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The task of forming a more effective anti-Gaddafi army

Mark Urban | 15:44 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

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.


  • Comment number 1.


    How high will Britain be hung out to dry, if one of the Big Abstainers from the first UN Resolution vote, vetoes the next one? That could give great satisfaction in certain quarters.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree with the previous comment about the "mission creep" that now seems to be happening, "reigme" change is now a stated aim despite not sactioned by the UN.
    there is now talk sending in EU troops - or in reality British and French forces - for "humanitarian missions".
    If NATO ignores tne UN Security Council Resolution 1973 limits then next time the West wants the Security Council to sanction military action, say for instance to attack nuclear facilities in Iran, then Russia or China will use their vote.

  • Comment number 3.

    Maybe the majority of Nato countries do not feel comfortable about armying this rag-tag excuse for an army, and even less comfortable about putting trained combat troops on the ground (without a new UN Resolution).
    Remember who armed the Afghan rebels that included Osama Bin Laden and what became of his "base"?
    Political leaders (good and bad) seem to come and go at the will of the western powers, and when the head of the snake has been severed, the western powers have the nerve to call the situation "stability"; in other words, your country is now stable enough for us to come and steal anything and everything we want.

  • Comment number 4.

    Tobruk...the memories, an isolated railway siding attacked by Rommel and what have we learned....nothing! We are once again isolated in world opinion, us the French, the Yanks all on our own, with savage cuts back in blighty, closing down hospitals, sacking nurses, closing down sure starts, P45's to soldiers and binning aircraft carriers yet here we go again, going far beyond the UN mandate and having another 'adventure' in a middle east country, both prime ministers in urgent need of a miracle to salvage reputations, Sarkosy and Cameron playing the Thatcher card as she did in the Falklands...t'was ever thus...

  • Comment number 5.

    nice talk about strategy.

    i think we see the limits of uk power. Its pretty feeble and unsustainable. when will uk politicians stop pretending they are roman consuls?

    time of move out of carlton house [owned by russian oligarchs based in israel] that seems to mesmerise anyone who stays in there into thinking the uk has an empire sized force.

  • Comment number 6.

    #3 - BluesBerry

    ". . . the Afghan rebels that included Osama Bin Laden"

    Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi who took his revolutionary cause elsewhere because it was unwelcome in his Arab homeland. In any case, you are confused. The case you make can certainly be argued in respect of the Taliban but not Al Quida. Yet again, you are not allowing the facts to condition your thinking.

  • Comment number 7.


    Grandeur of illusions eh jaunty.

    If only we LIVED our state religion. I have written 'mote and beam' so many times on this blog, me mote has dried up and all the light has left me beam.

  • Comment number 8.

    The initial moves by the US, France, UK et al has failed to shift Gaddafi so it is time for this coalition to implement the next military step.

    Other NATO members are plainly failing to step up to the plate so it is down to the USA to ratchet up the pressure by deploying A10's etc to destroy command and control centres.

    At some point in this process, which must begin urgently, Gaddafi may quit and/or his remaining military may switch sides.

    Best to get on with it, delay just means more civilian casualties and isn't the primary purpose of this exercise to save civilians?

  • Comment number 9.

    Arms supplies to Libya by Western countries are a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution. Russia's permanent envoy to NATO is upset and he is not alone.
    The Russian envoy said that Russia has information that certain European states are acting more and more on the side of the Libyan rebels. He requested a halt to the violation of the UN Security Council resolution, especially its clause imposing an embargo on arms supplies to the conflict zone.
    He also maintained that getting more and more entangled in the Libyan crisis, certain Western states have started speculating about the possibility of a ground operation, which would probably be introduced as an operation to secure "humanitarian" convoys.

  • Comment number 10.

    The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Libya is allowing UN humanitarian aid.
    A special envoy to Libya Abdelilah al-Khatib as well as UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Valerie Amos, have reached an agreement with Gaddafi.
    Ban said the United Nations had 3 objectives, and 3 objectives ONLY:
    1. immediate and effective cease-fire
    2. humanitarian assistance and
    3. dialogue leading to a political solution.
    UN Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos said the Libyan Government had also allowed her access to Misrata.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said NATO attacks on Misrata should end immediately. Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was concerned about the humanitarian situation in Libya and urged all relevant parties to ADHERE to the UN resolutions.
    Looks like no more UN Resolutions to permit authorized, so-called humanitarian feet on the ground.

