Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's the current situation in Libya right now?

This is an old post - click here for the most recent update on Libya.

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The specificities of the coalition campaign are probably well beyond the knowledge of anybody except for those military and intelligence personnel directly involved (and presumably some key government officials as well). Suffice it to say dozens of tanks and armored vehicles have been destroyed on the ground, and the vast majority of Qaddafi’s anti-air capacities have been eliminated. US Air Force C-130s are now broadcasting to the Libyan people, and the No-Fly zone is now in effect from Tripoli to Benghazi.

It is worthwhile to point out that this is not simply a "no-fly zone". The wording of the UN resolution was to protect the safety of Libyan civilians, and although many members of the Arab League are balking at the scope of activity, what we're seeing is a full implementation that will probably come as close to implementation of ground forces without the actual implementation itself.

Many of the military officials involved have expressed minimal optimism regarding their expectations for this undertaking, emphasizing repeatedly that they will not be removing Qaddafi from power, they will simply be destroying as much as possible of his capacity to inflict harm on civilians.

Some of them have said that the result may simply be a stalemate on the ground, but don't believe that for a minute. These guys know exactly what's going on. Qaddafi's goose is cooked, but the actual work of removing him will be left to the Libyan people themselves.

Here's the thing, as I've been saying for the past week, the rebels are not as badly off as most people are assuming.

Qaddafi's forces have been hemorrhaging troops continuously for weeks. Entire battalions have defected, and are under the command of generals who were formerly loyal to Qaddafi. The discouraging events of the past week are not evidence of the Revolution's failure; they are the realities of war - specifically the realities of urban tank combat in North Africa. Patton said, "war is hell", but we in America haven’t had the opportunity to see the effects of large-scale ground combat since the first Gulf War (and war may be too strong of a word used to describe that conflict – it implies that there are actually two sides fighting).

Regardless, Qaddafi's field commanders (possibly one or two of his sons, probably with some direction from Qaddafi himself) committed to a campaign of speed and brutal force. It's sort of the equivalent of pulling your goalie in the last five minutes of a hockey or soccer game and putting an extra offensive player on the field in hopes of driving deep into the opponent’s territory and evening the score. Unsurprisingly, it's a very risky strategy. It has put his armor dangerously far from their supply lines, which are exposed and spread out over hundreds of kilometers. Tanks need a tremendous amount of fuel, and without infantry support they are susceptible to specific types of close range attacks. In urban environments, a handful of men with Molotov cocktails can cripple a tank if they are acting with little or no regard for their own safety or survival

Although it will take months, or even years to finally ascertain the correct sequence of events, my suspicion is that when Qaddafi's armor was moving into Benghazi they were entering a trap. Former Libyan soldiers (some say as many as 8000) were being held in reserve near Benghazi under the leadership of Libyan generals loyal to the uprising. The tanks that reached the city were rolling into the teeth of a resolute and ready resistance.

The French and American air strikes that took place yesterday and today were devastating, and they certainly saved civilian lives, but I suspect that even without them the Libyan resistance would have been successful in its defense of the city.

The real advantage of the airstrikes is their emotional effects. Pro-Qaddafi soldiers who yesterday or the day before were convinced of Qaddafi’s inevitable success are now more likely to abandon Brother Leader and his dwindling forces. That, I feel, will be where the ultimate success of the coalition efforts is seen. Not in the planes and tanks that they destroy, but in the message that they send to the remaining Qaddafi loyalists – It's over.

As I said before, the final victory will belong to the Libyan people – they are the ones who will ultimately remove Qaddafi from power.


  1. Nice insight on the realities of armored warfare over long distances. Been studying Rommel again? ;)

  2. Given that Tobruk is held by the anti-Qaddafi forces, I think it's interesting that he called the rebels "rats".