Republicans Missing the Point on Benghazi

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, December 2, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, December 2, 2009 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Opposition Republicans interrogated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for eleven hours last week about the September 11, 2012 attack on the American CIA and diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Nothing new emerged from the marathon hearing.

The reason, argues Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week, is that Republicans keep missing the point. Read more

Libya: French Soft Power in Retrospect

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, meets President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Paris, September 1, 2011
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, meets President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Paris, September 1, 2011 (Greek Prime Minister’s Office)

If a state possesses sufficient “soft power,” it has acquired the ability to frame and shame events and actors in international relations. The ability to frame enables the protagonist to package a debate in terms that are conducive to its own interests. The power to shame refers to the possibility of trapping other countries rhetorically and changing their behaviour.

The French role in last year’s intervention in Libya was a perfect example. Read more

Libyan Interim Government Urges Militias to Disband

Libya is facing a lot of problems, even after the successful defeat of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s loyalist forces and the murder of the once dictator himself. But officials in Libya’s National Transitional Council, the interim body that has been criticized over the past few months for its lack of transparency, are gearing up all of their resources to ensure that Libya’s future is a little bit easier going into the New Year.

Improving Libya’s economic and political future cannot be achieved until the council is serious about mending fences with former Gaddafi fighter and bringing the nation’s dozens of independent militias firmly under the central government’s authority.

Like any postwar transition process, reconciliation across the board is key — an effort that not only demonstrates the government’s goodwill to those who fought on the wrong side but a move that helps ensure that everyone is given a say in the new governing arrangement. With eight months of conflict pitting Libyan against Libyan, reconciliation and reintegration, as well as rebel disarmament and the establishment of and strong transparent national institutions, is an urgent priority for the NTC.

Accomplishing this objective has been a difficult and painfully slow endeavor since the civil war was officially termed over after Gaddafi’s capture and death last October. At least two hundred civilians turned fighters continue to patrol Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, with the most powerful militia in the capital resisting the city council’s disarmament efforts until the transitional government proves that it can take over the security function.

Residents in Tripoli have been complaining about the presence of militias from out of town, with fighters from Misrata and Zintan, both cities in the west, acting as if the capital were their personal fiefdom. The same rebels who were cheered on by Libyans from both the east and the west are increasingly resembling bands of renegades who are menacingly patrolling neighborhoods with their machine guns and anti-aircraft weaponry.

For their part, Libya’s roving militias continue to view themselves as their nation’s guardians — the only people capable of providing the type of stability that is needed to defend against a Gaddafi loyalist comeback.

Libya’s rebels are also getting impatient, demanding that the NTC expand its membership so more revolutionaries can join.

The interim body’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, is making an effort to do just that. The defense and interior ministries, both critical to defending and operating Libya’s borders, oilfields and ports, are sending out applications to former rebels through municipal councils, encouraging them to lay aside their weapons in return for full employment. Security jobs are just the kind of work that the thousands of militiamen have been asking for. Soldiers and policemen require many of the same skills that Libya’s diverse militias have been honing since the revolution began last February, including arms training, basic command and control, issuing orders, taking them, building camaraderie and taking care of wounded.

Yet upon entry in the security forces, militiamen will also be forced to learn skills that they have not performed previously, like abandoning their freelancing ways and pledging allegiance to a state that is only in its infant stages. Rounding up people on mere suspicion will have to be replaced with issuing arrest warrants upon probable cause. Prisoners will need access to an attorney instead of rotting in a jail cell, indefinitely. Those who are found not guilty of their crimes or those who cannot be linked to a violation through credible evidence are to be released back into the population. A system of laws then must be drilled into the heads of Libya’s politicians, generals, police officers, bureaucrats and armed citizens.

No one said rebuilding Libya will be an easy task. Thanks to Gaddafi’s obsession with himself and his ideology, any of the national institutions that were functioning have been worn down or like the Libyan army, purposely destroyed for fear of a faction emerging powerful enough to rival his own.

The NTC’s job opening is a big step forward but one that cannot be sustained without good natured international assistance, from military liaison teams and military education, to election observers and creation of employment in Libya’s petroleum industry and outside of it.

The present situation in Libya, where militias clash among each other over prisoners and territory, cannot be sustained. Converting the militias into a national army and police force will not end all of the country’s problems but could set a good precedent.

Steps Toward “Real” Freedom for Libya

Take a quick glance at Tripoli from the TV, and you will see scenes of celebration and jubilation that the Libyan people haven’t been able to enjoy for 42 years. Columns of armed rebels have streamed into the center of the Libyan capital to the sound of cheering civilians kissing the ground and large billboards of Muammar al-Gaddafi being torn down. The trademark green flag of the colonel’s Libyan Revolution — a symbol of the regime’s oppression for decades — are ripped and replaced with the pre-Gaddafi red, black and green banner. The last-ditch effort by Gaddafi soldiers to stall the rebel offensive, with the exception of a few pockets of resistance near Gaddafi’s fortress like compound, proved to be a misnomer, with hundreds laying down their arms and blending into the general population. Even if no one knows where he is, Gaddafi is a beaten man, holding on to the delusion that Libyan tribes will come to his rescue and millions of supporters will desert their families to beat back the rebels in the streets of Tripoli.

