Rebels claim Leader of Feared Khamis Brigade Dead

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.

8 Responses

  1. You’re clearly not in Cockburn’s “left brigade” as evidenced in a very disparaging remark he made about you recently while being interviewed on KPFA (Berkeley). Apparently your Left-ish credentials are not adequate for Mr. Cockburn.

    It was upsetting for me as I long for Principled Dialogue and read your work to fan that flame in my own intellectual efforts (I’m part of the blue-collar un-schooled wing of progressive yearning). The “principals” regarding the Civil War in Libya are becoming ever-more difficult to follow.

    I do thank you for your efforts & will make another monetary contribution to your blog when I decide to raise my debt-ceiling!

  2. Juan,

    I have been a long time reader and admirer of your blog, and wanted to suggest that you might be misusing the word “brigade”

    In the American Army, and most other European style armies, the composition is as follows:

    A platoon is approx, 40 soldiers, led by a lieutenant,
    a company is 3 platoons, led by a captain,
    battalion is 3 or more companies, led by a major,
    brigade is 3 or more battalions, led by a colonel and seconded by a lt. col.,
    a division is 3 or more brigades, led by a 2 star general
    a corps is 2 or more divisions, led by a 3 star gen.,
    an army is 2 or more corps, led by a 4 star.
    An army group is led by a 5 star. In the old USSR, I think there might have been a 6 star or two.

    In some armies, in some time periods, a “regiment” was equal to either a battalion or a brigade.

    Therefore, a brigade is merely one form of unit. In the US, the primary, self contained unit is a division, and a brigade is normally the smallest more or less self contained portion sent out separately, ie. overseas.

    Sometimes “brigade” is used as a general label, such as “Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” which might have either larger or much weaker than a brigade in a real army.

    In Libya, the army is pretty small, so the various brigades are headed by charismatic leaders, usually Khadaffis’ sons. If the army was bigger, those named units might be divisions, as I believe was the case in Iraq.

    Hope this is of some use to you, so you can better use the term “brigade.”

    cheers,
    jim burke

  3. Your points one to four appear to be in order of increasing probability, and the country is already effectively partitioned between the forces. A partition may eventually lead to a united country but examples through history – Korea, Vietnam, Germany – show unification can take decades, the process can be bloody, and the weakest and most repressive nations can be most resistant to change.

    The example of the Balkans looks increasingly irrelevant to Libya, even allowing for the fact the Yugoslav War aimed to break up rather than unify. After months of warfare, the rebel forces still look a disorganized force. Effective fighting unit are based on discipline, rigid adherence to command structure and the belief those fighting around you will not flee and leave you exposed. The rebel forces act like the mounted irregulars of earlier warfare. leaving the attack to NATO planes, swooping in as bombed government forces flee, and then withdrawing from a determined attack. The population is there to provide the manpower, the weapons are available but the leadership and unity of purpose is lacking. The march to Tripoli is looking increasingly unlikely.

    The chance of this turning out well is not looking good when the best prospect is a military coup. The tragedy of Libya is how the unity of the vote to protect civilians, a milestone in UN resolutions, has been squandered by those who seized the opportunity to pursue quite different aims.

    • 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.

  4. Surely there’s an inconsistency here.

    First you say you don’t think partition would be stable, and you think (hope) that Victory for Rebels or a Coup in Tripoli is most likely outcome.

    Then you conclude by saying that the Balkans air interventions were slow, difficult & frustrating, but with the implication that they will bring about one of the two likely (hoped for) solutions.

    But partition was precisely the result that was bought about by the respective NATO air campaigns in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

    Milosevich was removed from power by the people of Serbia, not by NATO’s bombs. The political allies of Karadich are running Republika Srpska today.

    Kosovo is a kleptocracy run by drug pedlars and pimps, who don’t control all their territory. The Federation of B&H is united in name only, its effectively partitioned into Croat & Bosniak cantons.

    Both Kosovo and the B&H Federation continue to need foreign military stabilisation forces to keep them from descending once again into murder & mayhem. There’s no chance of NATO or the EU committing forces to a similar operation in Libya. The African Union has a poor record at “peace making/keeping” – eg DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Somalia, Liberia etc. The Arab League has never shown any inclination to solve its own problems.

    Like you I hope for the best – Tripoli Coup & Reconciliation. But I expect the worst – Partition and Protracted Conflict – a’la what’s happening in Sudan & Yemen.

  5. “Saif al Islam, now says he will ally with Libya’s Muslim fundamentalists in order to stay in power”

    He is saying that factions of the rebels are fundamentalist Muslims while others a liberal, and he is attempting to align with the fundamentalists rebels against the liberals.

  6. According to Justin Raimondo, the US is allying with al-Queda in Libya. A few months ago, Raimondo said the purpose of the US/NATO intervention was part of a larger plan to eliminate all possible threats to Israel. (First Iraq, now Libya, later Iran…). So, we are allied with al -Queda in Libya on behalf of Israel. As for the Balkans,the only result of Nato intervention there was “a Muslim country in the heart of Europe”. When Raimondo said that, I know he wasn’t playing on peoples’ fears, because he recently condemned Islamophobia.

  7. Hi

    everyone is probably way ahead of my understanding of this already but are the ‘rebels’ civilians or combatants or whatever? I thought the UN intervention was to prevent Gadaffi attacking civilians ( which seems perfectly right) but is that what these guys are?

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