The task of forming a more effective anti-Gaddafi army
TOBRUK - Watching the events in Doha, where ministers from the so-called Contact Group for Libya met earlier this week, anti-Gaddafi rebel leader Lieutenant General Suleiman Mahmoud switched off his television, and murmured, "Yes, this is good".
I had gone to meet Lt Gen Suleiman in his office overlooking the harbour in Tobruk, and he was commenting on the decision to set up a special fund to help the fledgling government that has emerged in eastern Libya.
The general, who is a keen student of German general Erwin Rommel's campaigns in North Africa, and I were discussing what needs to be done in order to create a proper army.
He emphasised the need for a structure of battalions, brigades, and supporting units, improved communications, training, and new weapons.
So far the enthusiastic amateurs who have raced up and down the coast road - one day seemingly victorious, the next fleeing for their lives - have made few concrete gains.
Their incapacity, combined with the stepping back of the US from attacking most ground targets (and thus the disappearance of Nato's most powerful instrument for beating Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces) has given rise to widespread fears of stalemate.
British and French leaders have resorted to cajoling allies to provide more ground attack aircraft, and thinking more seriously about giving more direct military support to the Libyan revolutionaries.
Both nations are now actively engaged in defining the needs of this new army in order to raise its effectiveness.
At a non-descript address in Benghazi, an embryonic defence ministry, called for the moment the Military Council, has been formed.
It is headed by General Abdul Fateh Younis, formerly Col Gaddafi's Interior Minister, and has as its chief of staff General Omar al Hareri.
Several other key figures have been co-opted onto the council including Lieutenant General Khalif al Haftar, another former regime general who spent two decades in exile in the US.
After a brief power struggle with Gen Younis, Lt Gen Haftar has been given the post of commander of ground forces or number three in this hierarchy.
In the office building where they now work, British and French advisers scurry around. They are unarmed and wear civilian clothes.
The advisers soon diagnosed a complete lack of command and control over the rebel forces as their key weakness. They have therefore been assisting the formation of the military council and have provided satellite phones and other communications equipment in order to ease contact with people in the field.
So far, Nato countries have been hesitating with arms supplies, and are concerned not just to get the legal formalities right, but also to work out how they might train raw Libyan troops to operate new weapons quickly enough to have any effect on the contest with Col Gaddafi.
When I asked Lt Gen Haftar about arms shipments, he said, "we have received some promises... but nothing so far".
So the revolutionary army has been reduced to scavenging the former regime's bases and its fleet of "technicals", or armed pick up trucks, now features a bizarre array of weaponry ranging from rocket pods taken from helicopters, to light anti-aircraft guns.
While the task of forming a more effective army gets underway, the revolutionary authorities rely on Nato to keep Col Gaddafi's troops at bay.
Lt Gen Haftar says that his officers give Nato co-ordinates for enemy forces that need to be hit, and the alliance then takes action. The Americans were initially reluctant to act as the "rebel air force" but as the alliance's involvement in Libya deepens, the policy has shifted.
If the regime holds out in Tripoli and the current stalemate endures, what will Nato try next? The bad tempered briefing that has been conducted by some British and French officials against Italy and Spain for not providing more military support suggests there is nervousness about how long even the current, reduced, air campaign can go on.
Gen Mahmoud, sitting in his office in Tobruk, argues that a British military training mission would be most welcome. He remembers working with such a team back at the time of Col Gaddafi's 1969 coup, and asks rhetorically, "We know them, why not?"
Tobruk itself is an iconic place for the British. It was there in 1941-2 that Allied forces were besieged by Rommel's Afrika Corps. The place fell to those besieging forces but was later recaptured as the British 8th Army swept across North Africa after its victory at El Alamein.
Victory in that desert war required strategic patience and vision. The question now is whether the Libyan revolutionary forces and their Nato allies share those qualities.