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“Libya’s military forces are regularly regarded as being among the worst anywhere in the world, and certainly within the Middle East, ranking below even Syria in its levels of training, equipment and readiness,” Strategy Page states.
Strategy Page also calls training and leadership in the Libyan army “horrendous,” saying its most useful role consisted of “suppressing unarmed demonstrators.”
Gaddafi deliberately kept his army in such a deplorable state to keep it from posing a challenge to his regime. Which was probably a wise move, since the army contained members from tribes unfriendly to his rule, which would also help account for the recent defections. According to a report in the French newspaper Le Figaro, there have been 20 anti-Gaddafi uprisings in the Libyan military since the late 1960s.
The units that received government largess, Strategy Page reports, were those charged with keeping the regime in power. Included in their number are special forces units and the Regime Security Brigade, commanded by one of the dictator’s sons. Members of Gaddafi’s tribe are also prominent in the Libyan air force, as Monday’s air strikes testify. But it is upon the People’s Militia, numbering “anywhere from 45,000 to 120,000,” that Gaddafi “lavished arms,” and which “might fight to the death to defend the capital.”
Moreover, Gaddafi may not have surrendered all his weapons of mass destruction in 2003 when he sought reconciliation with the West after Saddam Hussein’s defeat. If cornered, a vicious dictator like Gaddafi, who used to blow up discos and airplanes, would undoubtedly not hesitate to use them against advancing opposition forces, like his friend Saddam Hussein did in the Iran-Iraq war. To avoid such an eventuality and further bloodshed, the Obama administration has demanded that he step down, and has wisely offered Gaddafi an exit strategy in the form of exile. But, as Monday’s government offensive demonstrates, Gaddafi appears confident he can still hold his own.
Unfortunately, military intervention on the side of the anti-Gaddafi forces is not an easy prospect. At the moment, the opposition is still not a united force. Susan Rice also said on Monday that while the administration has been in contact with elements in Libya’s civil society, “it’s unclear at this point who will emerge as critical opposition elements.”
There is also the danger that the anti-Gaddafi opposition will dissolve even before the battle to depose him is over. Although there is a national identity in Libya, recent events have shown many Libyans’ principal loyalty is to their tribe. The current insurrection began in eastern Libya among impoverished tribes that were not getting a share of the oil wealth due to a perceived lack of loyalty to the Supreme Leader. With the oil starting to flow again in eastern Libya, fighting could break out among the anti-Gaddafi tribes for the same reason, especially if any tribe lays sole claim to the oil-producing areas. For the sake of his survival, Gaddafi would probably love to see Libya become a new Somalia, a state and society broken by clan and tribal fighting.
A worst-case scenario, however, would see a protracted civil war between eastern and western Libya. An analysis by Stratfor Global Intelligence states such a possibility exists, since the country’s two oil-producing areas are around the opposition stronghold of Benghazi and just west of Tripoli, Gaddafi’s headquarters. The money from the oil sales would provide funds for a long-term struggle that could see Libya eventually split into two separate entities.
But such an eventuality would not be in anyone’s interest. A long-term, violent instability would not only cause many deaths, destruction and untold suffering among the Libyan people, but endanger the whole region. A quick, overwhelming strike by American and international forces in conjunction with the anti-Gaddafi opposition would end the killing, stabilise the oil supply and give Libyans a chance to embark on a post-Gaddafi future with most of their country’s structure still intact. The White House, it appears, is definitely considering giving Libyans that chance.
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