  • Comment number 11.

    So, the UK is on the ground engaging in mission creep. Britain has said it'is expanding its presence in Libya with "military advisers" while the European Union said it's prepared to send troops for "humanitarian assistance", but only if if requested by the United Nations.
    Oh how the politicians can play semantics!!
    Michael Mann, Chief Spokesperson for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, said it is unclear how many troops would be deployed, though he said the number would be "less than 1,000."
    "EUFOR Libya" will allegedly contribute to the safe movement and evacuation of displaced persons and support humanitarian agencies in their activities.
    Britain said it is sending a contingent of EXPERIENCED MILITARY OFFICERS to Bengazhi in an "advisory role".
    These personnel will work with Libya's Transitional National Council on how the opposition can improve military organizational structures, communications and logistics.
    Still Gadhafi's regime has given no sign of standing down.

  • Comment number 12.

    Does "more effective" include depleted uranium? (The gross birth defects in Fallujah, Iraq has proven the sickening case against weapons that use depleted uranium.) Right now, bombs dropping on Libya are using depleted uranium.
    Oddly, the depleted uranium being used in Libya by the Western powers (including Nato) are being used in positions that essentially belong to the rebels and not Qaddafi loyalists.
    I don't kow what to make about that.
    Someone should tell the rebels: when they stand on "hit" targets and cheer, they may be breathing dust from the uranium weapon.
    Tell me how you protect civilians by poluting the environment with depleted uranium? These weapons should never be used because they completely toxify for (Brace yourself!) A BILLION YEARS.
    Please add the foregoing facts to the fact that the bombs include anti-personnel weapons. The American Secretary of State acted so disturbed to hear that Gaddafi "might" be using them, calling them atrocious weapons - indiscriminate killing, disproportionate death of civilians.
    So, I think I need much more definition on this task of forming a more effective anti-Gaddafi army...

  • Comment number 13.

    What the world is not being told about Gaddafi.
    Under his 1999 Decision No. 111: ALL Libyans get free health care, education, training/rehabilitation, housing assistance, disability and old-age benefits, interest-free loans, subsidies to study abroad...Overall, though affected by poverty and unemployment like elsewhere, Libyans achieve the highest African standard of living because Gaddafi USES OIL REVENUES for economic development.
    ALL Libyans have a house or a flat, transportation, televisions and other modern conveniences.
    The mad dog's Green Book says: "The house is a basic need of both the individual and the family, therefore it should not be owned by others."
    Green Book rejects Western democracy and capitalism. Under Gaddafi, Libyans get free use of land for agriculture; all basic food items are subsidized and sold through a network of "people's shops.
    The UN Human Rights, Libyan Report
    On January 4, 2011: Gaddafi's government protected "not only political rights, but also economic, educational, social and cultural rights." It also praised his treatment of religious minorities, and "human rights training" of its security forces.
    The Americans should have such a fine, upstanding human rights' report!
    Instead what we have is NATO, France, Britain - financial powers -pursuing power for the sake of oil. Can't be pursuit if democracy. Libya already had excellence in democracy.
    Claiming humanitarianism is a lie. It's used to enlist public support for imperial conquest and the imposition of puppet leadership. It's a dirty game that, if successful, will set Libyans back 200 years!

  • Comment number 14.

    Don't you think the task was really to side-step the need to seek a new Security Council resolution before putting these advisers and trainers on the ground?
    The French say their position is stable on the application of R1973.
    Libya's foreign minister said the British plan to send the military team would harm chances of peace.
    Instead of this ill-advised sending of experts, a ceasefire should have been mandated monitored by the UN and/or AU, followed by an interim period of maybe six months to prepare for an election which would be supervised by the UN - All proposed by the AU Road map.
    I believe that any foreign military presence is a step backwards. If this bombing stopped, there could be dialogue dialogue among all Libyans about what THEY want e.g. democracy, political reform, an election. Has France asked the Loyalists as well as the rebels - all Libyans - what THEY want?
    I point an accusing finger at the UK, France and Italy as being intrusive, ignorant and unhelpful. e.g. British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted on Tuesday that adding around 12 military advisers to the diplomatic team in Benghazi did not breach the UN resolution authorizing air strikes against Gaddafi forces. So what? Is this really the issue? Hague said the British advisers would not arm or train the opposition fighters, but would help them develop organizational structures, communications and logistics and coordinating humanitarian aid and medical supplies. Oh please! What does it matter what they do when their very presence reinforces the fact that the western powers want Gaddafi gone?
    Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil that France would intensify air strikes on Gaddafi's army. Is this what all Libyans want?
    By what right have the UK, France and Italy usurped this rebellion? Whose rebellion is it anyway?

