In the past few months we have seen the revolutionaries gaining strength confidence men and materiel and the recent results prove it. Each victory is coming faster and more surely compared to the grinding attrition at Brega and Misrata.
Az-Zawiyah took only days to recapture since it was defended lightly. That means Gaddafi has concentrated what remains of his forces and allies in Tripoli, or not. Tripoli is several times the perimeter, area, population and complexity of Az-Zawiyah but by probing weaknesses and dividing and conquering the campaign should not be that long. NATO air-cover and air-to-ground support should be wickedly effective in such a restricted region. Drones, for instance could give 24×7 coverage and a few squadrons of bombers could suppress artillery in that confined space. As the revolutionaries enter the city, artillery will become less effective and mines and mortars will be marginal with the abundance of shelter.
This weekend we have seen several apparent defections via Tunisia. These will be cut off now that the roads are owned by the revolutionaries. The exits available to Gaddafi and his friends are few in number now: the sea, overland/off-road, surrender or death. Probably the off-road paths will be closed within a few days. From all over Libya recruits will be flooding in to do picket duty. That does not require high skills but it does require bodies and communications. The sea is effectively closed by NATO who will be able to concentrate on a smaller region.
Assuming Gaddafi pushes events to the end and he does a Hitler-like last stand, he probably can have some core elements fight to the finish but large proportions of the population and armed forces will see the wisdom of accepting reality. This will permit entry to the city somehow somewhere sometime soon. If it were not for NATO I would expect the airport would be a prime target but Gaddafi has a bunker complex designed for this situation so I expect that will be the centre of attention sooner or later.
Tripoli can be invaded by many roads so they likely will have ambushes on the approaches and certainly within the city. Mines will be used to close off-road approaches if recent collections of thousands of anti-personnel mines at other places indicate a common strategy.
I expect revolutionaries to regroup and concentrate forces at several forward bases near Tripoli: Az-Zawiyah certainly and likely several smaller places outside artillery range from Tripoli. The SCUDs are not very accurate so avoiding putting all the eggs in one basket will be important. Supplying and building defences at four or five forward bases could take a week or two, plenty of time to organize probes and small attacks. NATO should be able to supply reconnaissance photos and real-time reports to avoid ambushes and indeed supply close air support in this limited region.
Assuming coordination works there is no reason some entry cannot be made into Tripoli within a month. After that building-to-building movements and detailed sweeps will clear section after section of the city until the hard core of Gaddafi’s forces are all that remain. They can defend the bunker or some small region for weeks but not much longer without resupply. This is not Stalingrad where endless resupply and manpower was poured into a war of attrition. This is a last stand with very little hope of any miraculous salvation.
The revolutionaries have learned the hard way that patient systematic campaigns with well-timed bold moves are winning campaigns. There is no doubt about the outcome. The only question remaining is whether or not Gaddafi will use the non-combatant population as human shields. That’s about the only strategy that could delay the inevitable result. I expect that even in that case or because of it, the population of Tripoli will largely choose to cooperate with the winning side. There are many reasons people support Gaddafi but a death-wish is not likely on the list. Here and there, people will take a stand or choose to change sides to the benefit of the revolutionaries. Even a little help by sabotage, espionage or first-aid can make the large population of Tripoli an asset. There just are not enough bodies in Tripoli to hold back the revolutionaries and it is likely that enough defections will take place to accelerate the victory.
When the hard core of Gaddafi’s forces collapse onto the bunker, a siege taking weeks or months will inevitably result in regime change. This could all be over by 2012 although sorting out the resulting mess politically could take longer. For the time being, I see no way that a political solution or change from within will settle the issue any sooner. Gaddafi has shown no inclination to negotiate in reality and his supporters appear not to see any choice but defection or death. I would expect the present trickle of defections would be a flood if there were not so many thugs at Gaddafi’s beck and call.
Let us hope there is a coup to depose Gaddafi in Tripoli to end things sooner. Urban warfare will destroy the city and kill many civilians. That’s no benefit to any rational person. Unfortunately rationality is not a strong point of Gaddafi’s regime.
UPDATE Wow! That was fast! A probe has entered Tripoli and seized the military airport. Gaddafi’s forces fled, leaving weapons. Patrols have reached as far as the bunker and desperate messages have been sent over television in Tripoli.
This incursion could be overextended but it could be a sign that Gaddafi’s forces are depleted. If the incursion lasts a few more hours, reinforcements will arrive and citizens will join in as well. Then Gaddafi’s defences will crumble rapidly. He has supporters at Sirte. They might come to his aid but NATO will spot any large movements. You can bet NATO will be looking.
If this situation holds, Gaddafi is finished in days, not weeks.
UPDATE I hope this is not “A Bridge Too Far”. Apparently citizens in Tripoli have taken up arms, particularly in the eastern parts and have very few weapons and little ammunition. They will need help from the outside today or face heavy casualties. Revolutionaries have advance 17km east from Az-Zawiyah so they are within striking distance. With fighting inside Libya entrance of revolutionaries from the outside should be easier as Gaddafi’s forces will be divided.
UPDATE A patrol covered half the distance to Tripoli before encountering snipers. There is a report that revolutionaries landed from a boat from Misrata and that the HQ of the Khamis Brigade was taken and looted for weapons and ammunition. Gaddafi’s hole is shrinking.
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UPDATE Sunday night the fighting in Tripoli is almost over. Two of Gaddafi’s sons are in custody and the army unit guarding Gaddafi has defected. The regime is crumbling like a cracked egg.
UPATE Scattered sniping and a hard perimeter around Gaddafi’s bunker is all that remains of actions in Tripoli. Thousands have been celebrating for hours in Martyr’s Square. Gaddafi’s location is still unknown. He could be in the bunker, Sirte or in the south of Libya. It should not take long to find out as many of his protectors have defected. Gaddafi could be killed, tried in Libya or turned over to the International Criminal Court.
Congratulations are in order. Libya has overturned a modern dictator by a combination of peaceful and military means. Many thousands learned the art of war the hard way and defeated professional soldiers by learning from mistakes and observing the enemy. No doubt the intervention of NATO was helpful but not essential. NATO merely helped these people accomplish the objective of liberating Libya sooner.