Tripoli Surrounded, Cut Off

Aljazeera Arabic is reporting directly from Zawiya (to the west of Tripoli along the Mediterranean), where Free Libya forces have liberated some 80 percent of the city, all but the eastern areas and the refinery. People in most of Zawiya look pretty happy about the end of their ordeal. Stories are coming out about arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances during the period since March that Qaddafi’s forces ruled the city with tank shells and secret police. Qaddafi brigades have invaded a hospital in the east and taken medical personel hostage, placing snipers on the roof. Another sniper at the Martyrs’ Square has been wreaking havoc, and killed a woman in her living room. There had also been shelling of the city by Grad missiles launched from trucks, but the Aljazeera television crew seemed to move around without fear on Tuesday. NATO war planes hit positions of Qaddafi brigades to the east of Zawiya Tuesday affording protection to the city from indiscriminate bombardment.

The rebels say that they have complete control of Gharyan (Garyan) to the south of Tripoli, which sits astride a major smuggling route from Algeria.

The Voice of Free Libya broadcasting from Misrata alleged Tuesday that Qaddafi brigades in Surman have defected to the Free Libya forces who have taken most of the city, according to the Open Source Center.

It also reports that 5 officers in Tripoli who attempted to defect were arrested by Qaddafi security men and have been executed. It is also claimed that Qaddafi’s forces are refusing to let people freely leave the capital.

The Transitional National Council in Benghazi affirmed Tuesday that it would step down after 6-8 months from the time Qaddafi is overthrown, once elections to a national parliament are held. They also said that a new constitution would be drafted over two years and put to a national referendum. The Arab Spring revolutions that have succeeded, in Egypt and Tunisia, have both faced the problem that it is impossible to organize credible parliamentary elections in less than 6 months or so, especially in countries unused to choosing freely among political parties (in Libya the parties would all have to be created from whole cloth). The period of rule by a transitional government is itself an uncomfortable era, since that government has limited legitimacy and typicallly is staffed at least in part by less objectionable members of the old regime. It is a problem that can provoke further demonstrations, but seems likely to be resolved in large part by parliamentary elections (scheduled for October in Tunisia, November in Egypt).

Chris Stephens gives us a searching and meditative piece on what the war has meant to people in Misrata, among the worst-hit by the indiscriminate fire and vicious repression of the Qaddafi regime. The piece explains why the Misrata fighters were so much better than those in the East– they fought in knowledge that there was no escape for them, and only the sea was to their backs. As Stephens notes, the Free Libya capture of Tawarga has silenced Qaddafi’s long-distance shelling of the city, so that people can even think about going to the beach for the first time in months.

Posted in Libya | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. There was a recent report that Misrata was “liberated” by pro-Gaddafi forces, but it seems that only the UK Morning Star and the Gaddafi press have argued this – and, of course, the somewhat strange editors Information Clearing House.

    This seems to be false, but is it evidence of what will become wild and desperate claims from a collapsing regime?

    • See the report by Chris Stephens that I llinked to; he is in Misrata now! The gullible have all along fallen ffor wacky Qaddafi propaganda, such that NATO is bombing civilians, the rebels are al-Qaedaa, etc., etc. The regime is desperate indeed if it sees any benefit in making false and outlandish claims of this sort.

  2. What is hard to determine in all this is how much of the fighting is actually been done by the Free Libya forces and what motivates Government forces.

    Estimates of Libyan armed forces were 50 000 under arms in 2009, It is hard to estimate present Qaddafi forces – some will have fled, others changed sides, more have been conscripted or volunteered but 50 000 is a reasonable number. NATO strike sorties – that is, a single plane on a single mission which may deliver zero or multiple strikes – number 7 000. Therefore, there has been a NATO strike for every 7 enemy soldiers by aircraft such as the Tornado which has a total bomb load of 9 000 kg and which can let loose with 360 27 mm cannon rounds, missiles and laser guided or cluster bombs. Feel free to correct my estimates of these military forces.

    The open terrain, the presence of spotters and the sophistication of NATO forces would make the air strikes fairly effective, A casualty rate of 30% is regarded as enough to break even a highly motivated force, yet the fight goes on.

    The NATO strikes alone should have destroyed any concentrations or resupply of garrisons. Scattered, short of supplies, and demoralized, this war should have lasted days or weeks, not months as the French Foreign promised on March 24. When the words do not match what can be plainly seen on the ground, distrust the words.

    What is really going on?

    • NATO has not been engaged in that kind of intensive bombardment of garrisons. They feared destroying the national army, with the Iraq example before them. The TNC hoped for mass defections and didn’t want the troops killed so systematically. And the terms of the UNSC resolution had at least some effect on NATO policy.

      The war has lasted this long precisely because NATO concentrated on hitting weapons depots as well as artillery, tanks and troops actively attacking dissident populations and rebels.

      • If NATO are restricting their targets away from garrisons and supply routes to active attackers, television stations, command centres and military hardware, the concentration of those 50 or so sorties per day on the few targets left must be overwhelming. How many more months until there is nothing worth bombing?

  3. Dear Prof. Cole,

    Thank you for this report on Libya.

    I am sure you have seen the persistent reports by Western human rights groups and Western journalists about the abuses by the rebels. These include pillaging and destroying loyalist houses and villages, looting villages regardless of the loyalties of the residents, revenge killings, assassination, racial attacks against blacks, at least one instance of rape, and fuel blockades against civilian populations.

    To me, this is only to be expected: war is inherently corrupting. Even if one of the sides in a war has a “just cause,” after a while this “righteous” side ends up killing as many people as the original aggressor. That happened in WWII and the Iran-Iraq war, for example.

    If the goal is protecting civilians, the solution is to call for an immediate negotiated cease-fire and peace-keeping troops from the U.N.

    But I think we both know that the goal is political, namely, the removal of Qaddafi. And the thousands of deaths caused by the pursuit of this political goal is deemed an acceptable price.

    I’m not even sure that your desired goal of democracy-at-any price is a likely fruit of the current violence. Sure, the rebels have said what the Western public would like to hear: they’re for human rights. But an opposition faction that is used to solving its problems with violence may continue to do so after victory. After Qaddafi falls, the factions with the biggest fire power may purge the others, and the professors who have spoken eloquently for democracy in Libya may be set aside by the Generals.

    Best wishes,


    • Qaddafi defied the UNSC and viciously attacked his people, crushing Zawiya and other towns, besieging Misrata, committing war crimes so systematic and extensive as to amount to crimes against humanity. He is now an indicted war criminal and should be in the Hague on trial.

      He is shelling Zawiya and if he could he would invade it, massacre people, imprison and disappear and torture them. With any luck, NATO will prevent his goons from doing so.

      There is no sign at all that at any point he has wanted a genuine ceasefire. He was shelling Misrata indiscriminately until two days ago!

    • Dear Behnam,

      The abuses by the rebels, whilst making no excuse for them, have been lesser in scale and quantity than those carried out by the Gaddafi-regime. We can also point out that the real rebel abuses were not part of a systematic campaign ordered by their leadership.

      Looting shops is the action of rogue behaviour, common in a warzone. Indiscriminate shelling and the use cluster bombs in civilian areas as an organised campaign is something quite different.

      We do recall at the very start of the UN action the Gaddafi regime agreed to a ceasefire – and broke it the very same day.

      From that point onwards it became clear that his word could not be trusted and for peace to occur there would have to be two parties genuinely interested in a ceasefire and negotiated settlement.

      Unfortunately that will not happen whilst Gaddafi is in power.



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