UN Allies Strike Convoy near Brega as Rebels begin Oil Exports

NATO airstrikes near the oil city of Brega (Marsa al-Buraiqa) on Tuesday morning repelled the advance of an 8-vehicle military convoy of Qaddafi loyalists. The Transitional government in Benghazi is eager to gain control of Brega, from which they were pushed back on Monday night, because they could then export petroleum from it under a deal they have done with Qatar.

The significance of the strike on the convoy is manifold. Qaddafi doesn’t have infinite amounts of heavy military equipment, and every tank or armored vehicle he loses degrades his ability to control a country that for the most part doesn’t want him. When urban crowds and rebel forces have faced Qaddafi loyalists and both have just had light arms, the rebels have typically prevailed. NATO estimates that 30% of Qaddafi’s military capacity has been knocked out. It is now concentrating on rescuing Misrata, the country’s 3rd largest city, which is under a tank and artillery siege. Qaddafi’s use of camouflage and human shields is making the targetting difficult for the UN-authorized bombing missions.

Another significance of the strike is that it may well discourage soldiers loyal to Qaddafi from trying to attack the rebels, and may encourage them to defect to the Benghazi government. So far the NATO strikes on Qaddafi convoys have been intermittent, and so many commanders may have thought that the risks are bearable. But if the strikes become more consistent they will likely take a psychological toll.

The pro-democracy government in Benghazi are sending off $100 mn. worth of petroleum from the eastern city of Tobruk, with a Liberian tanker expected to arrive Tuesday. If the struggle is protracted, control of petroleum resources will be key to the reform government’s victory over Qaddafi loyalists. If they can regain control of Ra’s Lanuf and therefore of the Buraiqa basin, they would have the bulk of oil resources on their side of the country. Qaddafi would still have natural gas, but it is not clear that the United Nations will permit him to export it, and gas is harder to smuggle than is petroleum.

Time reports unconfirmed information that fighting has resurged in Zawiya, the western port that threw off Qaddafi rule in February and early march before being brutally reoccupied by tank brigades from Tripoli. Qaddafi’s spokesman admitted on Monday for the first time that civilians were killed in the taking of the city.

Qaddafi’s forces are still shelling the city of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, but it has apparently held out. The Zintan tribe declared against Qaddafi, and has desert networks that allow it to offer aid to the continued, now-underground resistance in Zawiya, keeping it alive. The sort of indiscriminate tank fire on civilian areas practiced by Qaddafi on Zintan is a war crime that he may well end up being tried for at the Hague.

Italy has recognized the Transitional government in Benghazi, rebuffing a proposal from Tripoli that one of Qaddafi’s sons preside over a transition to a new government. The Italian foreign minister called the Qaddafi offer ‘not credible,’ which is almost certainly true. The Benghazi government also rejected the overture and called for the Qaddafis to leave the country.

In other news, The Fateh Party in the West Bank has launched an investigation into charges by the Benghazi government that its ships had intercepted a shipment of Israeli arms intended for Qaddafi’s forces, in which Palestinian figures were implicated, including Muhammad Dahlan.

Aljazeera English has video on recent developments in Libya:

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9 Responses

  1. I have to admit that I find NATO’s inaction as regards the front at Brega and the crimes committed by Gaddafi’s forces in the far West of the country (e.g. Zintan) deeply troubling. Even if one interprets Res. 1973 more narrowly, in order to protect civilians it is of outmost importance to hold Gaddafi’s troops away from Adjabia and the best way to do that is helping the opposition forces to take Brega. NATO’s noncommitment here is frustrating. I think NATO is simply not fulfilling its mandate properly, either due to a lack of will or a lack of capability.

    Prof Cole writes:
    „Another significance of the strike is that it may well discourage soldiers loyal to Qaddafi from trying to attack the rebels, and may encourage them to defect to the Benghazi government. So far the NATO strikes on Qaddafi convoys have been intermittent, and so many commanders may have thought that the risks are bearable. But if the strikes become more consistent they will likely take a psychological toll.“

    Well, the strikes aren’t nearly powerful enough to keep Gaddafi’s forces away from Brega. At the moment (6pm GMT+2) Gaddafi’s forces are attacking the opposition forces with rockets and forcing them to retreat. I said from the beginning that the coalition forces would have to be more ”merciless” towards Gaddafi’s troops if the air attacks are meant to have some psychological effect on them and their commanders in Tripoli. NATO’s inaction will only prolong this whole conflict.

