Free Libya forces are making unconfirmed allegations that Gen. Khamis Qaddafi has been killed in a NATO airstrike on a military outpost at Zlitan near Misrata.
Khamis leads the feared Khamis Brigades, who are accused of using tanks, artillery and cluster bombs against civilians in Misrata. The Brigades is among the most lethal units among the Qaddafi brigades. (See this account.) Khamis has been incorrectly declared dead before, so caution is in order.
But if the report were true, it would be a major blow to Muammar Qaddafi’s attempts to remain in power.
Qaddafi’s eldest son, Saif al Islam, now says he will ally with Libya’s Muslim fundamentalists in order to stay in power. The Qaddafis have long argued that the West should support them because the alternative is the fundamentalists. But in recent months they keep threatening to join al-Qaeda, so that rationale has collapsed.
David Zucchino’s excellent piece on the mood in Benghazi and the economic difficulties facing the Free Libya regions in the east accords with what I have heard from other recent visitors to Benghazi. No one can understand why there hasn’t been more humanitarian aid, given the poor economy. No one thinks the war will be over soon. The mood in Benghazi cheered considerably Thursday when an oil tanker made a big delivery.
The handful of recent visitors to whom I spoke are divided on the likelihood of the rebels’ long term success.
But logically speaking there are only four likely outcomes.
1. Qaddafi wins and conquers the East
2. The Free Libya forces over time win and take Tripoli
3. Elites in Tripoli overthrow Qaddafi and seek a national unity government with Benghazi
4. The country is partitioned
The UN allies won’t allow Qaddafi to take the east and massacre and imprison thousands, however much Alexander Cockburn, the Tea Party, and the World Socialist Web site would like to see that happen, or at least they object to practical steps to prevent it.
I don’t think a partition would be stable. Given international sanctions, Qaddafi’s part would grow weak, his weapons would degrade for lack of spare parts, and eventually he would fall to a wealthier and better-supplied Benghazi.
So most likely either there will eventually be a coup against Qaddafi in Tripoli or the rebels will win in the end.
The two Balkans interventions showed that air intervention is slow, difficult, & frustrating. But the alternative is to stand by while a Srebenica takes place.
Update (moved up from comments:) But there is ample reason for optimism over the medium to long term. The rebels & UN allies have made slow but steady progress for several months, stopping the assault on Benghazi, taking Ajdabiya, coming into Brega from the east; stopping the assault on Misrata, coming into Zlitan in the middle; stopping the assault on Zintan and taking most of the Western Mountains region. If you showed it with time elapse photography it would be a huge expansion of TNC-held territory and a series of dramatic defeats for the Qaddafi attackers. I was not instancing the Balkans with regard to local political arrangements, which are different (there is no ‘Serb/Bosnian/Kosovar’ divide, just fluid tribes who easily switch sides), but with regard to the difficulties in stopping aggressive attacks by armor and aircraft without troops on the ground. Actually NATO has done this better in Libya than it did in the first Balkan war.