Libyan rebels need an equalizer but must request it
The story here is about Libyan forces fighting Muammar Gadhafi’s regime. However, the hidden story is that the rebel forces arrested a British delegation that entered the country to try to help them. If they don’t want assistance, then the international community should wait until asked to provide it.
Let the rebels reach out and don’t reach in.
By MAGGIE MICHAEL, PAUL SCHEMM
BIN JAWWAD, Libya — Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, some in helicopter gunships, pounded opposition fighters with artillery, rockets and gunfire Sunday, dramatically escalating their counteroffensive to halt the rebels' rapid advance toward the capital.
They also battled to loosen the grip of rebels on two cities close to Tripoli. But in at least one case, their tactics appeared to lead them into a trap.
Residents said pro-Gadhafi troops punched into the city of Misrata, 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, the capital, with mortars and tanks but were pushed out five hours later by rebel forces. The rebel commanders intentionally opened the way for government tanks to enter the city, then surrounded them and attacked with anti-aircraft guns and mortars, said Abdel Fatah al-Misrati, one of the rebels.
"Our spirits are high," al-Misrati said. "The regime is struggling and what is happening is a desperate attempt to survive and crush the opposition. But the rebels are in control of the city."
As fighting across Libya grew more fierce, the international community appeared to be struggling to put military muscle behind its demands for Gadhafi to give up power.
A small British delegation sent to talk to the rebels headquartered in the main eastern city of Benghazi, meanwhile, was arrested by the rebels themselves, who said the group had entered the country without permission. The rebels have set up an interim governing council that is urging international airstrikes on Gadhafi's strongholds and forces, though they strongly oppose foreign intervention on the ground.
Sunday's fighting appeared to signal the start of a new phase in the conflict, with Gadhafi's regime unleashing its air power on the rebel force trying to oust the ruler of 41 years. Resorting to heavy use of air attacks signaled the regime's concern that it needed to check the advance of the rebel force toward the city of Sirte — Gadhafi's hometown and stronghold.
Anti-Gadhafi forces would get a massive morale boost if they captured Sirte, and it would clear a major obstacle on the march toward the gates of Tripoli.
The uprising against Gadhafi, which began Feb. 15, is already longer and much bloodier than the relatively quick revolts that overthrew the longtime authoritarian leaders of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.
Libya appears to be sliding toward a civil war that could drag out for weeks, or even months. Both sides seem to be relatively weak and poorly trained, though Gadhafi's forces have the advantage in numbers and equipment.
The conflict took a turn late last week when government opponents, backed by mutinous army units and armed with weaponry seized from storehouses, went on the offensive. At the same time, pro-Gadhafi forces have conducted counteroffensives to try to retake the towns and oil ports the rebels have captured since they moved out of the rebel-held east.
An opposition force estimated at 500 to 1,000 fighters pushed out of the rebel-held eastern half of Libya and has been cutting a path west toward Tripoli. On the way, they secured control of two important oil ports at Brega and Ras Lanouf.
If the rebels continue to advance, even slowly, Gadhafi's heavy dependence on air power could prompt the West to try to hurriedly enforce a no-fly zone over the country. The U.N. has already imposed sanctions against Libya, and the U.S. has moved military forces closer to its shores to back up its demand that Gadhafi step down.”