The US, anti-Qaddafi forces lack military strength
Barring changes in the military situation, Muammar Qaddafi looked Wednesday, March 2, as though he had averted his regime's immediate danger of collapse by dint of a successful counter-offensive against rebel forces. His prospects had strikingly improved since Saturday, Feb. 26, when President Barack Obama told him to leave and the UN Security Council clamped down sanctions on his regime.
During the day, the regime's armored forces and commandos supported by the Libyan Air Force recaptured parts of Brega, Libya's refinery city and supplier of the country's benzene, and sections of the Bay of Sirte town of Ajdabiya. debkafile's military sources say the loss of Brega will cause severe fuel and refined oil shortages in rebel-held Cyrenaica in the east.
Saif al-Islam, who has been running his father Muammar Qaddafi's propaganda campaign since the uprising began more than two weeks ago (Feb. 17), told the French Le Figaro confidently on Wednesday: "It's true that it's a bit messy in the east, a few hundred people died there, but within two days everything will be back in order."
As his counter-offensive went forward, Qaddafi himself addressed a public event in Tripoli covered by state television, looking relaxed and self-confident.
The reverses suffered by the rebels were implicit in their appeal to the West Tuesday night, March 1 for military intervention, when a few hours earlier they rejected foreign troops coming to their aid.
But their SOS came too late.
Unless they can get hold of fuel from outside Libya, the rebels have no chance of organizing enough fighting strength to stand up to Qaddafi's army. Not only have they lost sight of their goal of taking Tripoli but their alternative provisional government in Benghazi is in jeopardy. With the capture of Ajdabiya, Qaddafi's forces control the strategic crossroads linking the two halves of Libya, Tripolitania to Cyrenaica, and have cut off links between the rebels in Cyrenaica and the opposition groups in the west.
It is worth noting that troops engaged in Qaddafi's counter-offensive Wednesday came from the strategic town of Sirte, where they were encamped after leading the recapture of Misrata and Zawiya the day before.
The prospect of foreign military intervention on behalf of the Libyan opposition faded Wednesday. By then, British Prime Minister David Cameron was the lone Western voice still talking about a Western or British military option in Libya. Even his close advisers said he was putting his reputation on the line and exposing himself to derision even by calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.
British military circles emphasized that the British army lacks commando strength as well as warplanes and warships for a war operation against Qaddafi, especially for a lengthy campaign. Just this week, 11,000 British troops were sacked in the wake of the Cameron government's defense budget cutbacks.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the administration was still very far from imposing no-fly zones over Libya. This was a reversal of her comment Tuesday that this option was being "actively considered" and followed the news conference given Tuesday by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, in which both stressed that the UN Security Council in imposing sanctions on Libya had not authorized outside military intervention.
Gates pointed out that there is "no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force… and we also have to think about, frankly, the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East."
Regarding the imposition of no-fly zones, Adm. Mullen was equally skeptical. He warned that such an operation, which he described as "very complex," could lead to situations in which Americans planes were brought down.
Both poured cold water on any military options while Gates pointed out that there was no confirmation of the slaughter of civilians by air bombardment. On the number of protesters killed and army defectors, Gates commented, "We are still in the realm of speculation."
Spokesmen in Washington also worked hard to play down the military significance of the passage of two
amphibious assault craft, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponc, through the Suez Canal to Libyan waters. The Pentagon stressed that the 800 marines aboard these vessels would stand ready to render humanitarian aid and help rescue refugees stranded in Libya.