Fight or flee: decision time for Libya’s Gaddafi

Reuters ALGIERS, Aug 16 (Reuters) – The battle to control Libya has entered its final phase when Muammar Gaddafi must make a choice: to seek a negotiated exit or to defend his capital to the last bullet.

Rebels with support from NATO warplanes have, over the past 48 hours, taken key towns around Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli in a dramatic series of advances which cut the city off from supplies of fuel and food.

Rebel offensives have, in the past, turned into headlong retreats. But if they hold their ground, the end of Gaddafi’s 41-year rule will be closer than at any time since the conflict began six months ago.

A U.S. official said that for the first time in the conflict, government forces on Sunday fired a Scud missile — an act that was pointless from a military point of view but signalled the desperation of pro-Gaddafi forces.

“The Libyan regime may or may not collapse forthwith but it now looks like it will happen sooner or later,” said Daniel Korski, a fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations.

He added: “The manner of its collapse, however, and the method of the rebel takeover will be just as important as the conduct of the war.”

Flushed by their success in getting so close to Tripoli, some rank-and-file rebels on Monday spoke of attacking the capital next. But analysts said that will not be the favoured option for rebel commanders.


Gaddafi will throw all the men and weapons he has left into a defence of the capital, civilian casualties in urban fighting will be high, and sections of the population in Tripoli are likely to oppose the rebels.

Even if Gaddafi’s opponents were able to win that fight, the bloodshed would create grievances and vendettas which could make the capital — and maybe even the country — ungovernable.

“Any fight for Tripoli can be expected to be extremely bloody,” said David Hartwell, North Africa and Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s, a defence and security consultancy,

“My guess is the strategy is to isolate the capital and start applying pressure … They (the rebels) seem to be trying to cut the links to the capital, one assumes with the aim of not having to assault the capital.”

But will that approach work? Encircling Tripoli and cutting off supplies could produce any one of three outcomes, or a combination of the three.

Starved of fuel and unable to bring in more weapons and reinforcements, elements of Gaddafi’s security forces in Tripoli may decide the best way to save themselves is to lay down their arms or cross over and join the rebels.

Fractures in Gaddafi’s security apparatus could be the signal for the second outcome: Gaddafi’s underground opponents launch an uprising from within the city.

Representatives of the clandestine opposition have told Reuters they are waiting for the right moment to begin a revolt. Some of them have weapons.

It will take time though before Tripoli is ripe for an uprising, said Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“It is not on the edge of a cusp of falling and it’s entirely possible that many people in Tripoli are not really aware of what has happened at Zawiyah. So it may not yet bring us to the tipping point.”


The third possibility is that Gaddafi will decide to negotiate an exit deal. That would possibly involve him and his family going into exile in a state which will not hand him over for prosecution to the International Criminal Court.

People who know him say Gaddafi — beneath his eccentric image — is a pragmatist who will cut a deal if that is what it takes to save the lives of his family.

But they also say this will not happen until he is convinced he can no longer win. His spokesman on Sunday denied there were any negotiations on Gaddafi’s departure.

“If he is going to try to strike a deal he will leave it until the last minute,” said Hartwell of IHS Janes. “He still thinks he has something to fight for.”

The worst case scenario for the rebels and their Western backers is that the strategy of strangling Gaddafi’s capital will not dislodge him. In this event, there will be a battle for Tripoli and the only thing certain then is that there will be huge loss of life.

“It would not be surprising if Gaddafi were to go out with all guns blazing so long as no deal is on the table and he does not have an exit strategy,” said Anthony Skinner, an analyst with risk advisory firm Maplecroft.

“The colonel may booby trap Tripoli and loyalists may also put up a fight to the death.”

Source: Reuters

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6 Responses to Fight or flee: decision time for Libya’s Gaddafi

  1. Richard From France says:

    Stalemate? hmmm….

  2. Richard From France says:

    Interesting article, relevant and lucid analysis.

    With my opinion, the Libyans (still called “the rebels” by some) should first reinforce their positions, and especially their back, like the frontier posts in Ras Ajdir and the towns between Ras Ajdir and Sabrata. Patience and discipline are needed into military operations; a premature offensive may turn into a rout with the loss of the recent gains.

    An interesting idea would be to propose the Kadhafi soldiers in Ras Ajdir to surrender, and offer them amnesty. If this works, the impact on other soldiers in other places may be dramatic. Other pockets in the south, or Syrt, may do the same. This would ensure the Libyans a safe back for the siege of tripoli, and eventually a solution for this siege itself.

    One thing is sure, kadhafi, as a psychopath, will never surrender. He may probably already be out of Tripoli, or even already out of Libya (speaking to the radio through a phone line…). But he will be skillful into staging his presence in tripoli and excite all his supporters here.

    Remember that kadhafi is not the only psychopath involved. When psychopaths take the power in a country (or anywhere else), the first thing they do is to destroy the normal social structures and command chains, and replace them with other psychopaths, attracting here all the psychopaths a country can have. So we can expect to find a guard around him, ready to fight to death (psychopaths cannot envision what “death” means, they cannot imagine that it can happen to them).

    So this affair will probably happen like the end of the LTTE in Sri lanka, where the psychopaths pushed tens of thousands of civilians in front of them, as human shields. All the difficulty of the Sri Lanka army was to evacuate these civilians. Once this done, they trapped the fascists in a close space, where they were doomed. But one of the last action of the fascist leader was to try to ESCAPE, a thing to avoid at all costs, as he could restart his psychopath play elsewhere in the country. So the army, knowing him much too well, had prepared a snarl, where he fell. Today, only minefields remain of the LTTE, and its propaganda lies into wikipedia, which is all but neutral.

  3. CanadianLibyan says:

    We heard quite a while ago that Qaddafi has indeed already booby-trapped Tripoli. At least, that is the common belief among Libyans. Qaddafi supposedly said that if the freedom fighters ever reach Tripoli and try to take it, he will set off the explosives he has rigged in the watermains and other other areas underneath Tripoli.
    Wa Allahu alim…

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