1 May 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation
The present paper grew out of the travel notes I made while traveling across the embattled Libya and watching closely the situation in its western part which stretches from the border with Tunisia to Tripoli. In the process, I attended the “Hands Off Libya!” international conference in Tripoli’s Bab al Bahr Hotel. The event was organized by the National Organizationof Libyan Youth and the Stop the War foundation with the assistance from the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union, the Arab African Youth Council, theAfrican Youth Forum for Peace, and the African Youth Union, and attracted delegates from political parties and NGOs of 17 countries.
The conference established an international contact group charged with the mission of supplying unbiased information on the situation in Libya to the international community, of mobilizing the public opinion across the world, and of probing into various options for stopping the NATO aggression. The conference was inaugurated on April 17. On the eve of the opening, delegates toured Tripoli, visited the Green Square where pro-Gadhafi rallies convene daily, and inspected Gadhafi’s residence which recently came under a NATO air strike (notably, the place was also pounded in 1986). We also witnessed devastations caused by NATO attacks at a number of other locations. The media reports that the insurgents in Libya occasionally came under friendly fire from the NATO air force indirectly confirmed the Libyan government’s claims that NATO raids actually target civilian infrastructures.
NATO’s initial plan for the offensive against Libya evidently collapsed, and the alliance had to switch to the tactic it employed in Yugoslavia, hammering the whole range of the country’s infrastructures and putting the entire civilian population under pressure rather then limiting the attacks to armed forces involved in combat… If the use of the tactic continues, damage is likely to be caused to Libya’s unique water supply system comprising underground reservoirs and an extensive network of channels. From the outset, NATO used depleted uranium munitions against Libya, even though UN-confirmed studies of the impact of similar weapons in Serbia and Bosnia revealed considerable and persistent levels of radioactive contamination.
Libyan air defense systems are sited across Tripoli. In fact, one of them was located right by the hotel which hosted the conference. They become audible at nights when the NATO air raids begin. A part of Libya’s civilian population is also armed and helps the army patrol the streets of Tripoli. The population’s morale is obviously high, and if NATO decides in favor of an overland offensive, no doubt it will suffer serious fatalities.
Even the part of Libya where support for Gadhafi is practically uniform is covered continuously by information warfare. Qatar’s Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC are showering the audiences with criticisms of Gadhafi’s regime and – openly of implicitly – expressing support for the rebels, while Libya’s official media outlets clearly lack the potential to respond with a campaign of comparable proportions. Refugee camps decorated with the rebel’s monarchist flags are located in the northern part of the border between Libya and Tunisia, in the proximity of the Ras Ajedir checkpoint, an area which used to be tightly controlled by the pro-Gadhafi forces. It is unclear why Tunisia which seems to remain on friendly terms with Gadhafi is accommodating his opponents.
According to accounts which are difficult to verify at the moment, the tankers with oil which the rebels sent out to demonstrate the credibility of their grip on the situation in their part of Libya were actually filled in Qatar. Rebels managed to seize a large number of armored vehicles at army depots but seem to have no idea how to handle them. Nor are they able to ensure decent living conditions in the regions under their control, where the local population is permanently cut off from water and electric power supply, and frequent cases of property looting are reported. Footage of killings of defenseless soldiers from Gadhafi’s army including their being beheaded or torched are available.
Only the NATO support prevents Gadhafi’s forces from suppressing the insurgency within a relatively short period of time. Libya’s main transit avenue is an expressway parallel to the coastline, where armored vehicles are absolutely visible and easily fall prey to NATO air raids. As a result, Gadhafi’s army lost much of its heavy vehicles, though at the same time the insurgents cannot advance via the expressway due to being vulnerable to artillery fire. The surrounding sand dunes proved impenetrable after a series of attack attempts made by the rebels.
In a timely move, the Libyan government shut down Internet access across the country to counter efforts to manipulate the public opinion with the help of social media.At the moment Libya’s cell phone networks are also fully in the hands of the government.
The role of Al Qaeda operatives in the current developments in Libya is impossible to deny. Az Zawiyah, located just 40 km west of Tripoli, was the first Libyan city to face the onslaught of extremist groups which terrorized it for a month, while life stayed in the normal mode just some 10 km away. After a period of initial incoherence, the government’s police and armed forces muscled terrorists out of the city still scarred by the fighting. Information about such facts is subject to censorship in Libya and, generally, taking pictures anywhere between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia is prohibited. Al Qaeda retains control over several cities east of Benghazi and openly plans a Caliphate in the area. Supposedly, Al Qaeda militants sneaked into Libya from Nigeria and Chad.
Speaking of Libya’s peripheral areas, as of late April the legitimate government maintains controls over most of the country’s border with Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, and Chad. The latter two should not be interested in the demise of Gadhafi’s regime as their own stability depends on that in Libya which both serves as the backbone of regional security and extensively provides employment to migrants from neighboring countries.
Libyan foreign ministry holds that the conflict was triggered by a conspiracy among a group of the country’s high-ranking officials. The escape of several of them to the West, where they surely had impressive bank accounts, renders the hypothesis perfectly realistic.
The “Hands Off Libya!” conference passed a declaration stressing the illegitimate character of the London Conference on Libya and the notorious Libyan National Transition Council. The conference expressed reservations concerning the offer of humanitarian aid by the EU and NATO countries as it might be a disguise for arms supplies to the insurgents.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Libyans still regard Russians as friends, even though Russia did not veto the corrosive UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The positive attitude can be felt in and outside of Tripoli, even at checkpoints, among civilians and the military alike. Hopefully, Russia’s official position on Libya will not in any way erode the sentiment.