Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Necessary First Step

If Khaddafi is to survive, he needs to counter-attack and win that counter-attack to break the momentum of the rebels and set the stage to start rolling back rebel gains--even if it takes a long campaign in an east-west civil war.

Until Khaddafi wins a visible victory over the rebels, all the talk by rebels of advancing on Tripoli will make Khaddafi's forces vulnerable to defecting to the rebels out of fear. So far the rebels don't appear capable of mounting an offensive--they just seem capable of advancing through defections by scared pro-Khaddafi forces. If the government can give the appearance that they can win, they can actually try to win.

The Libyan government appears ready to mass enough forces to win that first victory west of Tripoli:

An Associated Press reporter who reached Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, confirmed the anti-government rebels are in control of the center of the city of 200,000. They have army tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks deployed. But on the outskirts, they are surrounded by pro-Gadhafi forces.

There were at least six checkpoints controlled by troops loyal to Gadhafi on the road from Tripoli to Zawiya. Each checkpoint was reinforced by at least one tank, and the troops concealed their faces with scarves.

Zawiya is also close to important oil industry infrastructure that Khaddafi will need for a long civil war. In the short run, I'm sure he has plenty of cash to use for now to survive. But if he neither wins nor loses quickly, he'll need oil exports to fight a civil war.

Khaddafi could survive this uprising even though it may seem unlikely right now. But the first thing he needs to do is capture Zawiya.

UPDATE: If Khaddafi doesn't get a victory under his belt soon--and Zawiya seems to be the only option for that right now--the rebels will keep advancing:

An AFP reporter arriving in Nalut, a town of 66,000 people, 235 kilometres (145 miles) west of Tripoli, found loyalist Kadhafi forces had entirely disappeared.

"The city has been liberated since February 19. It has been run by a revolutionary committee named by the town's communities," Shaban Abu Sitta, a local lawyer and member of a revolutionary committee, told AFP.

"The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Kadhafi's forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place," he said.

If the news is all about cities revolting, pretty soon anybody loyal to Khaddafi will switch sides before it is too late for Libyans to be grateful they are defecting.

Mind you, I'm fine with Khaddafi dithering, since it will just mean he loses more quickly. I'm just saying that the path to his victory doesn't include the pro-Khaddafi forces sitting on their butts waiting for revolts to get closer and closer to them.