An Offer and Invitation From Libyan Rebellion

EDIT on April 2: April Fools 🙂

I made this ridiculous image to go with the prank, but decided not to use it yesterday because it would have introduced a plot hole into my elaborate scheme.

Me, sitting on a bench. Baseball cap backwards, aviators on, smoking a cigarette. I have an M-14 rifle in my hands, and am wearing a bou-bou over camouflage and a rambo-style bandoleer. I look completely ridiculous.

Original post continues…

April 1, 2011

Apparently, some of the right people have been reading my blog. Three days ago, I got an e-mail from Khalifa Hifter who took command of the Rebel Army in Libya last week. Hifter was a senior military officer in the Libyan Army under Gaddafi and led Libyan forces against Chad in the war they fought in the 1980s.

He agreed with most of my assessments of the problems facing Rebel forces, and with most of my solutions. Our back-and-forth discussion since that first e-mail from him is the reason I haven’t blogged in a few days. My blog is about a month old, and I appreciate the support that you folks have given me, but I may continue to be missing from the blogosphere for some time. Noting both the content of this blog and my experience as a Sergeant of Marines, Hifter has invited me to join his staff as a junior advisor, with the task of helping to forge a corps of non-commissioned officers among the Rebels, and as an advisor on how to maintain positive American public opinion towards the Rebellion. Given how well educated many of the Libyan rebels are, I do not think the language barrier will be insurmountable.

A ticket has been purchased for me, from San Francisco to Rome, departing this Monday. I believe I will be met there and given enough money to make my way to southern Italy and then to Benghazi – I’ll be taking the same route using the same methods that Libyan illegal immigrants use to get to Italy, except in reverse. Wish me luck, and thank you again for your support since I started this blog. Without that support, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

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An Offer and Invitation From Libyan Rebellion

Rebels Approaching Hometown of Gaddafi

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.

Click for full size and best resolution available.
2011 Libyan Civil War as of March 27. From west to east, along the Mediterranean coast: Government forces control all cities up until Misrata, which is under siege by Government forces. Moving east, Sirt is in Government hands. Everything east of Sirt is in Rebel hands.

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 of a BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launcher flying a Pre-Gaddafi flag and with the number 17 written on the driver-side door. It looks like a large truck, but in the back are 4 rows of 10 9-foot tubes mounted at an angle.

(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.

Here, I used my artistic skills to generate this beautiful diagram. Click for higher resolution.
Very crappy drawing depicting a weapon being fired into the air from 10km away contrasted with that same weapon being fired directly at the target from 300 meters away. The 300 meter option is noted as being less likely to miss and will kill fewer innocent people.

Rebels Approaching Hometown of Gaddafi

No Fly Zone, One Week Later

It’s been about a week since NATO implemented a no-fly zone over Libya, with the approval of the UN security council and at the request of the Arab League.

The boy below has pointed out an error of mine. I’ve been spelling the city Misrata, he seems to be indicating that it is spelled Musrata in English. Very well, young man, correction noted and thank you.

Pre-teenage boy holding sign in red that reads Musrata. Behind him, another boy holds a mocking cartoon of Gaddafi.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

Another interesting image I’ve come across is this, a Marine Harrier “jump-jet” landing vertically on the USS Kearsarge as it returns from strikes on Libyan Government forces outside of Musrata. This isn’t from the next Transformers movie, I promise you. Click for full size and resolution.

Night vision image of a harrier lowering vertically towards a barely visible flight deck. The flames from the jet engine can be seen pointing down towards the flight deck.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

This is that warship, the USS Kearsarge, off the coast of Libya during the day. The ship is nearly identical to its sister ship, the USS Essex, who’s capabilities I described last week.

USS Kearsarge at sea during the day. Flight deck is quite prominent, and harriers are visible on it.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

Well, that is enough hardware talk. Wikipedia has extensive documentation of the various assets at work.

Musrata

It has been about a month since resistance began in Musrata. Government troops laid siege to it after finishing their conquest of Zawiya, and Musrata has been the most brutal operation conducted by Gaddafi’s forces yet. Features of this siege have included systematic leveling of buildings and rampant killing of civilians. As a result of NATO strikes over the last few days, the Siege of Musrata has effectively ended.

The killing, however, has not. NATO aircraft can locate and destroy combat vehicles of Gaddafi’s Army, but individual government marksman cannot be located from the air. By stating that the siege has ended, I am conveying that earnest efforts to capture the city have ended for the moment. Gaddafi’s troops are reported to be killing unarmed people indiscriminately, and people are not being allowed to leave the city. The primary hospital of Musrata has Government marksman on the rooftop, shooting injured people as they approach. For obvious reasons, there isn’t much that NATO Aircraft can do about this – heavy machine gun bullets from aircraft will penetrate the roof of the building, and likely kill or injure people within the hospital.

