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Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi showed, once again, on Tuesday that he is far from defeated when he sent loyal troops on the attack for the second time in three days.
Tuesday’s offensive targeted the important coastal oil port of Brega. Although opposition forces successfully repelled what was the regime’s first major attack in eastern Libya, the hotbed of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, pro-government troops succeeded in retaking two towns close to Gaddafi’s western Libyan stronghold of Tripoli.
The other pro-regime offensive took place on Sunday when pro-Gaddafi soldiers launched an attack that resulted in the recapture of Ras Lanoof, a town near Tripoli. On both days, the Gaddafi forces employed warplanes, against which the opposition had little defense except outdated anti-aircraft guns.
But help for the anti-Gaddafi forces may be on the way. While Gaddafi’s troops were returning to rebellious eastern Libya, American warships were meanwhile entering the Suez Canal en route to the North African country. The USS Kearsage and the USS Ponce, carrying a contingent of about 1,000 marines, are equipped with a fleet of helicopters. An aircraft carrier will also join them in Libyan waters.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was also discussing help for the anti-Gaddafi opposition in the form of a no-fly zone over Libya before the House Appropriation’s Defense subcommittee on Wednesday. Although Gates sounded cautious about an air assault by American and NATO aircraft, he said if the president ordered the military to support the Libyan opposition forces, the Pentagon could do it. The Defense Secretary did voice concerns, however, about the over-extension of American air assets and the political effect their employment in Libya would have, saying a UN mandate for the operation would be needed first.
“If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan? For the Persian Gulf? And what other allies are prepared to work with us in some of theses things?” Gates said. “We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East.”
But the Obama administration may have little choice but to get involved militarily in Libya, if it wants a speedy resolution to the conflict. The Libyan opposition forces cannot defeat Gaddafi quickly without outside help due to their ramshackle condition.
A story in the New York Times described the anti-Gaddafi force involved in the Brega fight as a “ragtag collection of rebel fighters.” While one observer praised the enthusiasm of the 15,000 men in Benghazi, from which the Brega fighters came and who have volunteered to fight Gaddafi, he also noted that they are military novices who still have to be trained.
“On Tuesday at a basketball court behind a local high school [in Benghazi], soldiers were teaching marching techniques to new recruits-ranging from 18 to 60 years old. An officer at a nearby desk jotted down the names and the blood types of the volunteers,” he said.
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