In recent days, with the assistance of NATO and Arab League air-strikes, Rebel forces have regained momentum and now control more ground than prior to the implementation of the No-Fly Zone. Specifically, Brega, Ras Lanuf, and Bin Jawad have been re-captured by the Rebels in recent days.
I still believe this would have been entirely possible without the No Fly Zone as it was implemented, but I suppose we will have to accept it as history and hope for the best moving forward.
You will note that if the Rebels continue to advance, the next city along the coastal highway is Sirt (also spelled Srit and Sirte – same city, different Arabic transliteration). This is the birthplace of Gaddafi, and Gaddafi has treated his former hometown quite well. Because of this, I believe the citizens of that particular city will, for the most part, prove very loyal to Gaddafi. Combine that with the lack of control Rebel commanders have over their troops, and the general lack of discipline in the Rebel army, and you potentially have the recipe for war-crimes by Rebel forces against the citizens of Sirt. Instead of a “Liberation” of Sirt, we may instead see something that more closely resembles a sack of the city and purging of its populace. As before, this is one of those things I hope I am wrong about. This situation wouldn’t exist if Rebel commanders had managed to create an atmosphere of discipline and obedience among Rebel troops, but that didn’t happen.
The best hope we can have to prevent such inhumanity towards man is for journalists to risk their lives and be there with the Rebels as they advance into the city. People are less likely to commit such crimes if there is a camera looking over their shoulder.
Another concern is this, a BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launcher, and things like it which are now in Rebel hands. Note the Pre-Gaddafi Flag of Libya and the “17” on the door, indicating February 17.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)
If the people of Sirt do indeed prove loyal to Gaddafi, and attempt to defend their city by force, the Rebels will likely be using these indirect fire weapons on the city. These are not accurate precision weapons, they are area weapons. Ideally, that “area” would be an enemy troop concentration, were indiscriminate fire doesn’t kill any innocents. If that area is Sirt, however, then innocents will unfortunately die. Weapons systems like this do have sighting systems, and trained troops can indeed deliver fairly precise fire with them – possibly reducing the impact area to the size of a city block. It is unknown if indirect fire weapons such as this have been placed in the hands of Libyan Army veterans who have had that training; It is more likely that many are in the hands of untrained Rebels that are eager to use a new toy. These weapons will be fired, and the rockets or shells will land wherever they please – troop positions, schools, marketplaces, apartment buildings, etc.
Indiscriminate shelling will not encourage Sirt to capitulate the way a few bombs or shells landing in Paris has historically forced the surrender of all of France. In the case of Sirt, it will harden the population, and plant seeds of hate that may fester for some time to come. If anyone participating in the armed Rebellion is reading this, please heed my advice and either use your indirect fire weapons as direct fire weapons or do not use them at all. That means bringing the weapon system close enough to point the system directly at the target and fire, instead of lobbing shells and rockets up into the air and hoping they don’t land on a family home.