Rebels Hold out in Zawiya, Eastern Ra’s Lanuf as Libyan Civil War Unfolds

I just want to signal that some caution is in order about reading the military and political situation in Libya. Muammar Qaddafi’s counter-attacks are creating the image in the media of the momentum being on his side, but in fact he is bogged down and making little progress, despite the setback Thursday for the rebels at Ra’s Lanuf (itself taken by a small amateur rebel force only last weekend). Qaddafi’s military appears still not to have taken the city of Zawiya after a massive assault, despite government assertions to the contrary, which some Western news sources have unwisely credited Zawiya is only 30 miles west of Tripoli. Although they have pushed back a poorly organized small force at Ras Lanuf, the big cities of the east remain united against them.

The rebels still have at least 75% of the country and 80% of the oil wealth, and a lot of small towns would have to fall to alter that calculus. While it is true that Qaddafi has jets and the rebels don’t, jets don’t take territory. And, Qaddafi’s armor has performed poorly in Zawiya, so his advantage in tanks seems hard to operationalize.

Aljazeera Arabic is reporting mid-day Friday Libyan time that downtown Zawiya to the west of the capital of Tripoli remains in rebel hands despite aerial bombardment today and despite a fierce tank and artillery attack by pro-Qaddafi military forces during the past four days. Qaddafi had claimed to have reconquered the city on Wednesday and brought Western journalists to a pro-regime rally on the outskirts of the town. Aljazeera’s reporter in the city says that Qaddafi’s men have placed snipers on the walls above the entrances to the city and are using Zawiya residents as human shields, but that the rebels have reasserted themselves in the central square. The western city of Zuara is also said by CNN to be supporting the Benghazi-based opposition, and its tribes are lending support to Zawiya.

In the western town of Lanut, crowds came out Friday chanting against Qaddafi and destroyed a stone representation of his “Green Book,” which, in imitation of Mao Ze Dong, had embodied his political philosophy for the masses.

In a counter-attack to the east, pro-Qaddafi forces have taken the residential areas of the oil and refining town of Ra’s Lanuf, pushing back the rebels who had taken it last weekend. The rebels have taken up a position 12 miles to the east at Ra’s Lanuf’s industrial and refining center and fierce fighting and bombardments around Ra’s Lanuf are reported Friday morning. The eastern suburb of Ra’s Lanuf, al-Uqaila, was bombarded from the air, and witnesses report plumes of smoke rising from the blast sites. Intensive fighting is reported at the refinery. The regime is clearly desperate to deny the rebels any oil revenue they might realize from Ra’s Lanuf’s facilities, which ordinarily produce 200,000 barrels a day.

Aljazeera English reports on Qaddafi’s aerial bombardment of an oil storage depot at Ra’s Lanuf.

There was also an expeditionary attack from the Qaddafi-held airbase near the large Western city of Misrata (Misurata), but details are sparse.

Despite regime warnings against attending Friday prayers in the east, people in Ajdabiya to the southwest of Ra’s Lanuf came out to chant against Qaddafi today. Likewise, Ajdabiya is sending reinforcements to the embattled rebels in eastern Ra’s Lanuf, according to AFP.

The rebel force facing Qaddafi in Ra’s Lanuf and points east is small, perhaps only 1500 men, most of them inexperienced. They are led by officers who defected from Qaddafi’s forces. The invading regime forces from Sirt are also small, perhaps about the same size, but they are supported by armor and air power. There are nevertheless rumors of divisions among the Sirt officers themselves.

4 Responses

  1. I watched the aljazeera Jacky rowland dramatic video in Ras Lanouff, and I can’t but wonder what she meant by savage bombardment. The rebels were clearly roaming free on the streets with rocket launchers and mortars and we have seen that in many videos. If pro Gaddafi wanted to take them out, I don’t see how they couldn’t. Gaddafi look like he is defending the oil fields, would anyone expect him not to? Defending the oil field yes, but Savage, I didn’t see that in this video or any other so far. Let us not forget that bombing civilians was rumored and believed turned out false.
    I don’t know how you guys feel about this finding: “Bouckaert said Human Rights Watch has not confirmed a single instance a foreign mercenary having been brought in to fight in eastern Libya. He said many black men accused of being mercenaries are actually black Libyans or Africans who have been living in Libya for years”
    And: “Gheriani of the rebels’ provisional government said, however, that he had been told that none of those captured were from other countries.”
    Here is the article,
    link to baltimoresun.com

  2. Why didn’t aljazeera put things in context?
    Why was the video shown on aljazeera and circulated as soldiers executed by Gaddafi, for disobeying him to kill his people in Derna, was not put in perspective with an earlier interview they made with a libyan political activist from Derna? Everybody including the UN fallowed and walked around assuming it is Gaddafi who is responsible. The same is true for the burned bodies. Bellow is an interview on Feb 18 with Amer Saad a political activist from Derna. The link to full text from the Guardian is below.

    Amer Saad, a political activist from Derna, told al-Jazeera: “The protesters in al-Bayda have been able to seize control of the military airbase in the city and have executed 50 African mercenaries and two Libyan conspirators. Even in Derna today, a number of conspirators were executed. They were locked up in the holding cells of a police station because they resisted, and some died burning inside the building.
    “This will be the end of every oppressor who stands with Gaddafi. Gaddafi is over, that’s it, he has no presence here any more. The eastern regions of Libya are now free regions. If he wants to reclaim it, he will need to bomb us with nuclear or chemical bombs. This is his only option. The people have stood and said they will not go back.”
    Libya protests: massacres reported as Gaddafi imposes news blackout | World news | The Guardian

    This is the video. Most have seen it on aljazeera, if you have not please be careful watching it.

    YouTube – Libya : Soldiers Executed by Foreign African Mercenaries in Derna – Gaddafi Gang -

  3. This is so frustrating, the discrepancies in reports. I just read two Time articles that give the impression that Zawiya is in Qaddafi’s control. This reporter was part of the group allowed to tour this city, I guess. It’s possible she doesn’t actually trust what she’s seen (I hope she doesn’t trust Qaddafi’s words) but the article leaves no such impression. I also have read several places that a CNN correspondent (Bob Wedeman? I don’t remember his name precisely), is saying the rebels are revolving into anarchy and chaos. Is there any truth to that?

    This is more than just frustrating: it is potentially fuel for those pushing intervention. I always check your site in addition to the big news outlets – I trust your accounts to be more accurate. I’m going to spread this post around. People need to know the whole picture. Thanks for this update.

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