The international reaction to Gaddafi’s imminent downfall was optimistic and predictable. President Barack Obama issued a statement reiterating his call that the Libyan leader should recognize that his people have no love for him and should stop resisting immediately. NATO, which has paved the way for the rebel advance, has pledged to continue its airstrikes until Gaddafi no longer poses a threat to civilians.

After six months of civil war, France, Great Britain and the United States are finally patting themselves on the back and congratulating one another on a job well done. Indeed, if it weren’t for NATO, there was a very high probability that Gaddafi would have survived the armed revolt against his opponents. Only six months ago, the rebels were days away from being squashed by Libyan security forces in the city of Benghazi.

Sensing that a massacre was imminent, NATO decided to intervene with airpower, helping push Libyan forces to the periphery. Close to 8,000 strike sorties later — and with the rebel’s determination on the ground complementing NATO’s efforts — Gaddafi’s military infrastructure is nonexistent.

Yet at the same time Libyans are dancing in the streets and shooting celebratory gunfire into the air, the work of rebuilding the country and its institutions is only just beginning. As history has demonstrated countless times over the past four decades (from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Mobutu Sese Seko’s Congo), driving a dictator into hiding is a whole lot easier than ensuring that peace and inclusiveness will define the transition process. The United States found out the long way how difficult establishing a postwar order was both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the new governments have failed to be impartial and fair to all sectors of society.

Libya, with its tribal, regional and ethnic dimensions, is no different. The North African country may have its own political history but the comparisons to post-Saddam Iraq could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if certain steps are not taken immediately to edge the country in the right direction.

Gaddafi was a lot of things but he was certainly not a developer. He leaves in his wake a debilitating set of national institutions that were designed specifically to promote his bazaar brand of Arab socialism.

With rebels streaming into the capital, the official Libyan army and police force has essentially disbanded themselves, leaving open a security vacuum that rebel militias have tried to fill. Oil production, which has long been Libya’s main industry, is pumping and selling oil at a trickle of what it once was before the civil war began. The postwar period in Libya, therefore, will be an especially combustible period — but one that Libyans and the world must turn into a success.

Courtesy of foreign journalists on the ground, Libya watchers in the private sector, academics specializing in postwar reconstruction and my own ideas, here are a few steps (some small, others large) that could be taken in the first few months to smooth the process toward a fair and representative interim authority.

Keep Gaddafi technocrats in their positions

The last thing the Libyan rebels and the National Transitional Council in Benghazi need are ministries that are run by incompetent people with ulterior motives. Not all of the men and women who worked for the Libyan dictator were supportive of his ideology. Like those who worked under Saddam Hussein, many of the middle managers and midlevel technocrats joined Gaddafi’s administration for a steady paycheck, benefits and a sense of security for their families. Most of them also possess an acute knowledge of the social fissures in their own society.

Rather than shutting these public servants out and wasting their experience, the NTC must work with them to begin the reconstruction.

Secure ammo dumps and provide basic law and order

Libya is a huge country, with the entire territory larger than the state of Texas. Libyans are also armed to the teeth and with rebels now in the capital, the desire to raid government ammunition dumps (either to sell or to maintain the battlefield advantage) borders on the certainty.

If the NTC were smart, it would issue an executive order demanding that all rebel factions under its control resort to guarding the dumps rather than stealing what is inside.

Unfortunately, some of the rebels may not listen. The looting of Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound is a case in point. But better to issue an order and attempt to deal with the problem now than face a situation in the future where thousands of untrained men are strapped with AK-47s and ground to air missiles.

Unfreeze Gaddafi’s assets

The United States and the United Nations hold approximately $32 billion in frozen Libyan government assets. That money can go a long way to jump starting a number of projects in areas that were destroyed by the fighting. 

The NTC is the legitimate government in Libya today and with Gaddafi loyalists melting away, their authority will only increase as the days go by. Releasing the frozen funds, which after all belong to the Libyan people, is a great first step that the world can take toward building confidence in the new Libya and promoting a deep relationship with Libya’s new rulers. 

The news coming out of the United Nations Security Council, which authorized the release of $1.5 billion on Thursday for humanitarian and reconstruction needs, is a positive example that should be used as a precedent. The funds, however, should not be released all at once, as postwar reconstruction expoert Daniel Serwer has suggested. Iraq and Afghanistan have both taught us that billions in the open market are more likely to fuel corruption than fund local, regional or national growth.

Promote reconciliation

While eastern and western Libyans both participated in ousting Gaddafi from power, the two areas of the country hold specific grievances and remain suspicious of one another. A large part of this animosity is due to Gaddafi’s abandonment of eastern Libya, which is precisely why Benghazi was the first major city to push for an alternative form of government. 

Easterners view western Libyans as the main beneficiaries of Gaddafi’s oil-producing economy. The colonel’s hometown of Sirte has seen development, while Libya’s eastern frontier is wracked with leaking sewage systems and blackouts.

For their part, western rebels paint a poor picture of a Benghazi based leadership that is laissez-faire on too many issues, the most important being the NTC’s cumbersome support for western rebels during the Nafusa Mountain offensive.

Giving all of Libya’s regions and tribes an equal say in the transition process is a necessity if the NTC wishes to hold on to power before elections are scheduled. Fortunately, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has called for a conference emphasizing just that.

Bring the NTC to Tripoli

Once Gaddafi and his men are gone for good — and the neighborhoods of the capital city are relatively secure — the NTC leadership should move their permanent headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli. The move would be a symbolic gesture to western Libyans and Gaddafi loyalists who might otherwise fear that Libya’s interim government plans on marginalizing them.

