Friday, February 25, 2011

Can Khaddafi Counter-attack?

I don't assume Khaddafi is doomed. If I was pushing his units around a map, I'd keep fighting.

The Libyan government struggles to control its own corner of Libya, with reports that they have Tripoli, some areas around the capital, other areas in the west, the center, and deep south. The rebels are expanding areas they control, defending some in the face of limited counter-attacks, and getting time to organize.

The rebels in the east might want to drag out of storage as many old tanks as they can find to set them up as pill boxes in static positions to defend what they have now with former soldiers who can still fire the weapons (I have little hope they can drive them and fight effectively in a mobile role even if in running condition). If they can make some of the defecting army units mobile with working tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons, they'd have a mobile reserve to bolster any cities under attack. If the regime starts to look brittle, those mobile forces could spearhead a drive on Tripoli to see if the advance causes anybody to crack under the pressure of feeling like they are about to lose.

Khaddafi is wounded but not dead. Libya has perhaps 4,000 mercenaries (although it could be more by now), their loyal militias (mostly useful for static defense in their home cities or attacking rebel forces within the same cities) which could number up to 100,000, 10,000 loyal troops of the 32nd brigade along with unknown numbers of loyal army forces. The government is starting to spend money to keep their forces loyal.

Some army units have defected to the rebels. Others may be sitting on the fence, holding their positions in bases. Some may have self-disbanded. Khaddafi needs to bring the units on the fence into the battle. I'd use 1,000 of the 32nd brigade to stiffen regular army units still loyal or of questionable loyalty and to stiffen ad hoc ground units formed from loyal air force and naval personnel. Get some of them into the fight on offense to gain some confidence after making sure they can defend their own bases or friendly cities. Maybe this could leverage 10,000 men for offensive operations.

Use the mercenaries and secret police to stiffen the militias rather than as separate units to terrorize civilians. Some of the best or most loyal units, with mercenary and secret police stiffeners, could be made mobile to counter-attack around Tripoli and then push east, in time. Perhaps this gets us 12,000 merc/militia blends using civilian transport with some heavy weapons operated by mercenaries for a mobile role with the rest of the militias defending Tripoli and cities still loyal to Khaddafi.

Split the remainder of the 32nd into two 4,000-man strike forces to form a relatively solid core around which other army units and the merc/militia units could follow.

Use one strike force to spearhead operations around Tripoli to nail down their home turf.  Use the other strike force to drive on Misratah with other units in support to retake the city from rebels and open a line to loyal forces around Sirte.

Arm local militias in recaptured locations to keep the mobile forces freed to keep picking off static rebel positions.

Keep 1,000 of the 32nd in reserve in Tripoli to guard key regime positions and back the militias and mercs holding the key target of the regime--Tripoli itself.

If any aircraft or helicopters are in flying condition with loyal pilots, use them to bomb rebel military positions ahead of ground attacks. Use helicopters to move ammo and supplies up to key units fast. Prepare them for the possibility that they may need to bomb rebel-held oil installations in case the rebellion does turn into a long civil war between east and west.

The key for the government now is to break the apparent momentum of the rebels and gain some of their own so that units that haven't defected will feel more secure and so people who can be persuaded to remain loyal to the government will openly side with Khaddafi's forces. The government doesn't have to win it all right now. They just have to make it look like they can win.

That's what I'd do, anyway, if I was Khaddafi. Maybe Khaddafi's days really are numbered as some reports indicate. But I never say die in a battle. I don't assume the regime can't survive, even in a truncated state, for the moment.

UPDATE: Tripoli itself is still under threat, although it seems that the government can hold the city despite unrest:

Protesters described coming under a hail of bullets as they tried to march from several districts around the city toward Tripoli's central Green Square. One man among a crowd of thousands said gunmen on rooftops and in the streets opened fire with automatic weapons and even an anti-aircraft gun. ...

He warned, "At the suitable time we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire."

Taking on the rebels in the east will entail some risk if Tripoli can't be held in the face of protesters. Arming supporters in the city and other loyal areas would help with that objective.