Saturday, April 9, 2011

Libyan College of "Military Reality" Opens Doors West of Benghazi

The Revolution Slows to "Catch Its Breath"
The latest pundit driven interpretations of the Libyan conflict have ignominiously coasted into a sort of general agreement about the prospects of the Freedom Fighters.  The "highly reportable -- high ratings" phase of the insurrection efforts to break out from their stronghold at Benghazi have finally paused.  MeanMesa says it's the right time for this development, maybe even "later" than the right time.

Because Americans have been a little over-saturated with 60 minute reality shows, a sort of languid disappointment concerning the drama of the conflict has crept in, settling into the "intra-commercial" intervals.  The breathless reports of ill advised, poorly designed freedom fighter attacks against the Gaddafi mercenaries don't work any longer when half of every story is a frantic retreat.

The week old dream of a quick, bloody, 60 minute long "Rambo" repeat has  slowly become the passive fodder for a thousand "I told you so's."

The thing is stuck in the desert.  Even the determination and zeal of the Benghazi crowd to continue doomed attacks then retreat seems to have, at least temporarily, run out of steam.  However, even though the high ratings part of the consumable story has been delegated to public interest quips once a week, the substance of the revolution is actually accomplishing some serious headway.

NATO Air Strikes Redefine Strategy for Both Sides

Even though Gaddafi's side of the Libyan conflict has been isolated with monetary sanctions denying him access to his "operating funds" and a "no fly zone" denying him full use of his air force and armor, his tactical situation is far from crippled.  A few minor adjustments in the overall strategy being executed by the government begin to mitigate what, at first, seemed to be crushing disadvantages.

The mercenaries, not unmoved by the dwindling prospects of simply -- and safely -- abandoning their fealty to Gaddafi and exiting the country, are stranded with the prospect of continuing to serve in the absence of pay checks.  At first, being essentially a "terrorism squad" directed at unarmed civilians, the mercenaries and loyalist troops were fairly brave and brazen.  However, with growing defections and facing a determined resistance, much of the already somewhat hollow bravado is further deteriorating.

The armor columns, easy prey to NATO air strikes when out in the open desert, have now tactically insinuated themselves into urban cover.  The potential "mischief level" hasn't diminished too much, but the targeting possibilities -- and, hence, the vulnerability to air strikes -- has been conveniently diminished.

NATO doesn't have the right force to get in between houses and buildings to find these targets, but, even while hiding in soft, urban cover, Gaddafi's "terror tanks" still find themselves surrounded by their own rich target environment.  Although an out of date WWII scenario of a moving force gradually capturing territory is attractive, caution must be applied to the Libyan case.  Just as NATO jets have difficulty directing their formidable fire power at these targets, insurrectionist ground troops can find these targets, but lack the fire power to neutralize them.

There have been the anticipated cases of "friendly fire" casualties, too.  Friendly fire casualties routinely occur when trained, disciplined troops are in combat theaters under command by officers who are communicating with each other about tactics and locations.  The Libyan insurgents get a "D+" on just about every count of this metric.

As to the sincerity of East-side protesters lamenting the friendly fire casualties, MeanMesa has to suspect that Gaddafi infiltrators make up most of the ranks of the "outraged" in Benghazi streets.  The protests which are, most likely, actually sincere insurgents are the ones wishing for even more air support.  The freedom fighters knew that there would inevitably be friendly fire casualties when they requested US and NATO help.  They are, of course, saddened, but not critical.  They are remarkably adult about this, that is, spelled another way, tough.

Further, after Gaddafi's jet fighters were grounded and his tanks and artillery pieces had to be hidden, a third leg of his terror offensive remained intact and fully operational.  MeanMesa characterizes this as the "single shot" arm of the terror campaign.  It is comprised of two tactically related components:  snipers and door to door "disappearance" and execution squads.  NATO can do essentially nothing about this continuing Gaddafi tactical asset.

The insurgents have begun painting pink stripes on their vehicles to assist NATO pilots in target selection, but MeanMesa assumes that the Gaddafi forces have just as much -- or more -- pink paint.  Loyalists have already begun using civilian Toyota trucks to move more safely along the coastal highway, camouflaging their convoys of what had previously been Gaddafi four by fours, tanks and jeeps to be indistinguishable from the common vehicles of the insurgents when viewed from jets overhead.

  1. The fundamental "fabric" of the conflict is changing daily, but still developing. This over view of current conditions prepares us for the next section of this posting.  The important points to be taken from this discussion aren't all that complicated.
  2. The "no fly" zone and the vestigial beginnings of a "no drive" zone have injected an important, decisive "third player" into the combat scenario with the arrival of the Coalition.
  3. Gaddafi forces have been able to accommodate these new constraints better than the insurgents have been able to exploit them.
  4. Insurgent forces have begun to face the facts of the outcomes of their ambitious but poorly orchestrated offensive moves.  They are also becoming much more pragmatic in their assessment of the adequacy of their current fire power.
  5. A temporary state of NATO enforced equilibrium has descended on the combat part of the conflict which hosts the danger of being misinterpreted by American and European civilians watching the drama unfold.

To Gaddafi:  "Watch Out!  Here Comes the Ice Burg."

Although domestic media, frustrated by the slow down in unexpected insurgent victories, blood and Gaddafi outrages, has re-framed this "breathing spell" as a vindication of all its gloomy predictions of an endlessly prolonged conflict, the facts of the matter are actually much more promising.  The prospects of an insurgent success under the current state of combat effectiveness were never very promising.

Under improved combat techniques, arms and command and in conjunction with the substantial disadvantages being imposed on the regime, the insurgency's position is actually pretty good.  Let's take a MeanMesa "big picture" overview of what Gaddafi now finds himself facing.