Get Libyan oil up and running

Libya’s oil industry is the primary income generator for the government. Civil servants, policemen, militiamen, schoolteachers, diplomats and construction workers all need to get paid — and paid consistently. Opening up Libya’s oil to outside markets and using profits from those contracts and sales for salaries could be the fastest way to make everyone happy in the short term.

Prepare for elections and draft a constitution

For the past 42 years, a functioning constitution never came into play. The entire government structure was predicated on Gaddafi’s personal beliefs, down to the local level. With the man now gone, Libyans have an opportunity to draft a national constitution of their own liking.

Libyans above all should be the sole drafters of the Constitution after reasonably free and fair elections have taken place. Western nations should keep their involvement in the Constitution drafting process to a minimum, eliminating the concern that is prevalent in Libya over a possible return to colonialism.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

Tripoli may be in rebel hands but Gaddafi loyalists will continue to stage fierce resistance elsewhere in the country. Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and villages in the southern desert are still held by loyalist forces and may be held for many more months. Declaring victory, even as Gaddafi remains at large and towns in the Sahel are still contested, could very well hurt the NTC’s credibility with its supporters if the security situation deteriorates. Avoiding a “Mission Accomplished” moment while recognizing that Libyan territory is still not entirely free from Gaddafi’s influence would be a demonstration of realism in an otherwise hyped atmosphere.

Everything in this list is pivotal to lifting Libya off the ground after six months of armed conflict. More work will need to be done as the NTC meets its initial deadlines, particularly on the important task of drafting a constitution that every tribe, region and ethnicity can live with. But with a post-Gaddafi Libya now progressing, preventing political disintegration, lawlessness, looting, factional infighting, retribution against former Gaddafi supporters, economic distress and regional rivalry must be on the top of any “to do” list.

None of this will be quick or easy but it is essential if Libya is to divert from the path of other postwar countries.

Contemplating a Libya Without Gaddafi

Anti-government combatants closed in on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli on Sunday night and continued their advance into the heart of the capital on Monday. After six months of civil war, during which NATO, aiming to protect civilians from the brutalities of the Gaddafi regime, helped the rebels with bombardments of loyalist forces, the demise of North Africa’s last dictatorship seemed imminent.

Gaddafi would be the last of three North African autocrats to be ousted during the Arab Spring. Longtime Tunisian and Egyptian presidents previously relinquished power in the face of popular uprisings. Unlike its neighboring countries, Libya has virtually no government structure in place outside of Gaddafi’s family and loyalists. The country of six million has been ruled by the eccentric dictator for over forty years. During that time, there was no organized opposition while the army, which took control of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak resigned, was kept at bay by the colonel who always feared a repetition of the 1969 military coup which had propelled him to power.

The interim government established by Libya’s anti-government forces in the eastern city of Benghazi lacks coherent leadership although several former Gaddafi ministers and military officials defected to the rebel camp during the uprising. There also isn’t much coordination between rebel fighters in different parts of the country. United in their struggle against the regime, the opposition has little else in common.

After more than four decades of authoritarian rule, Libya seems ill prepared for the sort of inclusive democracy that the National Transitional Council claims it intends to establish. Among their numbers, the rebels count Islamists and secularists, socialists and pragmatists who all want a different Libya.

One possible unifying figure is former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil who chairs the transitional council in Benghazi, the rebels’ legislative body. He resigned from Gaddafi’s government in late February in disapproval of the violence that was deployed against anti-government demonstrators during the early phrase of the uprising. “We want a democratic government, a fair constitution, and we don’t want to be isolated from the world anymore,” he declared after his defection.

Despite his work for the regime, Abdel Jalil won praise from human rights groups and Western powers for his efforts to reform Libya’s criminal code.

Abdel Jalil hasn’t indicated a willingness to become Libya’s first president, whether transitional or elected. The rebels’ Mahmoud Jibril, who acts as something of an interim prime minister, seems more posed for a leadership role. An economist and political scientists by training, Jibril headed Libya’s economic planning board for nearly four years until he resigned in protest five months ago. In that position, he had promoted liberalization of the country’s economy and privatization of its many state-owned enterprises.

Jibril’s many foreign trips as chairman of the rebels’ executive board have made him probably the most recognizable figure in the transitional government. He led negotiations with French president Nicolas Sarkozy which culminated in France’s recognition of the National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the Libyan people.

The third most visible rebel leader is Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a human rights attorney who acted as the revolutionary movement’s spokesman during the early days of the revolt and became the National Transitional Council’s vice chairman in late March.

Little is known of Ghoga but he suggested on Monday that the transitional council could move to Tripoli and prepare elections within a month of Gaddafi’s fall.

Perhaps the greatest threat to stability in the short term would be a widespread purge of the ancien régime and everyone who collaborated with it.

After the United States defeated Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, they removed virtually all members of the Ba’ath Party from office as well as senior, mostly Sunni security personnel in the majority Shia country. Iraq’s entire institutional leadership evaporated in a matter of weeks, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by religious extremists and insurgents.

The Allies similarly implemented a policy of denazification in Germany in the aftermath of World War II which exacerbated the country’s economic hardship after more than a year of destructive warfare on its territory. That policy was reversed in 1951 because it proved impossible to rebuild Germany by excluding every petty bureaucrat and businessman who might have worked for or with the Nazis. So it will be extremely difficult to rebuild Libya, especially its energy industry, without taking advantage of the experience of people who worked for Muammar Gaddafi.

