Thursday, April 28, 2011

Settling for Survival

From early in the Libya civil war, I've noted the importance of securing the southeast oil resources if the rebels have to wage a long civil war. I've also indicated it should be a target of the loyalists in order to deny the rebels a resource and because it is outside the no-fly zone and is practically beyond the range of NATO aircraft for persistent surveillance and timely or frequent air strikes. The loyalists would do well to concentrate their air defense missiles down there to support any forces they have there. The latest news reports that the loyalists are attacking in the southeast:

The Arabic Al Jazeera television said forces under Gaddafi, who has ruled the oil-producer over four decades, also clashed with rebels in the remote southeastern district of Kufra, near the Egyptian border. It gave no further details. ...

After weeks of fast moving advances and retreats by rebel and pro-Gaddafi forces along the Mediterranean coast, fighting appears to have settled into a pattern of clashes and skirmishes from the mountains of the west to the southeastern desert.

This is the basic situation:

Again, excuse my lousy hand-drawn graphics. I really should learn to do better.

The loyalists seem to be digging in along the coast with Burayqah (Brega) as their front line; trying to lock down mountain towns southwest of Tripoli; aiming to capture Misrata or at least the port facilities; and attacking the southeast oil facilities. This points to the Libyans trying to hunker down under NATO's air campaign with as much as they can hold on the ground and counting on Russia or China to engineer a ceasefire somehow. Divisions within NATO will help, as nations not committed to regime change will want to declare victory and go home. Even those less committed to regime change will be willing to declare defeat and go home. Getting press reports of off-target NATO bombing raids that kill civilians would be helpful (whether they happen or not).

Will the western resistance and NATO strikes be enough to cause a significant break in loyalist ranks?  We believe lack of money in Khaddafi's coffers will hasten the cracking of the regime. This would be a problem with the mercenaries hired by the loyalists. But I suppose Khaddafi could keep them around longer by promising more in future pay once he can get around sanctions and letting the mercenaries plunder rebel households in the short term as they are sent to suppress revolts around Tripoli.

That strategy won't help Khaddafi with loyalty problems in the long run, but it might keep mercenaries paid and rebels cowed long enough to get a ceasefire. At this point, Khaddafi has to be thinking of solving one problem at a time and worrying about future problems if he gets to that point. Surviving is problem one.

UPDATE: Competing claims on the southeast:

Gaddafi forces also took a town in the remote southeastern desert, state television reported. "Libyan forces have seized full control of the town of Kufra and purified it of the armed gangs," it quoted a military spokesman as saying.

But rebels in their Benghazi stronghold denied the town had fallen. "Gaddafi's forces have been shelling Kufra since this morning and in the afternoon they entered the town. But they are not in full control. The battle is not over and the situation is unclear," said rebel spokesman Mohamed al-Muntasser.

Loyalists are at least in the town. Also there is fighting on the Libya-Tunisian border between rebels and loyalists which the loyalists seem to be winning.