Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Picking Up the Pieces

Fighting is still taking place in Tripoli:

Fresh fighting erupted in Tripoli on Tuesday hours after Moammar Gadhafi's son turned up free to thwart Libyan rebel claims he had been captured, a move that seems to have energized forces still loyal to the embattled regime.

Rebels and pro-regime troops fought fierce street battles in several parts of the city, a day after opposition fighters swept into the capital with relative ease, claiming to have most of it under their control.

The situation is too far gone for the loyalists to manage a counter-attack to retake the city. But they can raise the price for a rebel victory.

Strategypage and Stratfor answer some of my questions about the Libya situation. When I wrote that it was "game over" I meant for the regime. They lost. Fighting isn't over. Some of my questions could point to how much fighting will go on.

First, the mercenaries jumped ship less than a week ago (Strategypage reported this on the 18th).

Second, there are hundreds of foreign advisers in Libya helping the rebels.

Third, loyalists are still holding in the Sirte region (central coastal area) and Sabha region (in the south closer to Chad than to Tripoli), plus maybe 10% of Tripoli itself and some other scattered spots.

There are limits to what the regime supporters can do since they don't have outside support the way that terrorists and insurgents had in Iraq.

Stratfor also writes that the rebels won't face the problem caused by the presence of foreign troops to sustain resistance. This contrast to Iraq ignores that the old regime in Iraq couldn't have been deposed without foreign troops, so keep that in mind.

And let's see if a UN-authorized foreign force is sent in to help the rebels restore order. The rebels claim 4,000 of their troops entered Tripoli. Is that an exaggeration? I assume there are hundreds of armed pro-rebel civilians, too. But the size of this force that penetrated Tripoli indicates just how few troops have been involved in this civil war.

I still have questions. Where are the eastern rebels? Why haven't they moved out from Brega (Burayqah) to advance on Sirte? Who will handle Sabha? Rebel statements that they expect internal uprisings to handle those areas aren't convincing. Nice work if you can get it, of course. But the collapse of Tripoli hasn't spread to these areas. Now, once rebel forces advance on them they may collapse. Remember that after the fall of Baghdad, we sent Marines up to Tikrit to see if Saddam would resist from there (heck, we worried Nazis would make a last stand in Bavarian mountain redoubts in 1945, which didn't happen). The Baathists did not try to stop us. But it took our troops going there to make sure. And if we hadn't done that quickly, some might have rallied there for a last stand. Hard to say, of course, but we might see that in Libya even if the loyalists can't reverse their battlefield losses.

And I still don't know what kind of a presence the eastern rebels had in the Tripoli assault. If this was a pure western rebel operation, the seeds of an east-west split even without Khaddafi could be there.

Sending Khaddafi off into the wilderness on the run was a win for us. Libya could get better--or worse--depending on what happens next (including what we do) but don't mistake the fall of Khaddafi for anything but a victory. Give credit to President Obama for sticking with it when the initial assumptions failed.

Not that we can't play the "what if Bush had done it" game to point out that President Obama didn't have anyone on the streets in an anti-war movement complaining about blood for oil and shredding the constitution and exceeding what the UN authorized. But that's hardly the president's fault and is more of a commentary on his supporters.