For Gaddafi, End is Nigh

Updates are added to the top of this post.

(AUG 22) Anti-government combatants closed in on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli on Sunday night and continued their advance into the heart of the capital on Monday. After six months of civil war, during which NATO, aiming to protect civilians from the brutalities of the Gaddafi regime, helped the rebels with bombardments of loyalist forces, the demise of North Africa’s last dictatorship seemed imminent.

Two of Gaddafi’s sons were reported captured by the rebels’ National Transitional Council while the leader himself twice urged supporters to fight his antagonists over radio on Sunday. When anti-government forces entered the capital however, they were largely welcomed by protesters and Tripoli residents who had suffered several months of depravation and shortages as the regime’s lifeline, Libya’s oil industry, had been shut off by sanctions and disturbances in the major oil ports of Brega and Ra’s Lanuf.

The rebels’ interim government in the eastern city of Benghazi lacked coherent leadership and there wasn’t much coordination between anti-government fighters in different parts of the country. After more than four decades of authoritarian rule, Libya seemed ill prepared for the sort of inclusive democracy that the National Transitional Council claimed it intended to establish.

(AUG 19) Libyan rebels captured the town of Az Zawiyah west of Tripoli this week, increasing pressure on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his regime to relinquish power by cutting off their escape route to neighboring Tunisia.

While NATO warplanes continued to bombard the capital by night, an oil refinery immediately south of Tripoli was also captured by rebels, making it more difficult for loyalist armor to continue to operate.

(AUG 8) French defense minister Gérard Longuet told a regional newspaper on Thursday that his country would withdraw the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier from operations off the coast of Libya for maintenance.

The carrier was due to return to the port of Toulon mid August. French fighter planes were expected to continue to operate from NATO bases in Sicily, Italy and from the Greek island of Crete. French surveillance aircraft participating in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya would continue to depart from mainland France.

(AUG 3) Norway withdrew its four F-16 fighter jets from the military intervention in Libya on Monday. The Scandinavian planes flew nearly six hundred missions, clocking up around 2,000 hours of flight time during their four months of engagement.

Norway originally had six F-16s involved in the bombing campaign. It reduced the number of four late in June. Ten Norwegian staff officers were to remain involved in NATO operations.

(AUG 2) Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli warned on Monday that it would continue its war against anti-government forces whether NATO seized its bombing campaign or not. “No one should think that after all the sacrifices we have made and the martyrdom of our sons, brothers and friends, we will stop fighting. Forget it,” said the Libyan leader’s son Saif al-Islam on state television.

A United Nations peace envoy was dispatched to Libya last week. Gaddafi’s government previously said that it would only agree to talks if Arab and Western nations stopped their bombing raids. Monday’s announcement appeared to leave little room for diplomacy.

Despite slow rebel progress on the ground, Britain and France pledged to continue the intervention for as long as needed. Paris prepared to place nearly $260 million at the disposal of the rebels’ interim government in Benghazi after unfreezing Libyan assets in France.

(JUL 16) The United Kingdom on Friday announced that it would deploy four additional Tornado warplanes to support the NATO mission in Libya in addition to the twelve British aircraft that were already participating in the operation.

In Istanbul the following day, Arab and Western nations supporting the Libyan intervention recognized the rebels’ transitional council as the country’s “legitimate governing authority,” a move that should allow billions in Libyan assets frozen abroad to be released to the anti-government forces.

(JUL 8) Libyan rebels advanced on two fronts this week against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces which remained in control of two cities west of the capital according to NATO.

The rebels from a base in Misrata, more than two hundred kilometers east of Tripoli, reportedly battled loyalists for control of Zliten to the west which has a population of roughly 100,000. Berber insurgents in the Nafusa Mountains claimed victory near a desert village some ninety kilometers south of Tripoli following a fierce battle that involved scores if not hundreds of fighters on both sides. Rebels told the BBC that NATO had bombed heavy weaponry in the area prior to their move.

Berber culture and language were long suppressed by the Gaddafi regime. It was unknown whether there had been coordination between the Nafusa rebels and their counterparts headquartered in Benghazi.

(JUN 29) Le Figaro revealed on Wednesday that France was providing weapons to rebels in Libya’s western mountains in an effort to help them advance on Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital of Tripoli.

Citing anonymous sources, the French newspaper reported that the country had parachuted “large amounts” of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers, into the rebel area. The decision to send arms without NATO consent was made “because there was no other way to proceed,” according to a source quoted by Le Figaro.

Rebels active in the mountains southwest of the capital had reached the town of Bi’r al Ghanam on Sunday where they were fighting loyalist forces for control.

(JUN 22) Italy urged a suspension of hostilities in Libya on Wednesday as the civilian death toll was mounting and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi showed no sign of leaving.

“We have seen the effects of the crisis and therefore also of NATO action not only in eastern and southwestern regions but also in Tripoli,” the Italian foreign minister told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, NATO admitted that its airstrikes had killed civilians in the Libyan capital.

The Italian proposed a temporary ceasefire to create “humanitarian corridors” and negotiations with Gaddafi to accomplish a permanent ceasefire. Previous attempts at mediation from South Africa failed to persuade the longtime dictator to relinquish control.

