History is much more than facts, people, and events. The simple part for historians starts with the recording of facts. It gets harder, to get people to agree to these facts. Then there are conflicting views determining which events led to decisive moments, what lessons were learned, and of course, what was the end result to the grand scheme of things?
One thing’s for certain: The study of history, and its conclusions, is as diverse as the people who pursue it. While there is little agreement in many areas, most historians will agree that there comes a decisive moment in time where everything changes. They just don’t agree on when that moment occurred or what the change was that actually took place.
Those studying warfare will find the subtleties in many aspects, are far fewer. Aside from determining what worked, and what didn’t, the main discourse regarding war, inherently return to the endgame. What people are mostly interested in are the decisive moments that caused the war to be won or lost.
With all that said, this week Gaddafi reached his decisive moment. The Libyan war is now over.
The Big Picture
Gaddafi is now surrounded on all sides. His only hope of victory is the hope that remains in his own mind. The last routes into Tripoli are now cutoff, his armies are being pushed back on every front, he has lost control of the only working oil refinery in Libya. Even to his most ardent supporters, the endgame must by now be on everyone’s mind.
The outcome has never been in doubt to many of us. While I have been disappointed with its progress, it has always been especially difficult to listen to the many pundits who find it easy to repeat the word “stalemate.” It has become the common mantra for those who live outside of Libya, those who do not understand warfare, or those whose lives are not on the line. At the same time these pundits tell us that liberated areas have exchanged hands before.
These statements are minor truisms that merely obscure and ignore reality. Only 2 towns currently contended, Brega and Az-Zawiyah, traded hands at the beginning of the war. Gaddafi hasn’t been able to retake a town he’s lost for months. Meanwhile his forces have been weakened daily, while the freedom fighters have been growing stronger. Rather than seeing this as a stalemate, I see this as a sure sign of defeat for Gaddafi.
In the beginning of the conflict, all eyes were on Ajdabiya. It was believed that this front, being run from Benghazi by the National Transitional Council, was the most powerful, and the main force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately NATO inexplicably abandoned the main battle lines around Ajdabiya and Brega quite early in the war, so they could concentrate on Misrata and Tripoli. Misrata was surrounded and in the greatest danger. Tripoli was bombed for other reasons. What those reason were; is anyone’s guess.
Needless to say Brega suffered greatly, and still does to this day, because of that decision. All operations in the area launched from Ajdabiya, 30 mi west of Brega, ceased until just recently. By abandoning Brega, Gaddafi forces were able to reinforce it. By abandoning Brega, NATO gave the enemy time to plant tens of thousands of mines in unmarked minefields all around, and even inside of the city.
The new minefields have slowed freedom fighters advancement to a crawl. What it will do to the civilian population, for decades to come, is anyone’s guess. Libya still suffers from mines that were planted during WWII, 70 years ago. How long is it now going to be before civilians are safe of this new threat?
While everyone’s back was turned, freedom fighters appeared out of the western Nafusa Mountains. They were a wild card that no one expected. It is this force that has had the most stunning success. Even more remarkable was these successes came out of an area where the people are much fewer in numbers. From the beginning, this force was cutoff and on their own.
While the world and Gaddafi’s attention was concentrated on what was the main action elsewhere, the Nafusa group survived long enough to grow into the fighting force they have become. Exactly how this all came to be is a mystery. My gut instinct tells me that their initial lack of numbers, while hindering their abilities and importance to NATO, allowed them to remain under the radar and out of sight from Gaddafi’s prying eyes, just long enough. We must study these people for clues to their survival that are certainly out there. Historians and future freedom fighters could learn something here.
It is the Nafusa Mountains force that has made the major advances. Their advances served the dual purpose of taking pressure off Misrata and Ajdabiya. It could even be argued that this tiny group saved the other fronts from annihilation. At least the sudden danger, brought on by the Nafusa forces, forced Gaddafi to split his forces further. This weakened him on both other fronts, allowing them to finally defeat the enemy, and commit to offenses of their own.
Today the freedom fighters are advancing in Misrata and Ajdabiya. They have yet to break out, but it is only a matter of time. There’s even a chance that the war could be over, before a widespread breakout is achieved.
NATO was initially too busy to offer anything more than token aid to the Nafusa Mountains force. Only recently has NATO finally concentrated their power where it is needed, to help those who are actually winning. Not to have done so would have been the ultimate in incompetence. Recently the French also got around to supplying the Nafusa freedom fighters with some weapons that finally give them a fighting chance. Even as they did the right thing, there are those in the world who cry, “Foul!”
The Nafusa Mountains Force’s recent advances prove that the West’s refusal to supply weapons in the first place, is a major reason for the slow progress. At the same time NATO is finally concentrating their missions on areas that are in more immediate danger while reducing their bombing of Tripoli. Bombing Tripoli has been a useless tactic that should have dawned on them long ago.
Many pundits doubt the freedom fighter’s ability to take Tripoli and talk of a bloodbath. Once again they paint the wrong scenario and draw the wrong conclusion. Tripoli will not see battle. Not like the rest of the country. It will be over quickly, and reasonably quietly.
Some “western media” reports say up to 90% of Tripoli is against Gaddafi. Realistically, I’ll go for a figure closer to 80%. Either way, once the freedom fighters are at the gates, the city will not be thinking of saving face for Gaddafi. They will be looking for justice or revenge, and ways to prove to each other that they belong to the new Libya, and that they supported it all along.
Tripoli is not going to fight to keep freedom fighters from getting through the gates. On the contrary, they will be fighting to ensure their success so that they can come in and join them. They have waited months for help to arrive. They have cried for it, they have pleaded for it. They will not shun it when it finally gets there.
Aside from the criminal henchmen, who haven’t defected by now, or the few Gaddafi cult followers who will never be shaken, Gaddafi supporters are not fighting for their lives. They have no reason to die for a lost cause. How many supporters are going to take Gaddafi up on the call to become martyrs because, “The blood of the martyrs is fuel for the battlefield.” Rational people everywhere must ask themselves, “What kind of sane person makes a statement like that?”
The freedom fighters, on the other hand, have everything to lose. They are fighting for their lives and will die for a hopeless cause, a lost cause, or any other cause, now that they have caught a glimpse of a better tomorrow. For many of them there is no way they will ever go back to how it was before. They have tasted the sweetness of freedom and they like it.
Of course my predictions could be wrong. The western media could have been lying to us back in Feb to April, when they were actually allowed to leave the Rixos hotel. This was a time when we heard from real live Libyan’s who wanted change, instead of the half-alive government robots we are forced to listen to today. While some supporters are quick to parrot the government stance that stories from the opposition are all, “Lies, lies, lies! Everyone in Libya loves Mo Mo.” I suspect that most in Tripoli wait in silence for deliverance.
Gaddafi’s people still have time to prove their love for him. One scenario has them coming out by the millions, to confront the few Al-Qaeda like criminal elements that have caused this entire unfortunate misunderstanding. If you believe Libyan government reports, or support the rights of ruling dictators, then this is the undisputed truth to you.
If you are like me, you dream of the day when Muammar’s own words come back to haunt him. Once the Libyans start searching for Muammar Gaddafi and his “fugitive regime,” I want to hear the words, “We will search out the rats, alley by alley, house by house, room by room.”
Now that would be a fitting end. Well that, and the opportunity to see Gaddafi and his clan in front of The Hague on trial some day. If everything were to go right for once… it could happen.
Time and history will tell, but the long wait is about up for all of us, whichever side of history you’re on.