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.