    Many opposition fighters complain that the airstrikes have become less effective since NATO took over command → lack of firepower, overview or Turkey’s obstructive influence on engagement rules?

    link to af.reuters.com

    As regards NATO’s briefing today:
    Misrata is probably the worst case to focus on with airpower. Actually, I think it is simply impossible to free Misrata from the air. What should be done is sending well equipped opposition forces to Misratah via boat so that the resistance fighters there can clear the streets of Gaddafi’s forces on their own.

  2. Tweets from ChangeinLibya from AbdulFattah Younis’s press conference in Benghazi:

    “Why did NATO stop a small fishing trawler from giving aid to Misrata? These people are getting massacred daily
    Misrata hasn’t had water for 30 days, and when people started drinking from wells, Gaddafi blocked the sewage pipes.

    NATO is treating us like beggars, giving us an air strike every other day while people in Misrata are killed daily

    The reaction time of NATO is extremely slow. We give them the co-ordinates of Gaddafi militias daily

    NATO takes 8 hours to act on the information we give them, and by then it is too late for the strikes to do any good

    If NATO continues to stall, we will take our case to the United Nations and find another solution

    We have our own jets, and even when we request permission for a flight, we are denied

    They don’t let us use OUR own jets, and their jets take hours to act. How can we allow this? This doesn’t help at all

    Our problem and bottleneck now is NATO (laughs) – they are the ones taking hours to use the info we give them”

    This is exactly confirming my complaints. NATO isn’t doing its job! Although I am in general not susceptible to conspiracy theories, I think it was probably part of the deal with Turkey that NATO should not support the opposition too strongly. Or, what would be even more disullusioning, NATO is not able to act.

  3. [The significance of the strike on the convoy is manifold. Qaddafi doesn’t have infinite amounts of heavy military equipment, and every tank or armored vehicle he loses degrades his ability to control a country that for the most part doesn’t want him....
    Another significance of the strike is that it may well discourage soldiers loyal to Qaddafi from trying to attack the rebels, and may encourage them to defect to the Benghazi government.]

    I am sorry, but all this can be said about any military action – from Alexander the Great to Gaddafi and his enemies. Of course, all sides of an armed conflict want to destroy the capabilities of their enemies and demoralize them!

    Why bother to “analyze” on this level is not an easy question.

  4. The NATO plan appears to be to seek (and promote) the unraveling of the Ghaddafi regime. The rebels, and their leadership, seem to want to advance into Tripoli and the western border or at least into central Libya.

    Will a synthesis emerge?

    Is NATO airpower capable of ensuring that Ghaddafi’s forces cannot capture Adjabia in the coming weeks? Would Ghaddafi’s forces likely hold position at Brega and the cities further west rather than risk advancing with aerial bombardment?

  5. Rebel Leader Slams NATO

    Similar to what Socrates quoted above.

    Here is very good example of the the stark differences between interpretations of the UN resolution. Turkey, acting in accordance with UN arms embargo, prevented resupply of rebels at Misrata. The rebels are incensed because they read something into the resolution that is simply not there, i.e. NATO will do everything possible to aid the rebel mission of regime change and conquest of Tripoli. Of course that is exactly what USAnato was doing until last Saturday. But it looks like EUROnato is acting in accordance with the UN resolution (is that wrong?).

    Here’s the Alice in Wonderland story. The US wants to pound the Libyan military, plus backup the rebels, for as long as it takes to get regime change, and until April 2 that is exactly what it was doing (and putting a few CIA Gucci’s on the ground). On April 2, without announcing any change in objectives, the US silenced its weapons and leaves EUROnato as the main violence agent. But EUROnato seems to take the UN resolution literally, embargoing rebel arms replenishment, and defining the no fly zone rules to include rebel aircraft.

    The utterly and justifiably confused rebels want to go directly to the UN to complain, but how is the UN supposed to respond to a complaint that EUROnato forces are acting in accordance with the UN resolution. I suppose the UN could just tell the rebels to follow that yellow brick road, and Obama will second it.

    On Tuesday morning, the Turkish navy, acting under NATO command, refused to allow a private ship carrying weapons, ammunition and medical supplies from the rebel capital of Benghazi to land at Misrata. The Turkish forces inspected the ship, which had been chartered by private citizens in Benghazi, then, citing a United Nations-imposed arms embargo on Libya, the captain to surrender the arms or turn back, according to Gian Micalessin, an Italian journalist who was aboard.

