September 23, 2011

Libya’s Revolution Marching Forward

Libya, on the other hand, has seen years of change over the last eight months. Protesters were in the infant stage of organizing their rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi when Gene Cretz was forced to evacuate in January. Sworn in by Condoleezza Rice in December 2008, America’s ambassador to Libya found his assessment of Gaddafi’s fears exposed by WikiLeaks two years later. Recalled by the administration after receiving local threats - and amid rumors of his dismissal - Cretz would observe Thursday’s flag-raising ceremony at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

"At that time, I could not imagine that I would be returning to a new, free Libya that is brimming with joy, optimism and newfound freedoms.”

On this occasion we are inclined to agree with a U.S. ambassador with negligible military knowledge. By organizing and eventually overthrowing Gaddafi from Tripoli in such a brief period, Libya’s revolutionaries have proven themselves ready to face the real challenges of basic governance, political reconciliation and economic growth - as ready as revolutionaries can be. The National Transitional Council’s (NTC) relative strength, coupled with Gaddafi’s weaknesses, suggested a limited insurgency that would eventually die out with the Colonel. The NTC’s organization, popular appeal and international requests also create a buffer against unwanted NATO interference.

"It's a question of time before Gadhafi and his remaining loyalists are finished off," Cretz predicts... "I don't think the Libyan people, after all the blood that has been shed in the last six months, are going to let their revolution be hijacked.”

The NTC still needs to assert its authority over several areas of resistance before fully transitioning towards a political mandate, but appears capable of doing so within NATO’s three-month extension. Elamin Belhaj, a senior member of the NTC, told CNN that the fighting could end within a month, although a longer period is likely necessary to ensure lasting stability. Tripoli is now largely secured after falling to the NTC in late August and civilians are living in relative safety; a repeat of Baghdad appears unlikely. Revolutionary forces have also quarantined the remaining pockets of anti-NTC resistance, whether pro-Gaddafi or pro-status quo. The bulk of Sabha, a logical base for a southern “insurgency,” recently fell to NTC units with minimal resistance, and produced a cache of yellowcake suspected of being stored in the area.

The Al-Jufra oasis cluster (roughly 200 miles northeast of Sabha) was liberated 24 hours later. Revolutionaries also took control of Ubari, 100 miles to Sabha’s southwest. Those loyalists holding out in Al Fugaha, situated roughly 100 miles south of Al-Jufra, will likely collapse within the next month.

Seizing Sabha and neighboring towns has shrunk the triangle of resistance between Bani Walid and Sirte, classified as Gaddafi’s remaining “strongholds” even though many citizens fear reprisals or fight out of their own interests. With Sabha under relative control and momentum firmly on their side, fighters around Bani Walid can take their time mopping up the remaining resistance. Meanwhile NTC units are taking artillery fire roughly 30 miles outside of Sirte, but their main enemy is the degraded conditions inside Gaddafi’s hometown: no electricity, no hospital, no phone service, and limited water.

The NTC would commit a strategic mistake by prematurely raiding the city, and waiting for its evacuation will pay off during a potential invasion.

Given the relative security of Libya, out-waiting all of Gaddafi’s remaining loyalists will produce less friction on its social fabric. As for Libya’s political status, the NTC claims it will wait until the entire country is secured before official forming a government. This move parallels the sound military decisions on the ground and will limit political resistance. Libya’s war, as both its revolutionaries and NATO caution, has yet to conclude, but recent developments indicate that fears of another Afghanistan or Iraq are overblown.

Gaddafi could never rely on an insurgency to rally against Libya’s real insurgency against him

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