DEBKAfile Exclusive: Qaddafi is hiding in Targan Oasis, Sahara
In a world exclusive, debkafile's intelligence sources reveal that Muammar Qaddafi, two of his sons and several thousand fighters have gone to ground at Targan. This dot on the vast Saharan map lies several hundred kilometers southwest of the remote desert town of Jiffra which, too, is more than 1,500 kilometers from rebel-held Tripoli and Sirte, where his loyalists are holding out against Libyan rebels.
Western intelligence sources believe that if Qaddafi feels threatened there too, he will use a prepared escape route to Burkina Faso, whose president Blaise Compaoré and prime minister Luc Adolphe Tiao, despite their official denials, have promised him sanctuary. Burkina Faso is a member of the CEN-SAD (Community of Sahel-Saharan States) which still acknowledges Qaddafi as ruler of Libya and refuses to recognize the rebel regime.
Targan is a vast oasis covering hundreds of square kilometers with lakes and connecting streams wreathed in densely-growing palm trees and papyrus rushes. This hideout has so far eluded US spy and aerial satellite searches for the fugitive Libyan ruler. In case he is run to ground, he is believed to have prepared more than one escape route, some of them burrowed underground in places hidden by vegetation.
With him almost certainly are two of his sons, Saif al Islam and Moatassem-Billah and a part of the 32nd Khamis Brigade.
Two long, heavily-guarded Libyan convoys were sighted crossing the Libyan border into Niger this week, some said to be carrying large sums of money and gold from the Libyan state bank. debkafile's intelligence sources deny this.
NATO and rebel forces have two major problems before they can catch Qaddafi:
1. Getting to the remote and vast Targan area is one. Another is controlling it. A very large military force would be required, inured to combat in the extreme climatic conditions of the Sahara which neither NATO nor the rebels have available. They would also need to find out which of the dozens of nomadic tribes in the region have given their allegiance to the Libyan ruler, because without the cooperation of some of those tribes no military operation has a chance of succeeding.
2. NATO and rebel spokesmen now say that once Bani Walid falls and the way is clear to capturing Qaddafi's home town of Sirte the war will be won.
debkafile's military sources say that even if the elders of those towns can be persuaded to let the rebel forces in without a fight, a third formidable obstacle remains: There is a large enclave between Sirte running up to a point east of Tripoli populated by large tribes which are the hard core of diehard Qaddafi support. They will hold out fiercely against opening the door to the rebels from the east.