In April, this blog predicted:
Senior Rebel Is Doubtful Qaddafi Can Be Routed
By KAREEM FAHIM
Published: July 7, 2011
RUJBAN, Libya — For months now, military leaders in the rebel capital, Benghazi, have boldly predicted lightning advances by their fighters and an imminent rout of the forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Tripoli that would finally snuff out his brutal four-decade rule.
The rebels have made some advances in the west in recent days, taking a small village in the Nafusah Mountains and pushing westward some distance from Misurata toward Tripoli. But a senior rebel military officer here in the mountains who said he defected last month from the Libyan Army called the prospects of a collapse by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces highly unlikely.
The officer, Col. Mohammed Ali Ethish, who now commands opposition fighters here, said that even if the rebels were able to reach Tripoli, shortages of fuel, personnel and weapons made it unlikely that they would try to invade or march on the heavily fortified city.
A more realistic possibility, he said, is for rebels and others within the city to rise up against Colonel Qaddafi. “I hope that when we do reach the borders of Tripoli, the revolutionaries there free it,” Colonel Ethish said. “If we don’t go in with an organized army, there’s going to be a huge mess.”
In the meantime, he said, the mountain fighters were focused on the more modest goal of winning cities in the region, either by persuading Colonel Qaddafi’s soldiers to defect or by driving them out in battle.
His candid comments raised the possibility of a protracted endgame in the Libyan conflict. They also provided little comfort to NATO countries that face increasing pressure to end the bombing campaign and seem desperate to find a quick exit, either by arming the rebels or by killing Colonel Qaddafi with airstrikes.
Although Colonel Ethish said he was speaking for the fighters from Rujban, rebel fighters from other mountain towns also said that talk of a Tripoli offensive was misplaced or premature because they had their hands full on several fronts.
To the east, they have been fighting in the city of Kiklah, where at least five rebel fighters were killed in clashes this week, commanders said. On Wednesday, the rebels pushed past Kiklah to capture Colonel Qaddafi’s positions in a small village, Qawalish. At least 13 pro-Qaddafi soldiers and 7 rebels were killed in that fighting.
North of Kiklah, on the plain that leads toward Tripoli, the rebels have been engaged in a running battle with Colonel Qaddafi’s forces in Bir al-Ghanim and have so far been unable to advance, despite NATO’s repeated bombings of the area.
Colonel Qaddafi’s soldiers also control lowland towns stretching from the border with Tunisia to Qasr al-Hajj, leaving rebel control of the border crossing exposed and vulnerable to attack.
Colonel Ethish said the rebels were low on ammunition for the weapons they rely on in the quick, fluid battles in the mountains, including antiaircraft guns and small rocket-launchers. He also said he had seen no evidence on the battlefield of the weapons the French said they had provided to the rebels.
In several rebel-held mountain towns, new training centers are being constructed, with the aim of building the kind of disciplined forces that can cope with any chaos that follows the war, the colonel said.
In Kiklah, on the site of a former teachers college for women, hundreds of recruits will be trained to serve as a “protection force” for civilians in the event that Colonel Qaddafi leaves power, according to a volunteer, a small-business owner who lives in the United States and who asked not to be identified because he has family in territory controlled by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
“A lot of people are going to have a lot of anger,” he said. “We want to keep it under control.”
Colonel Ethish said a center being built in Rujban, in trailers that once stored food, would be for training special forces troops who would also serve a policing function if Colonel Qaddafi left power.
A soldier since high school, Colonel Ethish, 57, said he had worked most recently for the Libyan Ministry of Defense, heading offices for infantrymen and for technology at a base in Jufra, a province in central Libya. He is originally from Rujban, and in the past few months he traveled back and forth between the military base and the mountains by lying at checkpoints and saying he was going to Tripoli.
He said he and other officers were isolated during the revolution from the war effort. Power and information were concentrated among Colonel Qaddafi’s sons and close allies who commanded elite brigades. Colonel Ethish said he had seen evidence that mercenaries were used in the early days of the conflict, but he refused to say exactly where they were from, citing diplomatic efforts to cut off Colonel Qaddafi from his allies.
“I’m sorry to say they were from another Arab country,” he said.
When it came time for him to defect, his family left everything in its home in Tripoli, and he left Jufra, again lying about his destination. In the mountains, he joined scores of other defecting officers, who still seem to be adjusting to their role as revolutionaries. At a recent news conference announcing dozens of defections, for instance, the officers were silent when the rebel national anthem was played, seeming not to know the words.
Colonel Ethish said that several other colleagues were ready to defect but were concerned for their families and “were waiting for the right time.” His claims about his own defection and his colleagues’ intentions were impossible to confirm.