France, which took the lead in the intervention in Libya, ruled out a suspension in the bombing campaign. “We must intensify the pressure on Gaddafi,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to play for time and to reorganise. In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf.”

(JUN 9) Arab and Western countries that are involved the military intervention in Libya pledged additional financial support for the country’s rebels on Wednesday. Italy promised $586 million, France $420 million and Kuwait $180 million. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended a summit of the Contact Group in the United Arab Emirates, said that Colonel Gaddafi’s days were “numbered.”

The rebels’ National Transitional Council had already set up shadow ministries in the eastern part of the country and named a civilian to head the military in anticipation of the dictator’s fall.

(JUN 1) NATO extended its campaign in Libya by another ninety days after South African President Jacob Zuma failed to negotiate a ceasefire with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli on Tuesday.

Zuma’s second visit to the Libyan leader did not involve talks of an “exit strategy” according to a government spokesman. Unlike many other African Union leaders, the South African president had not called upon Gaddafi to resign.

NATO’s intensified bombing campaign prompted another wave of defections ahead of Zuma’s arrival in Tripoli. Eight generals fled to Italy.

(MAY 27) At a G8 summit in Deauville, France this Friday, the allies continued to call on America for additional support in Libya. Although President Barack Obama insisted in London the day before that there weren’t “a whole bunch of secret, super effective air assets in a warehouse somewhere” that could be deployed, what was asked of the American were eight or so heavily armed AC-130 ground attack aircraft and A-10 planes to provide close air support for rebel forces on the ground — airplanes which none of the other NATO countries have in service.

The United States were flying about a quarter of all air missions over Libya, including refueling and intelligence sorties, while unmanned American drones had struck a number of targets on the ground.

(MAY 26) Britain and France began flying attack helicopters in Libya in order to more effectively target loyalist armor that had camouflaged itself to prevent bombardment. The French deployed twelve Eurocopter Tigers and probably lighter Gazelles as well. The four British Apache AH1 attack helicopters, designed to strike tanks, aboard HMS Ocean were expected to help protect a buffer zone around the besieged port city of Misrata.

Although virtually all of Gaddafi’s air defenses were destroyed in the opening phase of operations in Libya, helicopters are vulnerable to portable rocket launchers and gunfire.

(MAY 21) NATO jets destroyed eight Libyan warships in the ports of Al Khums, Sirte and Tripoli on Thursday night because the Gaddafi regime had used its naval assets to lay mines and prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the besieged city of Misrata. The Libyan navy was previously spared from airstrikes.

(MAY 18) Rebels fighting in Libya’s western Nafusa Mountains issued a call for help on Tuesday after they had come under heavy attack from loyalist forces. Although the town of Wāzzin near the Tunisian border was shelled, it remained in rebel hands.

NATO targeted numerous military vehicles and installations in and near Tripoli while several vehicles near Zintan, one hundred miles southwest of the capital, were destroyed in airstrikes. Some 80 percent of Libya’s air force was estimated to have been destroyed with only helicopters remaining operational. According to the French defense minister, Libya’s ground forces had lost a third of their heavy equipment and half their ammunitions.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the head of Libya’s intelligence service on Monday for ordering, planning and participating in attacks against civilians. Several thousands of casualties were reported although the exact death toll remained unclear.

(MAY 12) NATO intensified airstrikes against loyalist tanks and Tripoli while anti-government forces in Misrata claimed that they had taken control of the city’s airport, the last remaining stronghold of troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fighting in the rebel enclave. NATO warships enforcing an arms embargo in the Mediterranean thwarted a small boat attack against the city’s harbor Thursday morning.

In the east, rebels advanced from Ajdabiya onto Marsa Brega but failed to recapture the town. NATO bombed at least two tanks and eight military vehicles along the front between the two places on Sunday but no heavy airstrikes were reported in the days thereafter.

(MAY 5) NATO airstrikes targeted numerous armored personnel carriers and rocket launchers near the cities of Brega, Misrata, Ra’s Lanuf, Sirte and Az Zintan this week. Some twenty allied vessels were patrolling the Central Mediterranean in enforcement of an arms embargo. Hundreds of ships had been hailed since Operation Unified Protector began. Nearly thirty were boarded.

In Tripoli, ammunition storage facilities as well as a suspected command and control building were targeted. According to the regime, one of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandsons were killed in that attack. The leader himself was said to have “escaped.”

(APR 30) Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi said on Saturday that he was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire provided NATO “stop its planes.” The colonel refused to step down however. Rebel leaders in the city of Benghazi rejected the offer, telling reporters that the time for compromise had passed.

(APR 24) Libya’s rebels claimed control of the town of Wāzzin near the border with Tunisia while loyalist forces seized their attacks against Misrata before the weekend. Unmanned American drone aircraft struck their first target Saturday afternoon and destroyed anti-aircraft defenses in Tripoli on Sunday.

(APR 22) America’s top military official Admiral Michael Mullen said that coalition airstrikes had degraded between 30 and 40 percent of Gaddafi’s ground forces but that the battle appeared to be heading to a stalemate.

(APR 20) The European Union on Tuesday said that it was prepared to send “definitely less than 1,000” ground troops into Libya for humanitarian assistance if it could be sanctioned by the United Nations.

France, Italy and the United Kingdom announced plans to send military advisors to the wartorn North African nation. Both the British and French foreign ministers insisted that the deployment did not amount to ground combat forces let alone an invasion.

