NATO whittles down Qaddafi’s strength but Europe weakens
Tripoli was shaken early Tuesday, May 10, by five huge blasts which flattened another set of mostly empty government buildings in Muammar Qaddafi's capital, but aroused little interest, even among Western journalists.It is common knowledge that the ruler, his family and top lieutenants abandoned the city after May 1 when NATO missiles struck a Qaddafi family residence, missing him but killing his son and grandchildren.
It is now suspected in Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels that advanced electronic counter-measures imported recently to one of the foreign embassies in Tripoli tipped him off to the incoming missile attack and gave him just enough time to get away.
debkafile's intelligence sources report that since those devices were activated two weeks ago, NATO finds itself increasingly targeting empty government buildings and abandoned military installations.
Hence the comment by NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen Sunday, May 8: After repeating, "The game is over for Qaddafi" and denying the war had reached a stalemate, he added there was "no military solution for the civil war in Libya."
Our military sources sum up the balance of the two-month NATO operation backing the Libyan rebellion:
The combined coalition campaign has failed to loosen Qaddafi's grip on power, dent his army's fighting spirit and combat ability, divide Libya's main tribes against him or shake the loyalty of his high commanders and government heads.
The fundamental fact that without substantial American military intervention, NATO powers lack the air, sea and missile resources for overcoming Qaddafi has remained unchanged ever since the US handed the campaign's command role over the NATO on April 4.
Theoretically, if the current military stalemate goes on, NATO bombardment would be able to destroy the pro-Qaddafi army in the course of time – but only if no other factors are taken into account. At the present intensity of its air and sea strikes, NATO would need five years – not months – to bring that army to breaking point. And in the meantime, Qaddafi and its external backers – Russia, China, most African and some Balkan countries – are not idle – witness the arrival of advanced electronic gear for helping to tipping the balance in his favor. According to intelligence updates, the Libyan ruler continues to take in a steady supply of ammunition, missiles and advanced weapons to replenish the stocks NATO airstrikes have destroyed.
The situation in which NATO finds itself in Libya has wider military implications. If the Atlantic Alliance, and especially Britain and France which are spearheading the Libya campaign, are short of the resources they need for overcoming a Libyan army consisting essentially of four to five brigade-strength military frameworks fighting without air cover, hard questions must be asked about the alliance and its 26 members' real military worth.
Those questions apply in particular to Europe and bear on its political strength.
Syria's Bashar Assad has gathered from NATO's shortcomings in the Libyan arena that he has a free hand to set his army, tanks, artillery and live ammunition on protesters and suppress the uprising against him with an iron hand without fearing that the European UNIFIL contingents from France, Italy and Spain in Lebanon may turn their guns on him. Iran is also watching intently. And Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are showing diminishing interest in taking up NATO's invitation to associate themselves with the alliance by military pacts.
The coalition's limitations have reduced the fighting in Libya to two battle arenas, with NATO involved directly in only one:
1. Misrata, 185 kilometers west of Tripoli, the only rebel stronghold in western Libya: Were it not for NATO's air support, pro-government forces would have recaptured the town in the third week of the April.
Although Monday, May 9, the rebels repulsed a government assault on their positions, they have not managed even with NATO help to break the pro-Qaddafi forces' siege of the town or halt the Grad missile and artillery bombardment.
Neither have the rebels been able to dislodge Qaddafi's forces from Misrata airport, where light planes and helicopters flying beneath the no-fly zone are able to land bringing fresh reinforcements, supplies and ammo for Qaddafi's forces and take off with the wounded.
2. The Nafusa Mountains which cut through the center of western Libya. The Berber tribes which populate the mountain towns of Gharyan, Yifrin, Kabaw, Nalut and Ziztan are in revolt against the Qaddafi regime.
Their cause is quite separate from the Benghazi-based rebels' goal to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. The Berbers are fighting for an independent state. If they succeed, they hope to be joined by fellow tribesmen in Algeria and Morocco in a state spanning much of North Africa.
This battlefield is small in scope with little impact on the main thrust of the war. The Berbers are a small, scantily armed fighting force and government forces avoid taking them on, except for desultory rocket and artillery fire on their towns. Those towns can only be reached through rough, unpaved, mountain trails.
Qaddafi has split his ground forces into armored columns of 60 tanks and armored vehicles each to enhance their speed of movement and make them tougher targets for NATO jets to strike.
He is taking care to keep them away from the Berber mountain trails where they would be easy prey.