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March 19, 2011


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Minimally-trained infantry should be able to outflank government forces outside the cities, but the rebels seem to be worse than minimally-trained.

Keep in mind that there are two rebel forces -- the shabab, and the regulars who defected to the revolution. The shabab were the ones who got impatient and ran into the big guns in front of Sirte. The regulars concentrated on fortifying the eastern towns. Any city defended by actual military troops -- Misrata and Ajdabiya, for instance -- has been a meatgrinder for Gaddafi's forces, and Benghazi would/will be more so.

The main problem is that the rebels don't have anything that can get around Sirte, much less defeat the regime forces that are forted up in Tripoli, and a NFZ won't help with either. I'm guessing things will return to a tactical stalemate unless something changes.

Also keep in mind that Libya is a nation-state overlaid upon a complex of web of ethnic, regional and tribal identities -- which Qaddafi has been very good at manipulating, over the years.

Qaddafi's own tribe is the Qaddafa, who IIUC are thinly but broadly spread all the way from Tunisia to Egypt. Although some Qaddafis supported at least one coup against /the/ Qaddafi, this seems to have been an internal family squabble; it looks like they've swung pretty solidly behind him now, if only for fear of what will happen if he falls.

Libya's military has lost a lot of battles, it's true -- most notably to Nyerere's Tanzania back in 1979. (Which, believe you me, the Tanzanians still remember. It's not every day that an African army rolls over an opposing force in a classic field battle.) But if Libyans are the only ones on the ground, then it doesn't matter who's bad, only who's worse.

Doug M.

Jonathan: good point! That said, the reports from the battles I read showed an astounding level of disorganization; quite literally, nobody seemed to be giving orders at all. Where do you get your information about the performance of rebel military units?

Doug: tribal fighting is another way that the civil war could get very ugly very fast. Intervention has prevented a massacre; as you say, the jury’s out as to whether it’s prevented all massacres.

I sort of agree with your second point, except that with no air support and with their sustainment under fire from the air, it’s hard to see how Gaddafi’s forces keep fighting in the east. Which is, of course, a different thing from the end of all fighting in the east. Or am I missing your point?

ISTM, at this date, that there's two most plausible outcomes.

One is, Qaddafi goes down pretty quickly, because his support is fairly shallow and his followers will realize this is a no-win situation. This could play out in various ways -- sudden collapse, internal coup. Obviously this is what the administration is hoping for.

T'other is, protracted civil war. The rebels have very limited offensive capability. Qaddafi had more, but now it will be sharply restricted by allied air strikes. So, a resolution by conventional war becomes difficult. Both sides consolidate along regional and tribal lines, and weeks turn into months. That gets diplomatically and militarily complicated pretty fast.

Doug M.

Many of Qaddafi's fighters are not Libyans, who understandably might be reluctant to fire on their countrymen, but hired mercenaries from various African countries. They're probably not being paid enough to deal with Western air and missile strikes. If they start resigning (deserting?) en masse, the regime change may come about sooner rather than later.

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