(APR 15) In a joint declaration that appeared in Le Figaro, the International Herald Tribune and The Times on Friday, David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to “remain united” and continue the military campaign in Libya despite division within the NATO alliance.

Although the leaders noted that the aim of the operation was “not to remove Gaddafi by force,” they could not imagine a future for Libya with him in power. A “genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process” should be “led by a new generation,” they wrote. “In order for that transition to succeed, Gaddafi must go and go for good.”

Were the colonel to remain in power, the Western leaders feared that the opposition could face violent suppression. Libya might then also become a safe haven for extremism.

(APR 14) NATO remained divided on Thursday after a Berlin summit failed to persuade additional members to participate in airstrikes against armed forces loyal to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Only Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway and the United Kingdom had allowed their aircraft to engage targets on the ground. The Americans had withdrawn their fighter jets but continued to target air defenses while flying a third of total missions in the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

According to Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the military effort over Libya required “a few more precision fighter ground aircraft for air to ground missions” and he was “confident” that nations would step up to the plate. He admitted that no “specific pledges or promises” had been made however.

(APR 11) The Libyan rebel leadership in Benghazi rejected the conditions of a peace plan brokered by representatives of the African Union on Monday. Earlier in the day, Muammar Gaddafi had agreed to end hostilities and allow foreign peace keepers on Libyan soil.

While the African Union would not call upon Gaddafi to step down, its plan did foresee an immediate end to all fighting and the start of negotiations between the government and the opposition with the aim of setting up “an inclusive transition period” to adopt and implement “political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis.”

No timetable was spelled out as to when and if a ceasefire might take effect. The rebel leadership insisted that Gaddafi had to go before the fighting could stop.

(APR 10) NATO airstrikes hit parts of Misrata in the west of Libya Sunday morning, eyewitnesses reported. At least eight people were killed in confrontations between pro-Gaddafi forces and the opposition the day before.

In a statement on Saturday, the alliance said that its aircraft had destroyed ammunition stockpiles east of Tripoli that were supplying troops shelling Misrata and other cities. British fighters also attacked armored vehicles near Misrata and Ajdabiya.

(APR 8) Despite NATO air support, the head of US Africa Command assessed the likelihood of Libyan rebels reaching Tripoli and toppling Muammar Gaddafi as “low” on Thursday. General Carter Ham also urged American senators that there should be “a better understanding of exactly who the opposition force is” before arms could be supplied to them.

The rebels had asked for weapons to break the impasse on the ground. Neither side seemed able to move beyond their strongholds in either side of the country anymore with cities in between continually changing hands.

With the exception of the city of Misrata, a rebel enclave in the western part of Libya, the international military intervention had “significantly degraded [the regime’s] ability to continue to attack civilians,” according to General Ham.

On the same day, NATO “may” have accidently attacked rebel tanks, according to Royal Navy Admiral Russell Harding, the deputy commander of the alliance’s operations in Libya. “The situation on the ground is fluid and we had no information the opposition forces were using tanks,” he told reporters.

Four were reportedly killed when allied aircraft fired missiles at a rebel formation between Ajdabiya and Marsa Brega.

(APR 6) Libya’s rebels remained confident that they could achieve victory, the deputy chairmen of their transitional council told CNN on Tuesday. “Gaddafi will no longer be able to rule one inch in Libya,” according to Abdul Hafiz Ghoga.

The former human rights lawyer said that the rebels were in talks with their “brothers” in Egypt and Qatar and “friends” in Italy and France about the delivery of armaments. “God willing, the weapons are on their way,” he said.

(APR 2) The regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi rejected the opposition’s conditions for a ceasefire before the weekend.

From Benghazi, former justice minister and currently a leader of the rebel movement, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, demanded that Gaddafi’s armed forces be removed from the cities in the west and end their siege against Misrata.

While Gaddafi appeared determined to continue to fight the rebels, his foreign minister defected and fled to the United Kingdom.

Army units also continued to join the rebels’ side. According to an opposition spokesman, they were able to push back Gaddafi’s troops on Friday, armed with newly refurbished rocket launchers and artillery delivered to the frontlines the previous night by the soldiers that had switched sides.

(MAR 31) After rebels had to surrender key cities along the Mediterranean coast to pro-Gaddafi forces, NATO took sole command of air operations in Libya on Thursday.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, told parliamentarians the previous day that the regime had intensified its attacks, “driving back opposition forces from ground they had taken in recent days.” He noted that navy ships had blockaded the port of Misrata to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the people there.

These vessels were attacked by coalition aircraft yesterday. Four of them were sunk and one vessel was beached.

On Tuesday, representatives of dozens of nations convened in London where they agreed to establish a “Libya Contact Group” to coordinate the international response to the crisis. The group’s first meeting would be held in Qatar.

(MAR 28) After several days of allied bombardment against the armed forces of Muammar Gaddafi’s, Libyan rebels made significant progress westward, claiming control of Ajdabiya and the oil port of Ra’s Lanuf while eying the colonel’s birth place Sirte. Al Jazeera reported little resistance overnight despite seemingly staunch Gaddafi support there in previous weeks.

Qatar became the second nation after France to recognize the rebels’ interim council as the Libyan government on Monday. Operating from an air base in Crete, the tiny Persian Gulf state deployed a third of its fighter jet fleet in the Libyan intervention, making it the largest overseas military effort in Qatar’s history. “We felt it was important for an Arab country to join and because other Arab countries were not involved militarily, we felt we should,” Qatar’s air force chief said Saturday.