After all, the Titanic didn't instantly slip below the waves the second it finished colliding with the ice burg.  All kinds of additional things had to "go South" before the survivors saw those giant propellers upend into the cold night sky.

Gaddafi's difficulties seem to center on a range of things, results of either Coalition intervention or insurgency gains or both.

Oil Production

The transhipment of Libyan "higher quality sweet crude" from facilities remaining under Gaddafi's control is stopped by international sanction.  To the East, the larger share of Libyan oil production and transshipment is under insurgent control.  The harbor facilities in Tobruk, east of Benghazi, are now shipping two tankers filled with produced oil every month, each one yielding 70 Mn. pounds of revenue to the insurgent governing council.

In a BBC interview, the head of the East's oil company says that the revenue will be directed to food and other emergency necessities, but declined to say whether the purchase of arms would be part of the expenditures.  Gaddafi's concern with this development can be seen in loyalist efforts to plant bombs in the oil facilities controlled by the insurgency, especially at Misla.

Control of Urban Areas

The insurgent militias have not yet penetrated Gaddafi's forces to come to the aid of urban areas under attack.  There are a number of such situations, but the major emphasis at this time is the city of Misurata, located on the coast a few hundred miles east from Tripoli.  As of this posting, local insurgents in Misurata continue to hold portions of the city, but are failing under attacks by superior, loyalist forces -- especially snipers.

Further east and nearer to Benghazi, loyalist troops -- apparently under one hundred -- have entered the town, but have been stopped by local militia.  The advance was made possible by surprising the local force, arriving without intelligence warnings.  This type of intelligence is theoretically possible for the insurgents, but its failure in this case is representative of the organizational problems being reported.

Coalition air power will prevent an advance along the coastal highway to Benghazi, but the situation has served to rattle the residents in the main city of the Eastern sector.  Although loyalist convoys moving the open as prey to effective air attack, once Gaddafi forces are able to establish themselves in urban areas, neither NATO nor the insurgents are able to dislodge them under current conditions.

It is clearly difficult for Gaddafi forces to actually control all the resistance in urban areas, and sustaining a presence there will become more and more difficult to resupply if the Coalition increases attacks on loyalist convoys. Incomplete efforts to terrorize urban populations is not the equivalent of controlling the country.

Food and Water as Weapons

Especially in places like Misurata, the loyalists have been able to block water supplies and blockade any significant food shipments.  The reserves of such supplies in the insurgent held part of the country are dwindling, but could be resupplied with revenue from the oil sales.

The Gaddafi "Check book"

A large part -- but not all -- of the international assets of the Gaddafi regime have been frozen, but resources still in Tripoli of other loyalist held areas have sustained regime expenses for the counter attack so far.  No new oil revenues are entering the loyalist stronghold at Tripoli due to international sanctions.

The Gaddafi regime will soon be paying the substantial mercenary elements of its forces with "promises" while enforcing the loyalty of regular army troops with threats directed at families and so on.  Both approaches have a fairly definite time limit, and the regime will be pressured to act ever more aggressively to end the uprising before these "incentives" finally collapse.

This increased desperation will likely expose loyalist military equipment assets to Coalition air attacks.  If the loyalists were facing a more organized opponent, these same reckless advances could offer tactical advantages.  However, both the current armament and the current organizational difficulties for the insurgents will seriously damp any chances for such a tactical exploitation of the mistakes.

Not Very Good Friends and Really Bad Enemies

Normally, dictators in trouble have a few "aces in the hole."  Neighbors with similar autocracies will sometimes assist with military force, or, at least, loans.  Other countries in the region will usually serve as reservoirs from which mercenaries can be persuaded to join forces with local military troops.  However, Gaddafi's Tripoli finds itself with recently resurrected popular governments on both sides, Tunisia to the West, Egypt to the East.

Mercenary travel from the Southern borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad and Somalia is effectively blocked by the Coalition "no fly" zone, very reluctant governments, the "pay check" problem and sheer distance.

At home, Gaddafi finds himself sitting down to dinner with a very creepy, dysfunctional family.  His sixth son, Seif, is still smarting from not being able to "inherit" the oil country from his father, and Seif and his brother Saadi have proposed a provisional, transition government under Seif, one quickly rejected by the Benghazi Council.  Several of Gaddafi's sons hold largely ceremonial command positions over reserve elements of the loyalist troops, but the "ceremonial" aspects have no doubt begun to worry the father by this time.

New Weapons for the Insurgents

Both arms purchases with the substantial income from the Tobruk oil sales and the shady prospect of Coalition arms simply being imported threaten to create an emerging counter balance to the military hardware superiority Gaddafi now enjoys.  Gaddafi's "clout" has already been short circuited by the transportation difficulties of the "no fly" zone and the Security Council's open ended Resolution.

No one expects the Benghazi Council to continue to suffer being out gunned when alternatives are becoming possible.  Further, the Coalition has already been  quietly placing ground observers among the militia to direct air strikes more effectively.  These "penetration troops" can also serve very well as the organizers of Coalition efforts to organize more effective command and control, better communications and more fire power for the militias -- all growing problems for Gaddafi.

Arming the insurgent forces will necessarily include weapons training and probably some cadre discipline of sorts.  Unlike US problems in Afghanistan with the locals, Libyans are "raring to go."  The Benghazi Council will, sooner or later, have to begin forming a formal army of its own.

Libyan Flag of the Revolution

Far from a comprehensive, "CIA style" overview, these points may still be helpful in understanding the "news" we are hearing from the region.  MeanMesa will jump back into the fray when developments advance a little more.

Thanks for visiting!

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