who does not agree that the President had the right to take America to war with a country that was no threat to America without gaining Congressional approval. The cheering of this war just frightens me for the anti-democratic way President Obama has acted.

  7. If our war leaders and sachems and Solons put even a tiny fraction of the energy and treasure dumped into war and preparations for war and nattering about war and “conflict” into one single little task — identifying the detailed shape and contours and contents of the category “victory” — that might give the rest of us enough insight to overcome our lizard-brain natures and look for a better way to get along. Like “freedom,” “victory” is the worst kind of chimaera.

    I doubt our great Networked Battlespace war planners and operators, who have become about as clumsy and inept as one imagines the great dinosaurs to have been, have a freaking clue about what would constitute “victory” and how the gigantic, multi-billion-dollar enterprise they are now “managing” would most likely go. And since their lives and livelihoods are all based on the process of warring, maybe they are willfully blind to other options. And of course generally adverse to visions of changed human conditions that might reduce the likelihood of Gaddaffyducks in the future. Since folks like that are their playmates in the Great Game…

    On the other hand, maybe half of the 7 billion humans live so deep in Plato’s cave that there’s zero Hope that there ever will be any Change…

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