  • Comment number 15.

    Why did the US, UK, France and Italy chose to act NOW against Libya?
    Because Libya was about to be honoured by the United Nations, which leaves me puzzled as to how R1973 came to be.
    The UN Human Rights Council Libyan Report:
    On January 4, 2011, its "Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Libya Arab Jamahiriya" said Gaddafi's government protected "not only political rights, but also economic, educational, social and cultural rights." It also praised his treatment of religious minorities, and "human rights training" of its security forces.
    Had Washington and NATO not intervened, it would have been approved by an overwhelmingly majority. Now it's been postponed, pending conflict resolution. Whoever is victorious, the overall Libyan situation will need to be reassessed on post-war conditions.
    This questionable manoeuvre by western powers has made it much easier to lie about the motivations of the rebels: Freedom? What more freedom do they want?

  • Comment number 16.

    Nine people killed overnight in NATO bombardment of the Libyan city of Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi's home town, and the droning has yet to begin.
    Those killed appeared to be employees of the state water utility who were working during the attack, and the droning has yet to begin...

  • Comment number 17.

    The vile untruth about Libya using cluster bombs.
    The 2 unexploded mortar rounds displayed by Jonathan Hull as “proof” were made in Spain by a Spanish company. Spain quit using cluster bombs in 2008 but retains stock. Spain is one of only 5 nations that recognize the rather secretive organization known as the National Transitional Council as the legitimate Government of Libya. Qatar, (Al Jazeera) happens to be another.
    Al Jazeera is the media source screaming:“Libyan Death Toll Reaches 10,000”. Really? The high death claim claim has no proof, but heck, since when does "news" need verification?
    The reported extreme threat to the civilian population has been used to support the “humanitarian intervention” - justification for imperialists such as Britain, France, and the US to start creeping faster and harder to get rid of Gaddafi.
    Once Gadhafi is disposed of, the imperialists stand to gain oodles of sweet crude the monies from which will no longer be diverted to the betterment of the Libyan people.
    Al Zajeera went as far as to provide a video report from an English journalist, Jonathan Hull (Time magazine’s head of the JERUSALEM BUREAU for 3 years). His report comes out of Misurata. Oddly, there are no civilian casualties featured, far less identified. The example cluster bombs, look mysteriously similar to the old Qassam rockets fired out of the Gaza strip - “proof” by ISRAEL that Israel is the true victim. Along with these mangled rounds, there appear to be 2 unexploded Spanish made cluster bomb munitions. This, though God knows how, is supposed to prove that Gadhafi is using cluster bombs. Though the ban on cluster bombs has been adopted by 108 nations, ratified by 40; but ironically, ISRAEL AND the US are among the very few others who refuse to classify clusters as WMDs. Both use them.
    The United States said that cluster bombs are a legal form of weapon, that they had a “clear military utility in combat.” We all know how frequently and devastatingly the United States used cluster bombs in Iraq.
    What we have in Libya is sloppy propaganda being bought by superficial reporters.
    (Last note: Qatar is a monarchy & puppet regime of the imperialists France, the UK, and the US - just like the Libyan “rebels”.)

  • Comment number 18.