    • The problem is that NATO is not fulfilling UN Res 1973 even if one interprets it narrowly: NATO has done little to nothing to protect civilians under bombardment by Gaddafi forces in the West (Zintan etc). NATO does far to little to protect the people of Ajdabia from Gaddafi’s forces near/in Brega; NATO hat totally failed concerning Misrata (which is due to the difficulty of fighting snipers with aircrafts…a strategical disaster)

      Secondly, from a strategical point of view, the West has bound itself by letting NATO run the mission (with the sublimal Gaddafi friendly Turks and Greeks on board). Gaddafi won’t go away just by our wishful thinking. He and his son’s have to be under huge pressure. With the front line somewhere around Brega they probably don’t feel too uncomfortable.

      It is absolutely absurd to intercept a boat with ammunition for Misrata where people are fighting for their survival against force largely superior to them. The Turks know this, but I don’t think that they want Gaddafi to go; they probably hope for a stalemate with one of Gaddafi’s son remaining in charge. Well, seen from Benghazi with such friends as the Turks you don’t need enemies anymore…
      As I said: If you can’t help them from the air, you have to help them so that they can help themselves.

  6. Thanks to Henry James above, for giving me a chance to spin off on to my own concerns. We analyze at that level because that is what we (people in general and historians in particular) have always done.

    All through the past the problem has been getting data. Even the commanders of ancient armies usually had only anecdotal data on who’s supplies and resources were being more relatively depleted.

    Now, like a few other instances of particular campaigns in the last two centuries, we have a heavy media focus on every tiny incident, every day’s pushing and shoving. I have been pretty silent on the whole Libyan adventure, because I have been heavily torn. My heart has yearned for a victory for Libyan freedom-fighters — I so much want to see one common person win over dictatorial power, just one somewhere! My head is very much hearing all the complaints about imperialism and process from my anti-imperialist friends whom I generally side with. I have also been very struck that I am one of the few people who understands and can live with the uncertainty that pervades all our understanding.

    Even when a story is being subject to media scrutiny, there is still a good chance that many interesting parts of the story are being missed by the media!! Even when a story is getting media scrutiny, there is a good chance reporters are misunderstanding or missing things, and putting out mis-leading information!!

    Pundits and commenters have been so wrapped up in the apparent daily ins and outs, I am trying to hang back and get a longer view. You’ve got to disengage your emotions from the evidence you’re seeing over many days.

    It does have to make us laugh to now hear the rebels saying NATO isn’t doing enough, and to hear the all-too-familiar tales of being refused permission to use their own planes while the master’s planes don’t appear. The wheels of empire travel in familiar ruts, the Eastern Mediterranean is the territory that world empires most need to dominate, there was no chance that Benghazi’s anxious and courageous youth could escape getting caught up in imperial games, once they came to own territorial power on a portion of the Eastern Mediterranean.

    • [ We analyze at that level because that is what we (people in general and historians in particular) have always done.]

      After some thinking, I figured out what is going on. The statement about about depleting Gaddafi’s capabilities and demoralizing his forces IS true, but trivial, uninformative and can be omitted for good.

      But this is exactly how official policy on the Libyan crisis is formulated: strike Gaddafi, try to demoralize his followers and hope it will be enough!

      We know there are grave concerns that this policy won’t work, but these concerns are not mentioned in any way. Those who don’t know much about the current Libyan situation, can be impressed, otherwise, this mechanical repetition of official Obama’s policy looks really strange.

  7. There are a number of assumptions being made here.
    1. That deprived of its heavy weapons the regime will just collapse.
    2. That air strikes will strike so much terror into Gaddafi supporters that they abandon him.
    3. That Gaddafi really has no support in Libya. Its just his heavy weapons keeping him in power.

    I don’t think any of these assumptions necessarily hold water. First even without heavy weapons the regime can still defeat the rebels. It will just be a much bloodier and protracted fight. Or it may end up in a stalemate and years of warfare/massacres ahead.

    Then there is the shock and awe of the airstrikes on Gaddafis supporters. We all saw how well shock and awe worked in Iraq. Even after Saddam fell the Iraqis kept fighting. In the end it was the US which was shocked and awed.

    Finally, would this still be going on if Gaddafi lacked any significant support in Libya? Heavy weapons don’t fight on their own! And do the rebels have the kind of support being claimed for them?

    I grew up in one of these dictatorial African countries. Even though I was in the streets a few times battling the governments’ goons and saw my friends beaten and bloodied and some were arrested and had unbelievable things done to them. I never would have supported a foreign intervention to remove the government and certainly not one by the former imperial powers.

    I wonder how many Libyans who oppose the government of Gaddafi are even more opposed to foreigners bombing their country?

    I would bet there are quite a few.

    emk

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