No Fly Zone, One Week Later

Gaddafi Forgot The Human Shields

From the BBC,

[Gaddafi’s] State television showed some of the bodies, all, apparently, of men, but did not say whether they were civilian or military.

It also showed some of the wounded in hospital – again, all men. One of them expressed his support for the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi’s TV channel would have better served Gaddafi by showing women and children injured by explosions and shrapnel. So why didn’t he show them?

Because they don’t exist, or they exist in very small numbers. Blatant use of human shields would destroy what support Gaddafi has left in Tripoli. There are, no doubt, masses of injured women and children in Tripoli hospitals – but all showing bullet wounds. People in Tripoli injured by bullet wounds, officially, don’t exist. They also cannot be made to look like victims of NATO Airstrikes.

What types of areas are likely only to have only men present, and no women or children? Not Mosques. Not the marketplace. Not the Schools. If you guessed troops and military installations, you would be correct.

Anti Aircraft gun in Tripoli, last night:
Troops manning an anti-aircraft gun in the middle of the night.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)

Though the men pictured are legitimate military targets, there is no reason to assume that these individual government troops are bad people. If ordered to force women and children to remain in the vicinity, they may just refuse. Scores of Libyan government soldiers have already been executed for refusing similar orders, and the risk Gaddafi assumes by widespread use of blatant human shields is that Gaddafi may have to execute more troops that are trained in operating AA guns and surface to air missile systems. Clearly, he needs to be more subtle.

Just today, however, one of Gaddafi’s residences was destroyed by NATO attacks. Unfortunately, Gaddafi may have realized his error and populated his various residences and publicly known command and control centers with women and children under the auspices of a “gift to his loyal people” or with offers of “protection & a hot meal”. Gaddafi, of course, isn’t home – he’s in a bunker. Gaddafi now has, however, some women and children with shrapnel and explosion wounds to show to the cameras.

That being said, I hope my analysis and conjecture are both wrong.

Gaddafi Forgot The Human Shields

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

In the aftermath of the UN Security Council resolution a few days ago, NATO begans strikes against the regime of Gaddafi in Tripoli.

First, the pretty map that folks seem to like. I got this one from a screenshot of a Pentagon press release, showing the 20 targets that 112 British and US Tomahawk Cruise Missiles targeted. That is the highest quality of that image that I’ve been able to find, and I haven’t modified the red dots indicating cruise missile strikes.

Click for full size and best resolution available.
Map Labeled 2011 Libyan Civial War, as of the commencement of Operation Odyssey Dawn, March 19, 2011. Blurry embedded map from Pentagon labeled Coalation First Strikes. Red Dots indicated to indicate targets of cruise missile strikes. From West to East along the northern coast of Libya: Zawiya has one dot; Tripoli has many; Misrata has many and it is indicated that the city center is still in rebellion; Srit has one dot; Ajdabiya indicated to be in Government hands with Government forces from Benghazi retreating towards it; Benghazi still in Rebel hands. In Sicily, US Naval Air Station Singonella is marked and indicated as having coalition jets from Denmark, Italy, Canada, and the US. In the Sea, Coalition Fleet is indicated to have warships from US, UK, and France.

March 18, 2011

MIG-23 fighter jet, in flames, spiraling towards the ground.

When the UN Resolution was not immediately followed by air strikes, Gaddafi made a last ditch bid to end the Rebellion. Government forces bypassing Ajdabiya immediately assaulted Benghazi, the heart of the rebellion. The Rebels defeated the attacking force, capturing several tanks and at least one surface to air missile system. Unfortunately the rebels also shot down their own MIG-23 by mistake. The victory demonstrates that Rebel forces are determined and capable, but the friendly fire incident demonstrates that Rebel forces are still having problems with command and control. As I predicted, the outskirts of Benghazi suffered significant damage to civilian buildings.

While the Rebels finished pushing Government forces out of the city, a dozen or two French aircraft flew over Benghazi, destroying four Government tanks. It is very doubtful that any Rebel aircraft have synced friend-or-foe systems with NATO, meaning that it is quite possible that Rebel aircraft will be mis-identified as Government aircraft and future friendly fire incidents will occur.

March 19, 2011

Early in the day, the French Air Force began the NATO assault with the destruction of targets in the southwest of Tripoli. This was symbolic, sending a message that Operation Odyssey Dawn was not just an Anglo-American operation.