But he makes their defections sound inevitable. Speaking of his colleagues at the Ministry of Defense base in Jufra, he said: “Everyone is bored. They watch Al Jazeera. They’ve lost trust in Qaddafi.”
Gaddafi regime ‘ready for talks’ on transition of power to rebels
France, Britain and US acknowledge Nato military action alone unlikely to force Libya’s leader to step down
Ian Black, Middle East editor
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 July 2011 19.40 BST
fforts to find a political solution to the Libyan crisis are intensifying as France, Britain and the US acknowledge that Nato military action alone is unlikely to force Muammar Gaddafi to step down.
The UN and western countries are urging formal talks between the Benghazi-based rebels and the Gaddafi regime amid new signs that Tripoli might agree to discuss a transition of power.
Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, provided the strongest indication yet of optimism about the outcome. “Emissaries are telling us Gaddafi is ready to go, let’s talk about it,” he said on Tuesday. “The question is no longer about whether Gaddafi goes but when and how.”
François Fillon, the French prime minister, told the national assembly that a “political solution is taking shape”.
Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya’s prime minister, told the French daily Le Figaro that the regime was ready to negotiate “unconditionally” as long as Nato action ended. Gaddafi would not be involved in talks, he said, and would “respect the will of the people”.
France’s defence minister, Gérard Longuet, suggested on Sunday that Gaddafi could remain in Tripoli “in another room in his palace” and Nato could stop its bombing campaign while talks began.
The push for a political solution is being spearheaded by the UN envoy, Abdel-Ilah al-Khatib, who met Mahmoudi in Tripoli at the weekend. Khatib told reporters: “I am urging the parties to increase their focus on working towards a political solution. We would like to see indirect discussions evolve into direct talks.”
A key issue was agreeing on a body to manage a transition. It would have to be “all-inclusive and involve representatives from all political and social groups as well as a wide range of factions, regions and tribes.” He added, however, that there was a significant gap between the two sides.
President Barack Obama is backing Moscow’s mediating efforts in Libya if they lead to Gaddafi stepping down.
Italy, hosting Nato’s air operations, added its voice to the chorus on Tuesday. Franco Frattini, the foreign minister, told Algeria’s al Khabar newspaper: “We are convinced that the Libyan crisis requires a political solution characterised by an end to fighting; Gaddafi, who lacks all legitimacy, leaving the stage; and the launching of an inclusive democratic process involving all parts of Libyan society.”
Western governments admit they are worried about the lack of a decisive blow by Nato, the mounting cost of the campaign and the weakness of the rebel forces, but say they are encouraged by a widening agreement about the desired political outcome.
“There is a consensus on how to end the crisis, which is that Gaddafi has to leave power,” Juppé told France Info radio. “That [consensus] was absolutely not a given two or three months ago.” Initiatives by the African Union and South Africa have faded away.
“There are indications that people around Gaddafi would envisage a solution that includes him being out of power rather than in,” said one diplomat. “We are hearing that from various people but it’s not yet set in stone. There is an emerging international consensus around a political track and momentum is building up, but there is no breakthrough.”
Libya experts suspect that ideas about Gaddafi stepping down may be being floated without official authorisation to test western reactions.
The approach of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting at the beginning of August, is also adding to pressure to find a way out of the impasse.
Later this week the Libya international contact group meeting in Istanbul is expected to channel more cash to the Transitional National Council and step up efforts for a political settlement.
Nato governments insist there can be no backtracking from the arrest warrant issued for Gaddafi by the international criminal court but continue to hope that he might yet flee to a country such as Zimbabwe, Belarus or Sudan – even though he has always insisted he will stay in Libya.
Captured Gaddafi soldiers, including foreign fighters, tell of low morale
By Ernesto Londono, Published: July 7
ZILTAN, Libya — Beleaguered by NATO’s bombing campaign, low morale and desertions, the Libyan army is relying heavily on fighters from sub-Saharan Africa as Moammar Gaddafi’s government struggles to beat back rebels forces east and west of the capital, captured fighters said in interviews.Two Libyan army officers and three sub-Saharan African fighters captured by rebels after a recent battle in the country’s western mountains said Thursday that Libyan troops deployed in the area are running low on ammunition and fuel.
Military leaders, they said, are depending on the foreign fighters because many Libyan soldiers are conflicted about fighting their countrymen and have lost faith in the country’s longtime ruler. In interviews conducted separately at the rebel-run jail in Ziltan, the detainees said that as many as half the forces deployed by the Gaddafi regime to the front lines come from countries such as Niger and Mali.
The detainees’ accounts provide rare insight into the role foreign fighters are playing in Libya, as well as the fraying military strength of Gaddafi’s increasingly isolated government.
Gaddafi’s aides have denied that the government is using foreign fighters and have said the country’s troops remain strong and motivated. But the leader’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, acknowledged in a recent interview that the Libyan military’s fighting strength is far from ideal.
