August 21, 2011

Libyan Revolutionaries Storm Tripoli

In a quick turnaround from the assassination of Abdul Fatah Younis, military chief of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Western media is now reporting “the last hours of the Gaddafi regime.” European capitals are especially relieved to see Tripoli's clouds part. Meanwhile President Barack Obama, also under increasing domestic pressure, added to history’s moment from Martha’s Vineyard.

We haven’t written much on Libya since we lurk in the darker areas of U.S. foreign policy, but we’ve followed its military developments closely and support NATO’s assistance to the revolutionaries. By mismanaging expectations, Western governments committed a fundamental error of insurgency and counterinsurgency alike. At this point we doubt that Muammar Gaddafi will surrender (since he’s lost almost all negotiating leverage) and could be preparing to launch a viscous counterattack. If he lays low, he must choose between fleeing the country, hiding and mounting an insurgency with his remaining forces.

Monday morning in Tripoli is still witnessing history though:
On Saturday, rebels were still fighting to take the east of Zawiyah, 30 miles to the west. Then, as dusk fell and Libyans were celebrating the end of the daily Ramadan fast, a group of young men took over the Ben Nabi and other mosques in the centre of Tripoli, announcing a new uprising from within through loud-speakers normally used for the call to prayer. By midnight, there was fighting on the streets of the capital and defenses on the outskirts were crumbling.

Sunday, August 21

Midnight: In a co-ordinated assault, NATO bombs fell around the Gaddafi leadership compound of Bab al-Aziziya as fighting continued on the streets. Regime spokesmen said that a few rebels had crept into the city but been crushed. But the sound of shooting continues.

1.45: Col Gaddafi broadcasts live by telephone, congratulating his supporters for repelling the "rats" who had attacked Tripoli. "We have to put an end to this masquerade. You must march by the millions to free the destroyed towns," he says.
Abdel Salam Jalloud, Col Gaddafi's former prime minister and number two who fell out of favour in the Nineties, appears on television from Rome to call on Tripoli to rise up. He had defected on Friday.

4am: Rebels report fighting is under way in traditionally anti-Gaddafi eastern suburbs of Souk al-Jumaa and Tajoura

4.30am: State television shows Saif al-Islam addressing supporters. "You will never see us as Libyans surrender and raise the white flag: that is impossible," he says, though it is not clear when the footage was shot.

Dawn: a boat containing hundreds of fighters from Misurata lands on beaches to the east of the city to reinforce the uprising in Tajoura and the eastern suburbs.
9am: Rebel forces move east from Zawiyah, reaching 20 miles from Tripoli's centre.

10.30am: Sniper fire reported from roofs of Bab al-Aziziya

Noon: Rebels take town of Gaddayem on Tripoli's western outskirts. Gaddafi forces still shelling front lines.

1pm: Rebel leadership in Benghazi announces "Operation Mermaid Dawn" is under way to encircle Col Gaddafi through military advance from the west and uprising in the east of the city. Regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim says "thousands and thousands" of troops and volunteers are ready to defend Tripoli.

3pm: After seizing village of Maya, rebels to the west reach 15 miles from the city centre, near the headquarters of Libya's strongest fighting force, the 32nd or Khamis Brigade.

5pm: Rebels seize Khamis Brigade base as government troops flee. Fighting continues on the streets of the city itself.

6pm: Fighting reported inside the Mitiga Airbase, the main military airport.

6.45pm: Col Gaddafi makes a new appeal for residents to come out and defend the city. He says he is still in Tripoli, keeping his promise to stay, and that he will not surrender. But the rebel army is now seven miles away.

8pm: Rebels said to be in control of eastern suburbs of Tripoli, and negotiating the surrender of the Mitiga Airbase. In the centre, pro-regime forces open fire near Bab al-Aziziya and the Rixos Hotel.

11pm: Rebels reach two miles from the city centre, seize Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Leaders' son and heir apparent, who earlier vowed never to surrender.

11.30pm: Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Transitional National Council, says he is ready to call a ceasefire if Col Gaddafi leaves. Moussa Ibrahim, the regime spokesman, also calls for a ceasefire but continues to insist negotiations must be led by Col. Gaddafi. "We expect the death toll to rise beyond anyone's imagination," he says. "It's really a true traumatic, a true tragic event taking place before you here in Tripoli, supported by the might of Nato."

Monday, August 22

Midnight: Col Gaddafi makes another appeal on television for residents to defend Tripoli as a "matter of life and death" as rebels start tearing down his portrait from the city's walls.

12.30: Libya's former deputy ambassador to the United Nations, who defected to the rebels, claims that 90 per cent of Tripoli is in the hands of the rebels. The Presidential Guard surrenders. NATO calls for a peaceful transition of power, and says the Transitional National Council has a "great responsibility" to ensure "reconciliation and respect for human rights."

1.15 am: Rebels reach Green Square. In the final advance, they say they met little resistance.
Future updates as Libya’s situation dictates, particularly the regional reaction. The Arab revolutionary wave is driven by fallen dictators and Libya could boost efforts in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, whose revolutionaries took Tunisians and Egyptians as their inspiration. Yemen’s capital of Sana’a has already been cordoned off in response to Tripoli’s events.


  1. I don't lament the fall of Gaddafi any more than the rest of the world. But the fall of a strongman is always followed by in-fighting among the revolutionaries then chaos. There is more potential within this group for disintegration than in most predecessor situations in my opinion. I know you don't agree but I believe that Libya will be the new Somalia only with oil. And also with their own Islamic faction who may even end up with the upper hand in a year or so. They would likely go on to fight NATO.Depressingly familiar.

  2. Here is my latest post on Libya and what I think it means for the West:

  3. The change from an ineffective civilian army consistently unable to hold ground only a few months ago to a force capable of taking Tripoli is either one of the most amazing wartime transformations in history or US Special Forces have been doing most of the heavy lifting and leaving the glory to the rebels.

  4. Sorry but I cannot agree that Libya could become the new Somalia - I don't even think this of Yemen. I do agree that the risk of instability will run high post-Gaddafi, particularly if he maintains his own insurgency. Perhaps I am letting the collective revolutions blind me, but I'm not as concerned with an Islamist takeover.

    Accounts of Western Special Forces will presumably surface over time. Tripoli's takeover appears to outpace their force multiplier, however advising a shift in tactics and strategy would generate wider effects than their personal abilities.

  5. Pepe Escobar equates Libya as Iraq 2.0.
    I tend to agree.

    They did it again. And they got away with it again.
    Except this time they used humanitarian aid as a justification for their shock and awe.
    It is nothing more than another regime change -[color revolution] promoted, financed, and led by the West.
    This is far, far from over.
    Who and where is next.
    Syria, then Lebanon.
    Who stands to gain from all of this new found freedom? :-)

  6. Something like this in regards to Special Forces:

    Iraq may be a more appropriate parallel than Afghanistan. However more Libyans appear to have accepted Western help than their Iraqi counterparts. Libya's mission may not be as sincere as advertised, but it's more grounded than Iraq's invasion.

    You may have a point on Lebanon, although the U.S./KSA/Israel need time to develop that situation.

  7. This also sums it up quite nicely.

    "Neoliberalism is a greater fear than tribalism, or Islamism."