No way out for Gaddafi

"Thanks to the rapid advances of rebel forces, Muammar Qaddafi’s capital is now a city under siege"

From the Economist:  “Today Zawiya, tomorrow Tripoli,” cried a rebel fighter as he jumped into his open-top truck and drove across an unprotected plain stretching from a dusty mountain range down to the Mediterranean coast. The lazy idea held by critics of NATO’s intervention in Libya that the incompetence of rebel forces would ensure a stalemate looks less tenable by the day. As the Libyan civil war enters its seventh month, a tipping point leading to the eventual collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s embattled regime looks near. On August 16th a NATO spokesman declared that the colonel no longer had “an effective operational capability”.

Striking out of their stronghold in the western Nafusa mountains on August 7th with NATO’s help, the rebels quickly took Bir Ghanem on the edge of the desert, shrugging off ineffective shelling by retreating forces. A week later, sweeping along the desert highway in battered pick-up trucks at up to 80mph (130kph), they took control of most of Zawiya, a strategically vital port that is home to the last oil refinery still in the regime’s hands and straddles the road between Tripoli, the capital (30 miles away), and the Tunisian border. The rebels also seized Gharyan, a mainly Berber town 50 miles south of Tripoli that sits on the road to Algeria, a big source of arms for Colonel Qaddafi’s militias. Heavy fighting continued around Zlitan, where rebels advancing from Misrata had less success in breaking the resistance of loyalist forces.

The rebels’ wild dash to Zawiya was a sign of their derring-do and increasing military prowess. Until recently underequipped, they now field not only brand new anti-aircraft guns, mortars and armour-piercing rifles but also looted tanks and home-made rocket launchers. The colonel’s forces—threatened by NATO’s all-seeing aircraft—rarely dare to use armoured vehicles and are reduced to defending themselves with ill-aimed rocket attacks. . . .

One thing is certain: the rebels are getting stronger, while Colonel Qaddafi’s position is crumbling. It may be too soon to talk of an endgame. But the overthrow of the colonel’s 42-year-old regime is getting closer. It could happen quite quickly if the defection of his security chief, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, who arrived in Cairo on a private plane from Tunisia with nine family members on August 15th, is anything to go by.  (graphic: Peter Schrank)

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