Once that symbolic message was sent, the British and American Navies commenced operations in earnest with 112 Cruise Missiles being launched at 20 targets in Western Libya as indicated on the map above. The targets are said to have been focused on coastal radar defense systems. The night and early morning will be spent assessing damage done to Libyan air defense assets – coalition aircraft in the night will simply fly overhead and see if any surface to air missiles attempt to lock onto them. There is no estimate of civilian casualties as of yet.

Meanwhile, celebrations continued in Benghazi.
T-72 tank driving down the street in Benghazi, Rebels riding on top waving the pre-Gaddafi flag of Libya
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)

The United Arab Emirates will be contributing two dozen jets to the mission, and Qatar a half dozen jets. That represents about 1/3 of the total Qatar Air Force.

The African Union has called for an immediate halt to NATO attacks on Libyan government forces, Russia has offered criticism as well.

More Information

The BBC has a good article on the aircraft currently involved. When you see the armaments of aircraft, you will see mention of two air-to-air missiles. The AIM-9 Sidewinder has a range of 10 miles, the AIM-120 AMRAAM has a range of 30 miles. Not all involved aircraft have the AIM-120, a hint that its air superiority capabilities are limited. Bothering to put cannons on a modern jet indicates that the aircraft was designed with air-to-ground in mind.

Al Jazeera has a good article outlining common limits and problems with no-fly zones.

Al Jazeera has more reporters on the ground than anyone else. Here is their constantly updated blog of tonight.

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

One Month After Initial Rebellion, UN Imposes No-Fly Zone

One month after the February 17th revolt of young Libyans favoring Democracy, the international community has decided that it wants to be militarily involved.

The UN Security Council has voted to authorize and back a No-Fly Zone over Libya, something I have long argued against. Russia and China abstained from the vote. I still maintain that this is a mistake.

However, sometimes people do walk out of a casino with more money than when they entered. That is the best thing we can do here, hope that this poor gamble pays off. The first bombs may be dropping tonight.

This is a freeze frame from live video I am watching right now, at 4 pm Pacific Standard time. This is Benghazi, heart of the Rebellion. Celebratory fire is audible, as is jubilant chanting and singing. It isn’t visible in this particular grainy screen capture, but I believe I can see Iraqi, French (or Italian? Hard to tell.), Qatari and Palestinian flags flying in addition to pre-Gaddafi Libyan flags.
Libyans in Benghazi waving pre-Gaddafi flag of Libya

(Image Credit: Al Jazeera live)

I am reminded of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Communist Poland in 1979. This marked an important moment for the Polish people’s eventual transition to Democracy in 1989.

Poles cheering the Pope.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

One can assume offensive operations by Gaddafi have ceased, moral of government troops has just dropped substantially, and we can clearly see that Rebel morale just skyrocketed. It should be an interesting night. The protesters pictured above had better hope that combat air patrols are already in effect, or they are a very vulnerable target to Gaddafi’s air power at present.

The sweeping measure authorizes

…not only a no-fly zone but effectively any measures short of a ground invasion to halt attacks that might result in civilian fatalities.

Furthermore, in a move I strongly support, the temporary military regime in Egypt has

begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington’s knowledge, U.S. and Libyan rebel officials said.

Other reports just coming out indicate that food shipments from Qatar had been flowing through Egypt for some time to Rebel forces, and that the Rebels themselves have restored captured Government aircraft to working order and launched air raids against Gaddafi’s forces for the first time, yesterday.

The Removal of Libyan Air Defenses

If airstrikes aimed at removing the Libyan ability to shoot down allied aircraft from the ground begins, a problem for civilians in Government held cities will be automated defense systems of international aircraft. Gaddafi will have placed his anti aircraft assets in populated areas, and when defensive weapons fired by international aircraft automatically home in on Gaddafi’s anti aircraft assets and destroy them, they will also be destroying the civilian building they were sitting on.

This will result in hundreds of civilian deaths.

How This Should Be Implemented

I’d still prefer no no-fly zone, but if we are determined to implement it… All cities except for one that are currently in Rebel hands are coastal cities. Allied aircraft 10 miles away from the threshold of airspace over Libyan soil can still kill Libyan aircraft approaching Rebel-held population centers. That is the best way to implement this with minimal civilian casualties. I don’t believe Libyan government forces have any surface to air missiles or anti-aircraft guns that can touch allied aircraft at that distance – about 9 miles being the maximum range of the most worrisome Libyan SAM. It isn’t known if many of Gaddafi’s much longer ranged SA-5/S-200 systems are operational but, if they prove to be operational and actually a threat to allied air superiority fighters (SA-5s are designed to defend against large poorly-maneuverable bombers such as the B-52, not fighters such as the US Navy’s F/A-18), things may be forced to be ugly.

