02 March 2011

LIBYA: Pro-Gaddafi Forces Go on the Offensive, Retaking Strategic Towns and Oil Facilities near Tripoli... then Turn East

Forces loyal to embattled Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi scored some strategic gains early today by chasing rebels from at least two towns, apparently in an effort to establish a strategic buffer-zone around the Gaddafi stronghold of Tripoli. They also retook a key coastal oil installation and bombed at least one town in the rebel-held east.

But with Gaddafi going onto the offensive, the escalating level of violence is looking more like a real civil war by the day... this one could get real, real ugly-

One of those retaken was the strategic mountain town of Gharyan, the largest in the Nafusa Mountains, which overlooks Tripoli, a resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation. The town fell after dark Friday in a surprise attack, and the government troops detained officers who defected to the rebels and drew up lists of wanted protesters and started searching for them, the resident added.

Gadhafi supporters also have said they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to go back and forth between the two camps in the past week........

In Zintan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Tripoli, residents said an attack by pro-Gadhafi forces Monday night was the second since the city fell in rebel hands late last month. But, they added, Gadhafi's loyalists were bringing in reinforcements. 

One person in Zwara, which fell to anti-government forces days ago, said guards were posted at every sensitive building and all the entrances to the town. 

"We are threatened every day by pro-Gadhafi forces," the nervous Zwara resident said, adding that a pro-Gadhafi figure met with the town's leaders a few days ago and told them they had "a choice" to go back in to orbit "and he will forget what happened, or else he is going to attack us with military force. He even offered us money."

One sergeant in the Libyan army who is of Tuareg ethnicity and is fighting on Gadhafi's side said the military is divided: "Us foreigners, we don't have much choice. We have to support Gaddafi,"...

"There is nothing that's going to convince Gaddafi to quit," the soldier said. "The only way Gaddafi is going to go is if someone puts a bullet in his head, and I can't imagine that. The soldiers who are close to him would never let it happen."

As noted here previously, Gaddafi's not stepping down on anybody's orders: the only way this one's going out is feet-first, just like he said from the start. The chance of a protracted, bloody civil war in Libya is now very real. The forces he's got left are loyal, able, and personally vested in the outcome: the rebels remain lightly armed, somewhat disorganized outside of Benghazi, and without a UN no-fly zone, at the mercy of savage air attacks.

The pro-Gaddafi forces' offensive capabilities may appear feeble, yet it is hard to envision the opposition taking the capitol anytime soon, either.  But time is largely on the rebels' side if they can hold territorial gains, take some outside assistance, then start to collect oil revenues from their territory (they currently hold 80% of the oilfields)... thus the sense of urgency and increasingly aggressive strategy of the pro-Gaddafi troops as they aim to put an end to all that while they still can.

Even though things continue to look on-the-balance grim for the regime, almost any outcome is still possible in Libya... up to and including an against-all-odds comeback Gaddafi victory.

Besides expanding territory around Tripoli, pro-Gaddafi forces also pushed east for the first time today, taking a small town and advancing on a large arms depot in rebel-held territory-

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are moving into rebel territory in the east, taking the small town of Brega.

The BBC's John Simpson in the nearby city of Ajdabiya says the 100-vehicle convoy is expected to advance towards it, and have bombed an arms dump there.......

It has a large arms dump which has been bombed several times by pro-Gaddafi forces.

The loyalists are now only a couple of miles from Ajdabiya, the defenders say.

The rebels are determined to put up a fight but it remains to be seen whether this translates into an organised defence of the city, our correspondent says.

Interestingly, a British Special Air Service (SAS) unit has already been operating quietly in Libya for over a week, playing a part in evacuating foreign oil workers. But the elite commandos are reportedly now poised to seize Col Gaddafi's 10-ton mustard gas stash out in the Libyan desert... probably not a bad idea at this point.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a couple ships to the area yesterday, but what the Libyan resistance really needs from the international community -a no-fly zone established over Libya- seems now a non-starter: while the idea's been bounced around the UN Security Council, reality quickly set-in as to just what they'd be undertaking in attempting to control the airspace of a country twice the size of France while facing substantial Libyan AA defenses.

The Russians have called Gaddafi a "living political corpse", but they sure don't seem to have any interest in contributing to such a UN no-fly zone operation, suggesting "sanctions" instead... you know, like the ones that worked so well in Iran. But nobody else down there at the UN has got the backbone to do anything either, while the US and UK's armed forces are already stretched to the limit with other commitments... not to mention our own leadership issues.

As for the embattled Gaddafi regime,  they could care less, anyway: until a recent reconciliation with the West, they've rarely not been under sanctions for as long as anybody can remember... and will continue to do pretty much as they please.

Updates as they come here at Reaganite Republican

UPDATE 7:34am EST: Gaddafi swears to fight 
"to the last man and woman in Libya" -here-

Live streaming coverage of developments in Libya -here-
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