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On Wednesday, a defiant Muammar Gaddafi proclaimed that the fight to overthrow his 40-year rule is far from over, despite the loss of his compound in Tripoli to rebel forces and the fact that most of his army — even those most loyal to him — has simply melted away. The dictator’s stubbornness in holding out is only one of the major problems that will face the new Libyan government as rebels seek to gain control of the security situation, wrest frozen funds from Western governments to deal with a deepening humanitarian crisis, and work to build an elusive unity upon which the new Libyan society will rest.
“Martyrdom or victory!” said the dictator in a recorded radio address broadcast by one of the only friendly media outlets not in rebel hands. The statement reflects the fact that despite the military setbacks, there are still areas of the capital, as well as several towns and cities in southern and western Libya, where the rebels can expect fierce resistance from the dictator’s dwindling forces.
Details are just beginning to emerge that explain how the rebels were able to make such rapid advances into the capital city, including the insertion of armed “sleeper cells” and a coordinated assault — including a textbook amphibious attack – that sent the Libyan army reeling.
The National Transitional Council (TNC), the governing body of the rebellion, has offered a $1.3 million bounty for Gaddafi’s head — literally, dead or alive. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the TNC, announced a pardon for any of the dictator’s inner circle “who kill Gaddafi or capture him.” The TNC is also in the process of forming a working government, asking for frozen funds from Western governments to start rebuilding the war torn country and purchase badly needed food and medical supplies.
While his whereabouts are unknown, it is believed that Gaddafi is not in Tripoli, although his son, Seif al-Islam, who at one time was believed to be captured by the rebels, made an appearance outside of the Hotel Rixos urging resistance to the insurgents. The Rixos is where several dozen Westerners were held by Gaddafi loyalists until late Wednesday afternoon when the International Red Cross negotiated their release.
But the sudden appearance of one of Gaddafi’s sons whom the rebels announced had been captured calls into question other rebel claims regarding how firmly they actually control the capital, as well as progress they are making in other towns and cities in Libya where Gaddafi loyalists are still putting up a struggle. Ordinary citizens in Tripoli are much more circumspect in celebrating a rebel victory, as there are still very few civilians who venture out of their houses, and businesses remain shuttered.
Despite those questions, NATO commanders appear confident that the pro-Gaddafi forces are on their last legs. With air strikes in Tripoli limited by the proximity of civilians, the Alliance’s role has been reduced to gathering intelligence in the capital using drones and patrolling the outskirts of the city guarding against any concentration of loyalist forces who might attempt to reinforce Gaddafi’s beleaguered troops.
NATO’s caution is well founded, given the possible backlash against the rebels if bombings were to inadvertently kill civilians. “Operations are obviously moving in favor of the rebels every day, so you don’t want to do things that would be counterproductive to that progress,” said one American defense official.
How much more fighting needs to be done is unknown, but despite the army’s disintegration, there is still a hard core of several thousand militiamen bound to Gaddafi by tribal and clan ties who might be expected to fight to the end. Most have left Tripoli and either melted back into civilian society, blending in among their relatives and tribe or, as some have speculated, headed toward Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte where clashes between loyalists and rebels broke out following the apparent capture of Tripoli.
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