[Marxism] Little Resistance as Rebels Enter Tripoli

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 21 17:22:23 MDT 2011


NY Times August 21, 2011
Little Resistance as Rebels Enter Tripoli
By KAREEM FAHIM

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebels surged into the Libyan capital Sunday night, 
meeting only sporadic resistance from troops loyal to Col. Muammar 
el-Qaddafi and setting off raucous street celebrations by residents 
hailing the end of his 42 years in power.

The rebel leadership announced that insurgents had captured two of 
Colonel Qaddafi’s sons, including Seif al-Islam, his heir apparent. The 
leadership also announced that the elite presidential guard protecting 
the Libyan leader had surrendered.

While there was no independent confirmation of those developments, the 
rebels were racing through parts of the city with apparent ease, and 
NATO and American officials made clear that control of Tripoli, which 
had been the final stronghold of the longtime Libyan leader, was now in 
doubt.

“Clearly the offensive for Tripoli is underway,” the State Department 
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. The statement said 
“Qaddafi’s days are numbered” and urged the rebel leadership to prepare 
for a transfer of power and “maintain broad outreach across all segments 
of Libyan society and to plan for a post-Qaddafi Libya.”

After six months of inconclusive fighting, the assault on the capital 
unfolded at a breakneck pace, with insurgents capturing a military base 
of the vaunted Khamis Brigade, where they had expected to meet fierce 
resistance, then speeding toward Tripoli and through several 
neighborhoods of the capital effectively unopposed.

A separate group of rebels waged a fierce battle near the Rixos Hotel, a 
bastion of Qaddafi support near the city center. A team of rebels there 
claimed to have captured Colonel Qaddafi’s son Seif. Rebels also claimed 
to have accepted the surrender of a second Qaddafi son, Mohammed.

Rebel spokesmen said that their fighters had surrounded the Bab al 
Aziziya compound where they believed Colonel Qaddafi may still be 
holding out.

Colonel Qaddafi issued a series of defiant audio statements during the 
night, calling on people to "save Tripoli" from a rebel offensive. He 
said Libyans were becoming “slaves of the imperialists” and that “all 
the tribes are now marching on Tripoli.”

He claimed to be in the Libyan capital and said he would remain there 
“until the end.” But some rebel leaders said they thought he had already 
left Tripoli.

Al Arabiya television aired images of Libyans celebrating in central 
Tripoli and ripping down Qaddafi posters. Huge crowds gathered in 
Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-controlled eastern part of the 
country, as expectations grew that Colonel Qaddafi’s hold on power was 
crumbling.

Earlier Sunday, protesters took to the streets and cells of rebels 
inside Tripoli clashed with Qaddafi loyalists, opposition leaders and 
refugees from the city said. Fighting had been heavy in the morning, but 
by midnight Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had withdrawn from many districts 
without a major battle.

A rebel spokesman said insurgents had opened another line of attack on 
Tripoli by sending boats from the port city of Misurata to link up with 
fighters in the capital. It was not clear how many fighters were 
involved in that operation.

Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, issued press statements through 
the night, saying more than 1,300 people had died in fighting in the 
city but that government troops remained in control. Those claims could 
not be confirmed.

But the turmoil inside Tripoli and the crumbling of defenses on its 
outskirts suggested a decisive shift in the revolt, the most violent of 
the Arab Spring uprisings.

NATO troops continued close air support of the rebels all day, with 
multiple strikes by alliance aircraft helping clear the road to Tripoli 
from Zawiyah. Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an 
attempt on Sunday by Qaddafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank 
assault on the city.

Seif al-Islam has been a central character in the drama of the Libyan 
revolt. Before the uprising began he was known as Libya’s leading 
advocate of reform in both economic and political life. He cultivated an 
Anglophile persona, and often appeared to be waging a tug-of-war against 
his father’s older and more conservative allies. He was increasingly 
seen as the most powerful figure behind the scenes of the Libyan 
government as well as his father’s likely successor.

When the revolt broke out it was Seif al-Islam who delivered the 
government’s first public response, vowing to wipe out what he called 
“the rats” and warning of a civil war.

In his last public interview, he appeared a changed man. Sitting in a 
spare hotel conference room, he wore a newly grown beard and fingered 
prayer beads. After months of denouncing the rebels as dangerous Islamic 
radicals, he insisted that he was brokering a new alliance with the 
Islamist faction among the rebels to drive out the liberals. While 
rebels expressed hope that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had lost their will 
to fight, support for the government could remain strong inside some 
areas of Tripoli. Analysts said the crucial role played by NATO in 
aiding the rebel advance in the relatively unpopulated areas outside the 
capital could prove far less effective in an urban setting, where 
concerns about civilian casualties could hamper the alliance’s ability 
to focus on government troops.

A senior American military officer who has been following the 
developments closely and who has been in contact with African and Arab 
military leaders in recent days, expressed caution on Sunday about the 
prospects for any imminent fall of the Qaddafi regime. Even if Colonel 
Qaddafi is deposed in some way, the senior officer said, there was still 
no clear plan for a political succession or for maintaining security in 
the country.

“The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this 
will all play out,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of 
anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacies surrounding the issue.

“Trying to predict what this guy is going to do is very, very 
difficult,” the officer said, referring to Colonel Qaddafi.Of particular 
note on Sunday, the rebels seemed to meet little resistance from the 
32nd Brigade, a unit that NATO had considered one of the most elite in 
Libya and commanded by Khamis Qaddafi, one of the leader’s sons. The 
so-called Khamis Brigade was one of the crucial units enforcing the 
defense lines around the capital, extending about 17 miles outside 
Tripoli to the west and about 20 miles to the south.

