Libyan Capital Falling to Rebels

In recent months I’ve been too optimistic about the timing of regime collapse in Libya, but correct about the steady direction of progress, always toward the end of the Gaddafi regime. Today events are catching up with me, as rebels have entered the capital Tripoli, taken military bases, and captured two of Gaddafi’s sons including Saif who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. With luck the end may come without a bloodbath, as the regime is crumbling quickly.

On Saturday, Tripoli residents in several neighborhoods known for their anti-Gaddafi sentiment rose up in protests, even armed with a few light weapons. The government responded with force, as always, shooting demonstrators, armed men, and civilians alike from sniper posts on rooftops and with mortars.

The vice-chair of the Transitional National Council, in Benghazi, announced dramatically: “The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up… There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They’ve been preparing for a while. There’s co-ordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south.”

Although the rebels seem to have slipped some weapons into the city by sea, the real action was the rapid advance of rebel units – now better armed and organized than a few months ago – toward the capital from several directions. Most importantly, they captured the military base of the notorious Khamis Brigade, nicknamed after its commander, Gaddafi’s son Khamis. The Brigade is one of Gaddafi’s elite units, well armed and loyal, so the loss of its base was another huge setback for the regime, and of course the rebels picked up lots of good weapons and marched on toward Tripoli, just 16 miles from the base.

Sunday the rebels charged into Tripoli, arrested Gaddafi’s sons, and apparently took control of most neighborhoods. The rebel forces include units formed from former residents of Tripoli who know their way around the city and its people. CNN reports: “Just after midnight Sunday, scores of raucous rebel supporters packed Green Square — the same place where Gadhafi loyalists have congregated regularly — celebrating, waving the rebel flag and even flashing the “victory” sign.” Rebels declared Sunday “Day One” for free Libya.

Back when NATO extended its mandate for 90 days before it expired June 27, I predicted the war might end so quickly they would not need the extension. I wrote, “Could be longer, but not a whole lot longer.” Some readers have pushed back on that, but in the context of the history of wars and revolutions, two months is not a whole lot longer. As I’ve said repeatedly here, Libya was not a stalemate or quagmire. And this time, I’m pretty confident NATO will not need another extension September 27.

In mid-October, my article with Jon Western on the successes of humanitarian interventions will appear in the journal Foreign Affairs. We consider Libya a smart, successful intervention by a united international community, that stopped an imminent mass atrocity event as the regime prepared to flatten Benghazi.

Stand by for the final hours of Gaddafi, and then there is a great deal of work to do in putting the country back together and governing it. Starting from Day One.

One response to “Libyan Capital Falling to Rebels

  1. Thanks. But your entry needs a postscript. It was written yesterday [24 08 11] by Seumas Milne in the Guardian. Would like to share:

    Libya’s imperial hijacking is a threat to the Arab revolution
    Only when those who fought Gaddafi force Nato to leave will Libyans be able to take control of their country

    They don’t give up. For the third time in a decade, British and US forces have played the decisive role in the overthrow of an Arab or Muslim regime. As rebel forces pressed home their advantage across Libya under continuing Nato air support , politicians in London and Paris preened themselves on their role as the midwives of a “new Libya”.
    It’s all supposed to be different this time, of course. The lessons of the west’s blood-drenched occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are said to have been learned: no boots on the ground, UN backing, proper planning and Libyans in the lead. But the echoes of Baghdad and, even more, Kabul have been eerie – and not only in the made-for-TV images of the sacking of compounds and smashing of statues, or the street banners hailing Nato leaders.
    As in Afghanistan in 2001, the western powers have taken sides in a civil war, relying on air power and special forces to turn the tide against an unpopular authoritarian regime.
    In Libya, the basis for foreign military intervention has been the claim that Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were about to carry out a massacre of civilians in Benghazi after he threatened to hunt down armed rebels “house to house”. Violent repression was certainly meted out against a popular uprising, but once insurrection had morphed into war there’s little evidence that the regime’s troops were in a position to overrun an armed and hostile city of 700,000 people. And reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have since cast serious doubt on a string of war atrocity stories used to justify Nato bombing.
    But they helped deliver UN resolution 1973, authorising “all necessary means” to protect Libyan civilians. That has since been used as Nato’s fig leaf to justify the onslaught against Gaddafi and deliver regime change from the air. And while the western powers claimed to be saving lives, thousands have died on the ground – including uncounted numbers of civilians killed by Nato’s own air attacks, such as the 85 reported incinerated near Zlitan earlier this month.
    If stopping the killing had been the real aim, Nato states would have backed a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement, rather than repeatedly vetoing both. Instead, after having lost serious strategic ground in the Arab revolutions, the Libyan war offered the US, Britain and France a chance to put themselves at the heart of the process while bringing to heel an unreliable state with the largest oil reserves in Africa.
    None of that means the euphoria on the streets of Libyan cities at the fall of a regime long decayed into dynastic despotism isn’t entirely genuine. Or that the rebels who fought their way across the country haven’t made heavy sacrifices for a victory they regard as their own – let alone that Libyans were incapable of bringing down the Gaddafi regime by themselves.
    But the facts are unavoidable. Without the 20,000 air sorties, arms supplies and logistical support of the most powerful states in the world, they would not be calling the shots in Tripoli today. The assault on the capital was supported by the heaviest Nato bombardment to date. Western intelligence and special forces have been on the ground for months – in mockery of the UN – training, planning and co-ordinating rebel operations.
    It was the leading Nato states that championed and funded the Transitional National Council – including members with longstanding CIA and MI6 links – and officials from Nato states who drew up the stabilisation plan now being implemented on the ground.
    However glad people are to see the fall of the Gaddafi clan, it’s clear that such intimate involvement of the US and the former colonial powers taints and undermines the legitimacy of Libya’s transformation. They will expect a payback for their investment in the Libyan war: in oil and commercial deals, political support and perhaps even the return of western military bases.
    The British government’s refusal to rule out sending troops to take part in a “stabilisation operation” is an ominous sign of where Libya may be heading. And if Libyans end up with the kind of democracy foisted on Iraq and Afghanistan, courtesy of their western advisers, that will be no liberation at all.
    Beyond Libya, the apparent success of Nato’s operation has given an unwelcome boost to the doctrine of pick-and-choose liberal interventionism, just as its dangers had come to be recognised in the wake of the disasters of the war on terror. That matters in the Middle East now more than ever.
    Since the Arab revolution dispatched two western-backed dictators in quick succession at the start of the year, there has been a three-pronged drive by the west to bring it under control. In Egypt, US and Saudi money has been poured in to suborn it. In Bahrain, conservative Gulf states have been given support to crush the uprising by force. And in Libya, the western powers have attempted to hijack it, while channelling covert support to the brutally repressed opposition in Syria.
    There are many in the region who now hope the fall of Gaddafi will give new momentum to the stalled Arab awakening, bringing down another autocrat, perhaps in Yemen. But the risk could instead be that it sends a message that regimes can only now be despatched with the armed support of Washington, London and Paris – available in the most select circumstances.
    Nato’s intervention in Libya is a threat to the Arab revolution, but the forces that have been unleashed in the region won’t be turned back so easily. Many of those who have fought for power in Libya, including Islamists, clearly won’t accept the dispensation that’s been prepared for them. But only when Nato and its bagmen are forced to leave Libya can Libyans truly take control of their own country.