By Saturday, Aug. 20, when Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, NATO's Canadian commander in Libya, gave the signal for the advance on Tripoli, all the operation's working components had been in position for a week.
British, French, Jordanian and Qatari Special Operations units had been standing by in safe-houses around the city; weapons, ammunition, food and water had been cached at dozens of points close to the action, at the international airport at Ben Ghashir 34 kilometers south of the city center and around Tripoli port.
Electronic jamming blacked the entire capital shutting down the communications links between Qaddafi and his political, military and intelligence chiefs and supporters in the city, as well as the outside world.
Our military sources report the foreign contingents were made up of British SAS commandos, French 2REP (Groupe des commando parachutiste) – which is similar to the US Navy DELTA unit, as well as DINOP commandos; Jordan's Royal Special Forces – specialists in combat in built-up areas and capturing fortified installations like the Qaddafi compound in Tripoli, and the Qatari Special Forces, which were transferred from Benghazi where they had been guarding rebel leaders.
Rebel forces were carted in by sea and truck.
The hundreds ferried in by unmarked landing craft from Misrata and Benghazi, untrained in these maneuvers, were easy game for Qaddafi's forces which picked them off as they came ashore. But the two columns of rebels trucked in from Zawiya in the west and Garyan in the south encountered no resistance before or after they entered the city behind the vanguards of British and French special units.
All the roads to Tripoli and inside the city were clear. Two days later, Tuesday, Aug. 23, Muammar Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya fortress and residential compound was overrun amid scenes of jubilant celebratory gunfire.
Qaddafi missed a key trick
Col. Qaddafi had known what was afoot.
In the middle of last week, he and his aides got in touch with the US ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz and Gerry Feltman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, who was standing by for developments, and proposed an immediate ceasefire.
But it was too late. The American diplomats turned him down
Nevertheless, the Libyan ruler, in the last days of his 42 years in power, failed to defend his capital or even secure his last bastion in the city against the oncoming NATO-rebel assault.
Where were the 15,000 members of the six armored brigades tasked with defending Tripoli? Why did its defensive belt suddenly fold?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal the answer to this enigma: The only Arab ruler who had for four decades prepared himself against the day that some Western or other foreign nation would turn around and try and topple him, Qaddafi nevertheless missed his most acute peril: a sellout by his generals to the Americans – or more precisely, the CIA. He made the same mistake as Iraq's Saddam Hussein in not taking into account that the Americans would bribe the officers commanding his army brigades in Tripoli to melt away in the face of the rebel forces led by a Western-Arab spearhead which entered his capital from the east and the south.
Elements of the 32nd tank brigade led by his son Khamis Qaddafi held out and tried to cut off the rebel advance but were outmaneuvered. Thursday night, Aug. 25, Qaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed that the Khamis brigade had mounted a counter-attack on Tripoli. This is not confirmed. He spoke from the Syrian-based Al Orouba station.
Tripoli left unguarded by the same device as Baghdad in 2003
The operation was handled by the new CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus, architect of the Bush administration's 2006-2007 plan to lay out cold cash to buy the cooperation of Iraq's Sunni tribal chiefs for wiping out Al Qaida. The same tactic worked again this year for weaning Afghan Pashtun chiefs away from their support for the Taliban in 2010 and the first months of 2011.
Although our sources have not yet discovered which general close to Qaddafi US agents bought first from among the commanders in charge of defending Tripoli and his compound, they confirm that the method used replicated the tactic the CIA employed shortly before the US swooped down on Baghdad in April 2001.
Then, too, US-led troops encountered no resistance after the CIA bribed Gen. Waqil Massiri, a favorite of Saddam Hussein and his sons and popular among the commanders of the Republic Guards and other elite units.
Gen. Massiri moved freely in the highest Iraqi circles having married the daughter of Saddam's cousin Gen. Ali Majid – better known as Chemical Ali, who was head of the southern front during the war.
Yet it was Waqil Massiri who betrayed Saddam and brokered the connection between the Americans and the heads of the Republican Guard's Al Medina, Hammurabi, Nida and Nebuchadnezzar divisions responsible for Baghdad's outer defenses. The US 3rd Marines Division and the 1st Marines Task Force were thus able to march into Baghdad without firing a shot.
Tripoli commanders scrambled for dollars
One of Qaddafi's top generals performed the same task in Tripoli as did Gen. Massiri in Baghdad.
"The result was stunning – to say the least," said a Western intelligence source close to the operation who demanded anonymity.
It also released a steady stream of data from Libyan field officers to the British and French Special Operations commanders from early August.
Each officer brought a friend, vying among themselves who would bring along the highest-ranking volunteers for deals with the Americans and win a larger reward for himself.
So eager were Tripoli-based officers to join the cash-for-surrender rush that the British and French commanders could hardly cope with the mountain of logistic detail necessitated by the deals.
In addition to money, the units deserting the defense of Tripoli were awarded US guarantees of immunity from NATO air and ground attacks; their commanders and troops were promised security and freedom from prosecution during and after the war and permission to return to their families after the conflict was over.
For their part, the Libyan commanders in Tripoli pledged to refrain from attacking NATO and rebel forces. They also undertook not to sabotage infrastructure such as bridges, road junctions, dams, and oil, gas, water and electricity facilities, and promised not to destroy, mine or booby-trap military camps, bases, defense lines or other military complexes.
Qaddafi vanishes but the fighting goes on
The Libyan officers and troops covered by the secret deal agreed to stand up at a pre-arranged signal from US agents, remove their uniforms, desert their posts, drop their weapons and go home.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources confirm that the military chiefs of Tripoli and their units kept to their side of the bargain so faithfully that some didn't bother to wait for the signal; they just got up and walked away when the advancing NATO and rebel forces came into view.
This CIA tactic would explain the mystery of Qaddafi's six vanishing brigades. It also accounts for the dearth of Libyan military casualties in hospitals. Not a single bridge or road leading to Tripoli was blown up. Although explosives had been planted at focal points on the orders of Qaddafi and his sons, no one detonated them.
And Tripoli, capital of Libya and its ruler Muammar Qaddafi, were destined to fall with lightening speed due to internal betrayal.
The deposed ruler dropped out of sight, but pro-Qaddafi troops outside the capital quickly went into resistance mode, seizing pockets inside Tripoli and launching heavy bombardments in other parts of the country.