“One of our biggest mistakes was that we delayed buying weapons, especially from Russia, and delayed building a strong army,” the younger Gaddafi told Russia Today, an English-language news network, last week.
Jamil, a Libyan military officer detained Wednesday after rebels captured the city of al-Qualish, said the foreign fighters were pushed to the tip of the front line as rebels began pounding the city with rockets, tank shells and anti-aircraft missiles fired horizontally.
“They shoot without hesitation,” he said, sitting in the library of a school that rebels are using as a detention center.
Jamil and his men were cowered in fortified positions until the heavy weapons stopped battering the town, he said. When rebels streamed into the town on foot and cars, he considered whether to run back or surrender.
“I held my hands and surrendered,” said Jamil, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of reprisals against his relatives. “We want to stop this killing and we don’t have enough ammunition.”
He said Libyan soldiers in Gaddafi’s military don’t want to fight their countrymen. “A Libyan sniper can’t shoot a Libyan,” he said. “This job is for a non-Libyan.”
Gaddafi has relied for years on non-Libyans to shore up his armed forces, and analysts say he has intentionally kept his military weak, fearing that a strong, conventional armed force could stage a coup.
While the Libyan soldiers characterized their sub-Saharan comrades as fearless fighters who follow orders without hesitation, the three foreign fighters captured Wednesday said many of them were coerced to take up arms.
Issa Munir, 22, from Mali, said he moved to the southern Libyan city of Sehba a year ago to work at a farm. Last month, he said, he was among a large group of sub-Saharan African laborers who were taken into custody and moved to Tripoli. In the capital, government officials offered him Libyan citizenship in exchange for taking up arms for Gaddafi, he said.
“I couldn’t refuse,” said Munir, who was wearing olive green pants and a stained white V-neck T-shirt. “Most of us have the same story: We were brought by force.”
By Lamine Chikhi
TRIPOLI | Sun Jul 10, 2011 7:13pm EDT
(Reuters) – A French minister said on Sunday it was time for Libya’s rebels to negotiate with Muammar Gaddafi’s government, but Washington said it stood firm in its belief that the Libyan leader cannot stay in power.
The diverging messages from two leading members of the Western coalition opposing Gaddafi hinted at the strain the alliance is under after more than three months of air strikes that have cost billions of dollars and failed to produce the swift outcome its backers had expected.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet signaled growing impatience with the progress of the conflict when he said the rebels should negotiate now with Gaddafi’s government and not wait for his defeat.
The rebels have so far refused to hold talks as long as Gaddafi is still in power, a stance which before now none of NATO’s major powers has publicly challenged.
“We have …. have asked them to speak to each other,” Longuet, whose government has until now been among the most hawkish on Libya, said on French television station BFM TV.
“The position of the TNC (rebel Transitional National Council) is very far from other positions. Now, there will be a need to sit around a table,” he said.”
Asked if it was possible to hold talks if Gaddafi had not stepped down, Longuet said: “He will be in another room in his palace with another title.”
Soon after, the State Department in Washington issued a message that gave no hint of compromise.
“The Libyan people will be the ones to decide how this transition takes place, but we stand firm in our belief that Gaddafi cannot remain in power,” the department said in a written reply to a query.
It also said the United States would continue efforts, as part of the NATO coalition, to protect civilians from attack and said it believed the alliance was helping ratchet up the pressure on Gaddafi.
Gaddafi has been defiantly holding on to power in the face of rebel attacks trying to break his 41-year rule, NATO air strikes, economic sanctions and the defections of prominent members of his government.
With no imminent end to the conflict in sight, cracks are emerging inside the NATO alliance. Some member states are balking at the burden on their recession-hit finances, and many are frustrated that there has been no decisive breakthrough.
But even countries which support a political solution have not answered the question of how a dealcan be hammered out when the rebels and their Western backers say Gaddafi must go while the Libyan leader himself says that is not up for negotiation.
Strains over how to proceed in Libya are likely to surface on Friday when the contact group, which brings together the countries allied against Gaddafi, gathers in Istanbul for its next scheduled meeting.
There was no immediate reaction to the French minister’s comments from the rebel leadership at its headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
On the ground, rebel forces trying to march on Tripoli have made modest gains in the past week, but the fighting on Sunday underlined it would a long slog.
Gaddafi’s forces launched a heavy artillery bombardment to try to push back rebel fighters who last week seized the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli.
Al-Qawalish is a strategic battleground because if the rebels manage to advance beyond it they will reach the main highway leading north into the capital Tripoli.
A rebel fighter in the village, Amignas Shagruni, told Reuters that shells had been landing repeatedly over the past 24 hours from pro-Gaddafi forces positioned a few kilometres to the east. But he said: “No one was hurt, thank God.”