Rebels said those points had been breached by Sunday afternoon despite 
the expectation that Colonel Qaddafi would use heavily armored units and 
artillery to defend them. It was unclear whether the government troops 
had staged a tactical retreat or been dislodged by NATO strikes.

After a brief gun battle, rebels took over one of the brigade’s bases 
along the road to Tripoli. Inside the base, rebels raises their flag and 
cheered wildly. They began carting away stores of weapons, including 
rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

While the bodies of several dead loyalist soldiers were left on the 
ground in the base, it appeared the troops there had retreated rather 
than being forced out in battle. At least one structure suffered 
significant damage from NATO bombs.Earlier Sunday, rebels portrayed the 
uprising inside Tripoli as a sign that the end of the Qaddafi regime was 
near.

“We are coordinating the attacks inside, and our forces from outside are 
ready to enter Tripoli,” said Anwar Fekini, a rebel leader from the 
mountainous region in western Libya, speaking by telephone from Tunis. 
“If you can call any mobile number in Tripoli, you will hear in the 
background the beautiful sound of the bullets of freedom.”

Phone calls to several Tripoli residents in different neighborhoods 
confirmed that gunfire and explosions were widespread. And there were 
reports of frequent NATO jet flights and airstrikes — a common 
accompaniment to the drumbeat of the rebel advance in the past week.

While American officials say they are unsure how the battle for Tripoli 
will play out, they say they are preparing contingency plans if and when 
Qaddafi’s regime falls to help prevent the vast Libyan government 
stockpiles of weapons, particularly portable antiaircraft missiles, from 
being dispersed.

Untold numbers of the missiles, including SA-7’s, have already been 
looted from government arsenals, and American officials fear they could 
circulate widely, including heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles that 
could be used against civilian airliners. "What I worry about most is 
the proliferation of these weapons," the senior military officer said, 
noting that the United States has already been quietly meeting with 
leaders of Libya’s neighbors in Africa’s Sahel region to stem the flow 
of the missiles.

The officer said that small teams of American military and other 
government weapons experts could be sent into Libya after the fall of 
Qaddafi’s regime to help Libyan rebel and other international forces 
secure the weapons.

Colonel Qaddafi has issued several audio broadcasts in recent days 
claiming he will turn back the rebel advance. But he has given no clear 
indication of where he might be speaking from, a topic of increasing 
speculation as rumors have swirled that he is preparing to flee, or has 
already left Libya.

If Colonel Qaddafi’s location remained unknown, it became increasingly 
clear that even his most senior aides were making exits of their own.

The Tunisian state news agency reported Saturday that Libya’s oil 
minister, Omran Abukraa, had sought refuge in Tunisia after leaving 
Tripoli on what was ostensibly a business trip abroad. If confirmed, his 
defection would be the third of a senior government official in the past 
week.

Abdel Salam Jalloud, a former Qaddafi deputy, was reported to have 
defected Friday. A senior security official, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, 
flew to Cairo with his family on Monday.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the rebel government, the National 
Transitional Council, said that he hoped Colonel Qaddafi and the rest of 
his inner circle would follow. “That would be a good thing that will end 
the bloodshed and help us avoid material costs,” he said. “But I do not 
expect that he will do that.”

After reports of the Tripoli fighting began, some residents said that a 
group of rebel fighters had infiltrated the city from the east and were 
spearheading the uprising, surprising the pro-Qaddafi forces who had 
fortified for an attack from the western approach guarded by Zawiyah. 
Residents added that in recent weeks rebels had also smuggled weapons 
into the city by boat to the beaches east of Tripoli to prepare. Their 
claims could not be independently confirmed.

The latest phase of the battle began after rebels on Saturday drove the 
remaining loyalists troops out of Zawiyah, the strategic oil refinery 
town 30 miles west of Tripoli. After a week of heavy fighting there, 
residents began to celebrate in the main square.

The Arab news network Al Jazeera reported that Zlitan, a crucial Qaddafi 
barracks town east of Tripoli, also had fallen to the rebels. They 
captured Gharyan, the gateway to the south, last week.

Farther east, the rebels claimed to have seized the residential areas of 
the oil port of Brega, a prize that has changed hands many times since 
the uprising began.

A senior American official said Colonel Qaddafi’s days “are numbered.”

“It is clear that the situation is moving against Qaddafi,” Jeffrey D. 
Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, said after meeting rebel 
leaders in Benghazi, the rebel capital. “The opposition continues to 
make substantial gains on the ground while his forces grow weaker.”

Rebel leaders were optimistic. “The end is very near” for Colonel 
Qaddafi, said Mr. Abdel-Jalil, the leader of the rebel’s governing 
council. “We have contacts with people from the inner circle of 
Qaddafi,” he said. “All evidence is that the end is very near, with 
God’s grace.”

Amid worries from the West and humanitarian groups that rebel fighters 
might seek revenge against Qaddafi supporters, the rebels’ National 
Transitional Council said Saturday that it was reissuing a booklet 
reminding its mostly novice fighters about the international laws of war.

But the battle was hardly over. In the past six months, the rebels have 
frequently proven unable to hold captured territory, sometimes keeping 
it no longer than a few days. Government forces were still fighting 
fiercely outside Zawiyah, and in Brega they controlled the oil refinery.

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Zintan, and Eric Schmitt 
contributed reporting from Washington.




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