(MAR 25) The United Arab Emirates announced that they would deploy twelve aircraft in the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya, making it the second Arab nation after Qatar to join the coalition. A Qatari Mirage fighter jet flew its first sortie on Friday.

A NATO official in Brussels said that planning for the alliance’s no-fly operation assumed a mission lasting ninety days. Admiral Édouard Guillaud, head of the French armed forced, said during a radio interview that he expected the operation to last weeks. “I hope it will not take months,” he added.

(MAR 24) ABC News reported on Thursday that a Libyan warplane had been destroyed by a French fighter when it landed at a military airfield near the northwestern city of Misrata. No Libyan planes had previously flown since the start of the no-fly zone last Saturday.

After a late night parliamentary vote on Wednesday, the Netherlands were the latest nation to join the international coalition. Six Dutch F-16 fighter jets headed for Sardinia on Thursday. The country also planned to deploy one navy vessel and a tanker aircraft to enforce a NATO arms embargo against Libya.

On the same day, NATO agreed to assume control of the military intervention. Germany and Turkey were initially opposed to a NATO role but after a conference call between American secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her counterparts from France, Turkey and the United Kingdom, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen could announce that the alliance would take responsibility for commanding the no-fly zone over Libya.

(MAR 23) Germany withdrew two frigates and AWACS surveillance plane crews from the Mediterranean in anticipation of NATO assuming command of operations in Libya.

Germany abstained from voting on the Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention to protect civilians in Libya from military force. Its ambassador to the United Nations warned last week that the West risked being dragged into a protracted conflict in the North African country and should not expect “quick results with few casualties.”

President Barack Obama, already coping with two wars in the region and mounting dissent at home, was anxious to cede control of military operations in and over Libya but NATO remained divided. Germany and Turkey disagreed with the mission altogether while France hoped to diminish the role of the alliance, presumably in favor of Anglo-French leadership.

Britain, France and the United States did agree that political oversight should be handed to a separate body made up of members of the coalition, including Arab states. The Americans and the British publicly disagreed over the legality of targeting Muammar Gaddafi however.

In the evening, a government spokeswoman reported intense fighting in the vicinity of Ajdabiya and called up the coalition to “break the siege.” Rebel leaders in Benghazi earlier announced the formation of an interim government but stressed that they were “striving to liberate the western parts of the country and Tripoli and keep the country united.”

(MAR 22) The coalition enforcing a UN resolution that authorized military intervention in Libya widened on Tuesday to include the Netherlands, Romania and Spain. The latter had already made air and naval bases available.

A navy base in the capital of Tripoli was devastated by either air or missile strikes during the night. Four mobile rocket launchers were destroyed.

In the early morning, an American F-15 fighter jet crashed over eastern Libya, near Benghazi. The crash was “not due to enemy or hostile actions,” according to a military spokesman. Mechanical failure was suspected to be responsible for the crash. Both crew members had managed to eject from the plane before impact.

The shelling of the rebel held city of Misrata continued during the day despite allied military strikes in its vicinity. Reuters estimated forty casualties. Airstrikes as well as heavy fighting between rebel and loyalist forces was reported near Ajdabiya.

(MAR 21) Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli lay in shambles Monday after it had come under aerial bombardment during the night. Both British and American military officers stressed that the Libyan leader was not a target but British prime minister Cameron’s office suggested later in the day that regime change might be lawful under the UN mandate.

Belgium, Canadian, Danish, Italian and Norwegian fighter jets joined the operation. The Italians made seven of their bases available to fellow Western nations. “We hope that at the end of the week, NATO will be the one pulling the military mission,” Denmark’s defense minister told CNN.

The United States were effectively in the lead during the first days of the intervention. American administration and military officials made clear that they expected to take on a supportive role after the initial phase of the operation was completed. Most Libyan air defenses and several airfields were disabled during the weekend. “Now we’ll look to cut off his logistics,” Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday morning.

(MAR 20) Five Libyan tanks and a rocket launcher on the road between Ajdabiya and Benghazi were torn apart in a French airstrike on Sunday morning. Nineteen American warplanes, including Marine Corps Harrier jets, Air Force B-2 stealth bombers and F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, conducted strikes according to Lieutenant Commander James Stockman of US Africa Command.

Also on Sunday, British defense minister Liam Fox detailed some of the weaponry used against Gaddafi’s forces.

We have launched Tomahawk land attack missiles from a Trafalgar class submarine and Stormshadow missiles from Tornado GR4s. The fast jets flew 3,000 miles from RAF Marham and back making this the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict.

This operation was supported by VC10 and Tristar air to air refuelling aircraft as well as E3D Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft.

The frigates HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster were deployed off the Libyan coast to support allied operations.

According to the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, the no-fly zone was effectively in place. “[Gaddafi] hasn’t had aircraft or helicopters flying the last couple days,” he told NBC News.

(MAR 19) After a hasty summit of Arab and Western leaders in Paris on Saturday, French fighter jets began patrolling the skies over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone. In the evening, American and British navy vessels targeted Libyan air defenses near Misrata and Tripoli.