    Mark my words: We are on the brink of an actual US-led GROUND INVASION of Libya. Actions speak louder than words.
    Mark my words: There will be slaughter of Libyans - pro and anti Gaddafi because the main issue is the sweet crude, which must be preceded by regime change.
    How dare I say this?
    Because US marines are laying wait off the coast of Libya; they are heavily armed, an indication of the pre-invasion.
    The British and the French governments have been softening Libya up using NATO bombing, preparing for feet all over the ground.
    Advisers have been in the country for months, normally we call them Mossad, M16 and CIA. The US is not taking the lead in the war on Libya because Obama's popularity is very much on the skids and the American people are sick of US imperialism.
    I believe that US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron are using the Libyan campaign to boost sagging popularity, but this Libyan affair is extremely unpopular among the common people; so, the political bid for increased popularity is likely to flop and flop badly.
    France and Britain have now admitted a long-term truth: that they dispatched some military advisers to the opposition-held city of Benghazi in eastern Libya.
    Well, who didn't know that?

  • Comment number 19.

    you should get a blog of your own Bluesberry, rather than piggybacking on someone elses.

  • Comment number 20.

    Now that the war in Libya is "droning" on, Col. Gaddafi has said that he sincerely hopes the introduction of ground troops does not follow because this move would be met by additional Libyan forces made up of African volunteers. In other words, Muslim volunteers from throughout the region would increase their support for the regime by sending additional troops.
    There a lot of African peoples just ready for this fight!
    Further he said that the presence of American Drone aircraft has substantially increased the danger to members of the Gaddafi regime. He said the drone situation was unfair, bombing people in their beds when they are asleep with these planes. Further, h added that he knows the enemy has a hit list of Libyan officials, but that Libya had its own hit list. "We don’t have planes without pilots," he said, "but we have explosives, and people who are willing to use them against certain officials of these governments."
    Gaddafi has denied using African mercenaries in the battle against the rebels. But several African nationals have been captured by the rebels in the fighting near Misurata. The African identities, and their countries of origin, have not been made public by the rebel command. Well, if they ARE mercenaries, why not name them?
    Col. Al Gaddafi has spent billions of dollars in a number of African nations. In 2009 Al Gaddafi was named the Chairman of the 53-member African Union. He advocated a single African military force, single currency, and a single passport for Africans = a United States of Africa. Wow, now that would have caused the Americans and other imperialists some (great) pause.
    In March of this year that recruiters in Mali were actively working on the Libyan dictator’s behalf to enlist fighters to support his regime. Gaddafi has built several Mosques in Mali, created a national television network, and provided 100 million for the new Mali government centre, which bears his name, in the country’s capital of Bamako.
    One person close to the Libyan government estimated that three to four thousand "mercenaries" from Mali, Niger, and the Darfur region in the Sudan are fighting for the Libyan government, and why not? Should they be fighting for France, Italy or Britain?
    What's more, the longer this Libyan war goes, the more Muslims will reinforce Gaddafi from north, south, east and west.

  • Comment number 21.

    The UN may be approached to halt drone strikes. What then for Libya?
    Pakistan is considering approaching the UN Security Council (UNSC) to stop the US administration from droning inside its tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
    The move comes amid rising tensions against the attacks by the American CIA-operated pilot-less aircraft in North and South Waziristan tribal regions.
    US officials believe these strikes are helpful in taking out “high-value targets” from AL-Qaeda and affiliated groups allegedly hiding in the tribal badlands, though I have yet to recognize even one name of these "high-value" targets.
    Pakistan is opposed to these strikes, saying that they complicate the country’s counter-terror efforts by alienating the tribal population.
    There has been a significant rise in diplomatic tensions between Islamabad and Washington over these unilateral strikes despite several high-level contacts between the top diplomatic & military officials. It was Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani himself who told the National Assembly recently that Islamabad would bring diplomatic pressure on Washington to stop this indiscriminate killing.
    Pakistan has decided to use multilateral forums, like the UN, to put diplomatic pressure on the US administration. The UNSC resolution that allowed international forces’ attack Afghanistan back in 2001 never sanctioned hot pursuit inside Pakistan; so these strikes appear internationally illegal.
    The cabinet committee on national security had decided in a meeting last year that Pakistan should add “aggression” in its pursuit to secure Islamabad’s “vital” interests in Afghanistan by disseminating some “rough and tough” messages to Washington. Going to the UNSC is deemed a "rough and tough" message to the united States.
    If the UNSC outlaws droning, what happens to droning in Libya?
    Probably the same thing that would happen in Pakistan/Afghanistan - fewer civilian collateral damage.


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