Regardless of how long Libya’s revolution takes to play out, “The Colonel” is unlikely to last as long as he expects.
Not once considering surrender, Muammar Gaddafi has urged his remaining followers to rise up in guerrilla warfare after the fall of Tripoli. Except the capital is stabilizing since August 20th’s “Operation Mermaid Dawn,” and those tribes supporting Gaddafi appear more concerned with negotiating a pardon. Revolutionary forces now surround Bani Walid and have moved their front within 30 miles of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. Referring to his loyalists in Sirte and the Warfalla tribe in Bani Walid, the dethroned king declared that "there is no way they will submit."
NTC spokesman Mahmoud Abdelaziz countered some 24 hours ago, "In a few hours we will enter, we will be in Bani Walid. They have no forces and our morale is high. Today at night, or tomorrow morning, we're going to open Bani Walid, we're going to attack."
While Abdelaziz might be getting ahead of himself from the front-line, he speaks with a greater degree of truth than the desperate Gaddafi. Positioned 45 miles from Bani Walid, rebel commander Mohammed al-Fassi explained how the NTC, “wanted to do this without bloodshed, but they took advantage of our timeline to protect themselves."Another NTC spokesman, Ahmed Hafiz Ghoga, told McClatchy that the council hoped to enter the city peacefully on Sunday. However Bani Walid, a small desert city just visited by Gaddafi, is currently receiving the negotiating reprieve as Sirte, hailed by the Colonel as “the capital of the resistance.
Neither city’s loyalists have reached a final agreement with the NTC, but they have contradicted Gaddafi’s claims of non-negotiations. Tribal officials inside are reportedly seeking assurances that they will not be prosecuted by the new government. Others are preparing to flee to Algeria or Niger. In either event the NTC has promised military resolution within the week.
“The rebels at the front line are very eager to move without delay,” explained Ghoga. “They live in harsh conditions there in the middle of the desert, and in hot weather. Maybe tomorrow, or the day after, the people of Sirte will raise the independence flag and we can enter peacefully without fighting... One week is not a big deal.”
One can choose to believe whatever side they like and both engage in propaganda, but we generally believe the NTC over Gaddafi.
Flipping these two “loyalist” cities to the revolutionaries’ side would further humiliate Gaddafi and narrow the search for him. NTC Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni claimed to “know where he is,” which might only be a small exaggeration. The remainder of his family - his sons, Saif al Islam and Saadi, in particular - presumably moved out of Bani Walid after rendezvousing last Friday. The active Saif al Islam reported himself to be in Tripoli and might be the first to be captured. Gaddafi could be traveling somewhere around the triangle between Bani Walid, Sirte and Sabha, 300 miles to the south; the latter appears a likely possibility given the circumstances in the north.
The NTC and NATO has set its sights on Sabha, and the front will expand into the desert throughout September. Seizing Gaddafi would also generate an enormous boost in morale for the NTC, and would provide a sense of empowerment in dealing with NATO as opposed to a Western kill/capture.
Catching Gaddafi may not be a “sure thing,” statistically speaking, and it could take months or longer in a worst case scenario. He may chose to avoid the obvious, fleeing east and hiding in NTC territory, but he would be taking a great risk with so many eyes on him. A hideout on the northwest coast could provide more cover, but most cities are similarly teeming with revolutionary elements. Gaddafi cannot conceal his height and recognizable body profile. He could always leave the country, but his remaining forces are too weak and leaderless to be directed from afar. Gaddafi’s personality - the grand jihadist riding at the battlefront - has become his main advantage.
With the revolutionaries and NATO equally determined to bring a closure to the war, the Colonel’s end is feeling more inevitable by the day.