The actions in Libya are captivating. Gaddafi, even with a regular army, tanks, artillery, rockets, light and heavy machine guns and air-supremacy cannot hold back the “desert rats” who are swarming towards Tripoli. The revolutionaries are gaining strength in men and equipment with every battle they fight.
In the east, the revolutionaries are closing in on Sirte. They can reach it within hours. In the west, despite a forked attack with 30+ tanks, rocket launchers, machine guns and infantry, the revolutionaries are fighting back armed only with captured equipment and improvised weapons. The revolutionaries captured two tanks in an earlier fight and now are holding out against Gaddafi’s forces. No doubt Gaddafi wants to squelch Az Zawiyah so they can send more forces to the “eastern front”. At the rate the revolutionaries are moving they could be on the doorstep of Tripoli in a few days.
Rumour has it that some of the tribes at Sirte are itching to defect to the revolutionaries’ side. At R’as Lanuf 20 were executed for not firing on revolutionaries. At this rate, Sirte could crumble before the front arrives. Then Gaddafi’s boys will have to fall back to Tripoli in order to preserve their resources as much as possible.
I don’t know which will run out first, bread or bullets but it will be a close race. Gaddafi will soon be restricted to Tripoli and the revolutionaries will be well supplied by air, sea and land. It looks like a no-fly zone is in the works. The UN Security Council is studying the matter. The US, UK, France and Italy might go it alone. I don’t know where Egypt stands, but they are close to the action as well. Once Gaddafi’s tanks are restrictied to Tripoli, the world could wait him out, bomb high-value targets or give close air-support to revolutionaries closing in. Action in a city is always more dangerous for citizens than soldiers. The right thing to do will be the one that minimizes casualties.
I expect that one way or another this will be settled in a week or so. No one has much patience to let it last longer.
see BBC coverage
UPDATE There are reports that the revolutionaries have held Zawiya. Gaddafi’s forces lost two tanks in the morning’s assault and “5 armoured vehicles” in the afternoon’s assault. At this rate of attrition, the revolutionaries should win if they can last a few more days. By then the eastern front should reach Sirte or Tripoli and Gaddafi will call his forces home. It seems both sides are weak in terms of killing power but the revolutionaries have more bodies and spirit.
There is information that Libya started with 2000 tanks. Gaddafi sent in 30 in the latest assault and did not win. Every battle makes the revolutionaries stronger. Tanks are devastating but need to be protected by infantry. Gaddafi seems not to have enough infantry and tanks cannot take a city on their own. Every blasted building makes more holes and cover for infantry. Every battle makes the fighters more experienced and they have a huge supply of willing recruits.
It seems Gaddafi cannot achieve his objective whatever it may be. He has not enough firepower to destroy the city and he does not have enough bodies to capture the city. In Tripoli his numbers will be improved but there seems no “winning” strategy for Gaddafi. His only card is to maximize destruction. Within a few days he will fall back to Tripoli and circle the wagons. Perhaps he can choose a defensive perimeter small enough to hold a while.