The Libyan rebels claim they have surrounded Muammar Qaddafi within a 40 mile area and that his most influential son, Saif al-Islam, has been seen in Bani Walid. As the hunt continues, Qaddafi loyalists are fleeing to nearby countries and concerns about the power of the Islamists and inter-tribal tensions are heightening. The country remains on the edge.
The Libyan rebels say they are preventing Qaddafi’s planned escape to the south, and have boxed him into an area of 40 miles. Previously, a National Transitional Council official said that “someone we trust” informed them that the former dictator is in Bani Walid with his son, Saif al-Islam, and Abdullah al-Senoussi, his intelligence chief. The rebels now contradict their source’s account, saying they are “almost certain” that al-Senoussi was killed in a clash in Tarhouna, along with Khamis Qaddafi. A NTC spokesman said they “know” that Saif al-Islam and Mutassim Qaddafi, a security advisor to Muammar, are in Bani Walid.
The rebels have hesitated to forcefully take Bani Walid, knowing that Qaddafi retains significant support there. Much of the rebel forces also have familial ties to the tribes in the area, and are very hesitant to fight them. Negotiations between the NTC and the holdouts in Bani Walid are ongoing, but the NTC is sending forces to the area in preparation for an offensive.
It is also possible that Muammar Qaddafi is in his hometown of Sirte, where 1,000 loyalists have taken up shelter. One rebel commander says that Mutassim Qaddafi is leading the loyalists there and is pressuring the tribal chiefs to remain on his side. A senior U.S. official also said Saif al-Islam is there. The only other part of Libya that is not under NTC control is Sabha. A member of Khamis’ security detail who was present at Qaddafi’s last meeting in Tripoli says he was told that the dictator was headed to this southern city. It is also rumored that he is in the town of Ghadamis on the Algerian border. An Algerian newspaper says Qaddafi called the Algerian President from Ghadamis to request safe harbor and was denied.
Niger is denying that it is housing Qaddafi, but is not ruling out the possibility of doing so in the future. “When the case arises, we’ll make a decision” the Prime Minister stated. There was intense speculation that Qaddafi went to Niger after a convoy of high-level former regime officials entered the country. Niger has confirmed that it permitted Abdullah Mansoor, Qaddafi’s former internal security chief, to come in because of humanitarian reasons. There are reports that the commander of Qaddafi’s southern forces, General Ali Khana, has also gone to Niger with other regime officials and loyalists from the Tuareg tribe.
Burkina Faso is also denying that it is housing Qaddafi. According to a French military source, that there was intelligence that Qaddafi and Saif al-Islam planned to link up with Khana in Burkina Faso if they decided to accept the country’s offer of refuge. Algeria has issued a similar denial after taking in several of Qaddafi’s family members, including two of his sons. His daughter, Aisha, gave birth shortly after arriving in Algeria. A group of 35 South African mercenaries with special forces backgrounds were paid $15,000 each to escort them into Algeria. Although there is speculation that Qaddafi has fled Libya, he said in his latest audiotape that this is not true. The NTC is certain he is in the country, and the U.S. believes he was not in the convoy that went to Niger.
There is a legitimate fear that the former regime officials and Qaddafi loyalists who escape Libya will do what the Iraqi Baathists that fled to Syria did and sponsor an insurgency. Qaddafi’s regime backed other African governments, some of which fear the spread of the Arab Spring. Some, like Algeria, may want to undermine the NTC because they are concerned about its Islamist components. Others, like Zimbabwe, may seek to destabilize Libya to prevent the emergence of a government tied to the West. A captured regime document reveals that China was willing to sell $200 million worth of arms to Qaddafi as late as July. Algeria, Syria, and Belarus materially assisted the regime once the revolution began. Syrian state television is the chosen conduit for Qaddafi’s messages.
Insurgents, terrorists, criminals and militias can use Libyan weapons for violent purposes. It has been well-reported that a founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, is the commander in charge of Tripoli. Ayman al-Zawahiri personally named him as “emir of the mujahideen” in Libya in 2007. Surface-to-air missiles and other weapons are said have fallen into the hands of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and arms have made it to the Gaza Strip.
The Shabakat Corporation, which has an office in Libya, says that the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood is “very strong, well-funded and organized.” It further states that non-violent Salafists are looked upon favorably by large portions of the population, particularly in the east. It will also be difficult to unify the country because of inter-tribal rivalries and cultural differences.
If our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us anything, it’s that the road after regime change is bumpier than actually accomplishing the regime change. It is not a foregone conclusion that tomorrow will be better than today.
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