During a 20-minute period while Reuters visited the frontline east of Al-Qawalish, at least five shells landed. However, they did not appear to be well targeted, striking random spots in the nearby hills.
Libya has been convulsed by a civil war since February when thousands of people, inspired by revolutions in neighbouring Egypt and , rose up against his 41-year-rule.
That rebellion has now turned into the bloodiest of the “Arab Spring” uprisings sweeping the region.
Gaddafi sounded a new note of defiance on Friday. In an audio recording broadcast on state television, he threatened to export the war to Europe in revenge for the NATO-led military campaign against him.
“Hundreds of Libyans will martyr in Europe. I told you it is eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” he said.
“You will regret it, NATO, when the war moves to Europe.”
Hundreds of kilometres to the northeast of Al-Qawalish, another force of rebels is also trying to push toward Tripoli, though they too are facing tough resistance.
Fighters from the rebel-held city of Misrata, about 200 km(130 miles) east of Tripoli, have fought their way west to the outskirts of Zlitan, the first in a chain of coastal towns blocking their progress toward the capital.
A spokesman for insurgents who are behind the pro-Gaddafi lines and inside Zlitan itself, said they had mounted their second attack on government troops in a week.
“The revolutionaries inside the town of Zlitan shelled the(pro-Gaddafi) brigades positioned on the coastal road on Sunday at 1:00 a.m. (2300 GMT), killing at least seven people,” a rebel spokesman, who identified himself as Mabrouk, told Reuters from Zlitan.
The account could not be verified independently because journalists have not been able to reach the town.
NATO launched its bombing campaign in March after the U.N. Security Council authorised the use of all necessary means to protect civilians who rose up against Gaddafi.
Gaddafi says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has called the NATO operation an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libyan oil.
Libya: France risks Nato split over call for Gaddafi talks
France risked opening a significant split within Nato over the war in Libya yesterday by calling for negotiations with Colonel Gaddafi and confirming it was “passing messages” to his regime.
By Ruth Sherlock, in Zintan and Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent
6:20PM BST 11 Jul 2011
Signalling dismay at the slow progress of attempts to drive Col. Gaddafi from power, the French defence minister, Gerard Longuet, said it was time to “get round the table”.
Although the position of NATO and the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) has always been that there can be no negotiations while Col Gaddafi remains in power, Mr Longuet said he could remain “in a different room in his palace, with a different title”.
“We have asked them to speak to each other,” Mr Longuet said of the two sides in an interview on French television. “The position of the TNC is very far from other positions.”
His interview triggered a swift response from Washington. “The Libyan people will be the ones to decide how this transition takes place, but we stand firm in our belief that Gaddafi cannot remain in power,” the State Department said, indicating it had not changed its position.
One senior British official insisted there was “no daylight” between the positions of the two allies, who drove the initial decision to take military action against Libya.
But a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that the British position remained that Col Gaddafi had to go before a ceasefire could be called and negotiations begun.
There was also a defiant reponse from rebel forces. “The only political solution is that Gaddafi and his family leave power,” said Hamed Amer Hagheg, a senior commander at the western front in the Nafusa mountains.
“We appreciate (President) Sarkozy’s position as he supported the Libyans.
But it is the Libyans who started the uprising, not the French. Even without his help we will continue to pursue Gaddafi.”
The battle for Libya has turned into a war of attrition, despite early optimism when they began in March that aerial attacks and civilian uprisings would quickly drive the regime from power.
Last week’s capture of a regime-held village on the south-western front, Qawalish, brought rebels close to the town of Garyan, 60 miles from the capital, a major weapons supply base and strategically situated on Libya’s main north-south road. But at the weekend, Gaddafi forces struck back with mortars and BM21 Grad rockets.
The Italian foreign minister, Francesco Frattini, has already called for negotiations, while Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, in a separate interview also suggested Col Gaddafi could stay in power while negotiations took place.
“The question is not to know whether he must leave, but when and how,” he said, adding that he had no answer to the question of whether he could stay in Libya if he stood down, or would be allowed to seek refuge elsewhere.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the leader’s son, claimed a special envoy had met President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was clear that France wanted a new transitional government in Libya.
He said that President Sarkozy had said: “We created the TNC and without France’s backing, money and weapons, it would not exist.”
A French foreign ministry spokesman denied there were “direct negotiations” with the regime but confirmed: “We pass it messages in liaison with the TNC and our allies.”
A senior western diplomat said France was “sending a message” to the rebels that the conflict had a time limit. Currently, NATO’s operational mandate is due to expire at the end of September.
The source added: “There is general recognition among western diplomats that the structure of the state existing in the western part of the country should not be completely disregarded in the event of a quick collapse of the Gaddafi regime.”