The American Department of Defense reported that more than a hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired from allied ships and submarines, striking more than twenty air defense facilities ashore. The destruction of Libyan anti-aircraft systems should clear the way for the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

While the Pentagon said that the strikes were carefully coordinated based on an assessment of whether the targets posed a direct threat to coalition pilots or to civilians on the ground, a Libyan government spokesman claimed that the attack had inflicted “real harm” on people. Western reporters in Tripoli reported no damage to populated areas however.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier in the day that his nation’s aircraft were prepared to target tanks as well enemy fighter jets. “Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi against the population of Benghazi,” he said of the rebel stronghold in the east of the divided nation.

The foreign show of force was welcomed by the opposition in Benghazi which had called upon the international community to intervene.

British prime minister David Cameron said that the intervention of foreign powers was necessary, legal and right. “I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people,” he added.

President Barack Obama reiterated that sentiment during his visit to Brazil on Saturday. “We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy and his forces step up their assault.” Obama stressed that the United States would not deploy ground forces in Libya.

The North African country had witnessed several weeks of civil war before the rest of the world interfered. Whereas anti-government militias initially succeeded in claiming control of major cities along the Mediterranean coast, the use of heavy artillery and airpower against them forced the rebels to retreat. As Western powers mobilized for military action, they were still in control of the area between Benghazi and Tobruk.

The multinational military effort was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday in response to the unrest in Libya. At least a thousand civilians and rebels were estimated to have perished in Gaddafi’s onslaught. He pledged “no mercy” for the besieged population of Benghazi.

There should be no doubt about Gaddafi’s intentions, said President Obama on Friday, “because he has made them clear.”

Several US Navy warships were already deployed in the Mediterranean while the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier was on standby in the Red Sea.

The French carrier Charles de Gaulle, stationed in Toulon, made for Libyan waters on Saturday while the Royal Navy had at least two vessels in the vicinity. The British also have a sovereign base in Cyprus from where to launch airstrikes. Italy and Spain made air bases available for operations.

Beware Gaddafi’s Tripoli

In a less than a week’s time, disappointment turned into optimism for Libya’s opposition. After months of incremental progress on the ground and hundreds of NATO airstrikes, the North African country’s band of rebels have had an impressive string of victories against Muammar Gaddafi’s struggling army, with cities just a few dozen miles away from the capital now under the transitional council’s umbrella. Gaddafi’s soldiers are battered, rebel commanders say, and increasingly tired of putting their own lives on the line for a regime that is destined to fall this summer.

The rebel capture of Az Zawiyah, strategically located between Gaddafi’s Tripoli and the Tunisian border crossing, has had the intended effect of squeezing the Libyan government’s access to vital resources. Gas to fuel trucks, food to feed the troops and weapons to fight the rebels are all running low. While the Libyan-Tunisian border checkpoint is technically still in the hands of Gaddafi’s men, supplies are unable to reach beyond a third of the way to the capital. Large swaths of the Libyan desert, which until recently were contested, are now mainly held by rebel forces. Absent the occasional loyalist sniper or a few GRAD rockets fired at rebel positions, the opposition has a strong foothold in the western area of the country, starting from the Nafusa Mountains to a mere thirty miles from Tripoli.

By cutting of highways and other roads leading into the north, Libya’s opposition managed to encircle the capital from all directions, depriving the city of the materials that are needed to sustain the battle — all the while limiting Gaddafi’s options.

The news is encouraging for a NATO coalition that has backed the anti-Gaddafi movement to the fullest extent possible short of direct military intervention.

While it is tempting to predict the strongman’s imminent demise, Libya is still prone to a violent showdown. Gaddafi has lost all semblance of credibility in the south, east and west of his country but retains some popular support in Tripoli. Most of his active duty soldiers who were previously defeated along the country’s western frontier have been called to redeploy into the city center, a move that might indicate the regime’s willingness to fight to the last man.

A popular uprising against Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli before the rebels enter is a possibility, though a distant one at that. The Transitional National Council know that many Tripoli residents are too scared to revolt, having been locked by Gaddafi’s men in a perpetual state of fear throughout the uprising. Tripoli is the one city in Libya that is still fortified by government compounds and patrolled street to street by Gaddafi loyalists. Most of the anti-government demonstrations that surface in the city, however small, are snuffed out.

The TNC also understands that a brazen advance into the capital could be the most violent battle of the entire war. This makes the siege of Tripoli all the more central to the rebels’ battlefield strategy. By isolating the coastal enclave and choking off fuel shipments into neighborhoods, electricity shortages and rising food prices will hopefully annoy some of the more pragmatic Libyans in the capital to join the opposition’s side. However, these developments will be moot unless the rebels actually consolidate their gains, which has been exceedingly difficult as Gaddafi’s soldiers rely on mortar and rocket counterattacks to stall their advances.

The regime is clearly at its weakest since the start of the uprising in February but an embattled Gaddafi could actually transform the Libyan conflict into a more catastrophic one in the short term. A ruler is far less likely to resort to Scud missile attacks if he thinks his authority is relatively secure. But with Gaddafi’s men folding over the last three days to rebel and NATO pressure, the likelihood of the dictator using long range weapons increases. Given Gaddafi’s insistence on fighting rather than surrendering, more Scuds flying around northern Libya may be his final act of desperation.

Everyone hopes that Gaddafi would rather save his skin rather than ruin the country he has governed for the past 42 years. Unfortunately, his past indicates that may be more prone to lashing out than compromising. With the rebels near their doorsteps, the Gaddafi family’s determination is at its peak.