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Rebels Losing Ground in Libya

03-12-2011 by L. S. Carbonell

Libyan Rebel Flag

“I think they are bombing heavily because they want to win time before a no-fly zone is imposed,” That was the message yelled into a cell phone by a rebel fleeing the city of Brega as it was attacked by Qaddafi’s forces with warships, tanks and planes. The rebels lost the city, which is just 150 miles west of the rebel “capitol” of Benghazi.

Qaddafi lost the support of most of the military in the coastal regions of Libya, but he had several military bases in the south which were virtually cut off from information about the rebellion. Those are the troops he has brought up to fight the rebels.

“Benghazi doesn’t deserve a full-scale military action.” army spokesman Milad Hussein told reporters in Tripoli, where the press is being tightly confined.. “They are a group of rats and vermin and as soon as we go in, they will raise their hands and surrender.” That has been the message Qaddafi has broadcast on state media – that the rebellion isn’t a rebellion but an attempt by al Qaida to take over Libya. That would be the message that the Libyan military had received in the south. Hussein’s statements about Benghazi “not deserving a full-scale military action,” are pointless because that is exactly what Benghazi is going to get unless the no-fly zone is imposed immediately, along with a coastal blockade. Qaddafi is not going to spare the residents of Benghazi. The rebel’s transitional government is housed there.

As Qaddafi’s forces have retaken towns, the pattern has been very clear – after the heavy artillery and air strikes come the ground troops and mercenaries. The wounded are dragged from hospitals and executed in the street. Bands of mercenaries in SUV’s roam the streets shooting anyone who dares to emerge from a building. Reporters who are taken from Tripoli to tour towns that Qaddafi’s forces have “liberated” from the rebels have seen shelled buildings and eerily empty streets. The only things moving are the tanks and SUVs of Qaddafi’s forces. State media has told the Libyan people that it was the rebels who set off explosions at the Ras Lanouf oil refinery, but the videos show the air strikes that set the facility on fire. The oil facilities at Brega have also been hit. Benghazi is the only place in Libya where oil is flowing.

Qaddafi’s forces have also been attacking Misrata, which lies 125 miles east of Tripoli along the coast. It has been the furthest-west rebel-held city.

The Bay of Sidre curves into Libya, comprising almost two-thirds of its coastline. Tripoli is at the western tip of it, Benghazi at the eastern. Ras Lanouf, Brega and Bin Jawad are on the eastern side of the Bay. The narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean coast is where Libya’s population is concentrated. There are a few small towns in the interior, but what few people live in the Sahara are traditional nomadic tribes. A major highway runs along the coast, with open desert on either side that provides no opportunity for cover for the retreating rebel forces. They are being strafed by helicopter gunships.

The only question right now is whether Qaddafi’s forces will try to consolidate their control over the coastal towns or start bombing Benghazi on Monday morning. The six million people of Libya do not have the luxury of waiting for a bunch of diplomats at the United Nations to endlessly talk about a no-fly zone.

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