Recent days have seen significant advances by Libyan rebels on several fronts. On Sunday they cut the coastal road to Tripoli — Gaddafi’s supply lifeline — taking most of the town of Zawiyah, a half hour drive from Tripoli itself. To the south, they were fighting in Gheryan, which controls the only other land route to Tripoli. In the east they have captured most of the oil town Brega along the coastal road, moving west from Benghazi.
Al Jazeera provided this video from the most important town, Zawiyah:
Meanwhile, the city of Benghazi, rebel headquarters, is recovering from war and improving, while Tripoli is under more and more stress. The Washington Post reports:
Life in Benghazi gets slightly better every day… “The city feels safe. Things work,” said Abed Dada of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who has spent the past few weeks in Benghazi.
The bakeries are turning out special pastries again. A tank of gas costs $4, less than before the revolution. Cellphone calls are free. … The price of a chicken in Tripoli is $12, whereas in Benghazi, a bird (imported from Egypt) will set you back $3.
The rebels have been underarmed and disorganized, with many civilians fighting despite little experience or training. They have also been set back by divisions in their ranks, notably the mysterious killing of their top military commander, a former Gaddafi officer who may have been hated by some rebel factions. Old tribal divisions threaten to undermine rebel unity as well. But none of that was on display in the past few days as their forces have advanced.
I have been too optimistic in the past about the pace of progress toward overthrowing Gaddafi, but my central point remains — each passing week brings advances for the rebels and setbacks for Gaddafi. NATO solidarity has held up fairly well, and pressures to end the campaign are minimal so far in the home countries of the participating forces. (Colum Lynch notes a slight shift in Ban Ki-Moon’s phrasing recently, but the UN has been fully supportive of the UN campaign and says it still is.) Really the only victory Gaddafi can point to is clinging to power longer than expected. In the big picture, lasting six month instead of three is not much of a victory.