One Month After Initial Rebellion, UN Imposes No-Fly Zone

Rebels Lose Brega, Gov’t 90 Miles from Victory

Gaddafi has solidified his control of Zawiya by taking family members of former rebels hostage, Misrata remains under siege. With the Fall of Brega, Gaddafi’s forces are now 90 miles and one speed bump (the village of Ajdabia) from being in a position to lay siege to Benghazi.

Map of Libya depicting, from west to east: Zuwara and Tripoli in Government hands, Misrata in Rebellion, Sirt, Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf, and Brega in Government hands, everything East of that in Rebellion with Ajdabiya as the only city in between Brega and Benghazi

A modern siege happens when troops assume defensive positions inside and amongst civilian buildings, and opposing troops attempt to restrict the movement of supplies and personnel into and out of the city containing those buildings. Sieges usually prove fairly devastating to the people living in those buildings. Assuming a defensive position inside of a civilian building is not considered a war crime and, indeed, is has been fairly standard practice starting in the 20th century.

For forces attacking those buildings, the Laws of War require ‘proportional use of force’. As its been interpreted since World War II, that means it is entirely legal for Gaddafi’s troops to level an entire building because one of his troops saw (or claims that he saw, if he’s angry because his buddy just got killed) that one rebel fired one shot in the general direction of Gaddafi’s forces from within that building.

The efficient leveling of civilian buildings while engaged in urban combat is why the Israeli Army maintains a force of armored bulldozers. The most common method of tactical building destruction for other armed forces around the world is a round or two from a tank’s main gun. Tanks can run out of ammunition, dozers only need fuel. Using bulldozers means more buildings will be destroyed overall, but that defenders and civilians will have had a chance to flee as it approaches. Using tanks kills more people, but generally results in fewer people being rendered homeless. I’ll let you decide which is more humane.

In any case, Gaddafi’s troops in the east will advance (taking Ajdabiya) until they meet stiff resistance, probably in the outskirts of Benghazi. At this point, they will attempt to deny movement of people and equipment into or out of Benghazi while arbitrarily shelling the city with the light indirect fire weapons they will have brought with them. Government forces will need to wait for their tanks to have finished up with Misrata and drive the 500 miles to Benghazi. Some of Gaddafi’s tanks could be already on the way to Benghazi, or they could all be tied up in Misrata – its unclear at the moment. Either tanks are arriving on the eastern front as we speak, or they will be arriving within one day of Misrata’s fall.

By this point, we will know if the Rebel’s claims to have made two Libyan fighter jets operational was a true claim or not, and we will very quickly see how many tanks the Rebels have brought to operational status. We will also see if any martial ability has arisen amongst those Rebel units that have been training in Benghazi for the last two weeks instead of fighting. A coordinated defense with troops capable of accurately firing their weapons can be much more daunting to overcome than a haphazard troops-doing-as-they-please affair.

Once the Government tanks arrive and battle is joined in earnest, Rebels will shooting at Gaddafi’s troops from buildings and withdraw a bit to shoot some more as the buildings come under fire. Some rebels will withdraw from a building prior to a tank round hitting it, some will not. Some tanks will be destroyed by Rebel RPG fire, some will not. There may be a few tank-on-tank skirmishes. What is very clear, however, is that the path of destruction resulting from forces engaging in urban combat moving to and fro in Benghazi will be staggering.

People in Benghazi seem to be keeping a stiff upper lip. As one British woman who has made Benghazi her home for the last 30 years put it the other day,

We all got our weapons out. I’ve got a table leg with a nail in it. We’ll use whatever we’ve got.

She has refused evacuation because her husband does not have a British passport. She believes that,

He’s [Gaddafi] going to slaughter Benghazi, and that’s a million people.

If that is what it comes to, she seems to be willing to accept that and die with the rest of her community. An American woman described raising a family in Benghazi under Gaddafi,

People should be free to say what they want. Here, you teach your kids to keep their mouths shut. You teach them not to say things unless they are somewhere where you know it won’t be repeated.

She continued, discussing more recent events in her life and frustration with the international community,

A man called me, saying his wife had just been killed, and “I have a baby. And I have no milk for the baby. My baby’s dying of hunger” … And nobody’s [in the international community] doing anything.

If the West and the Arab League wants the Rebels to be victorious in their defense of the city they need to ensure that food, water, weapons, and medical supplies begin flowing into Benghazi via highway from Egypt and into Tobruk via the large port – and this needs to happen very soon. The residents of Benghazi seem to believe this to be a victory or extermination situation. Perhaps it is worth considering the position they are in, and that maybe they know what they are talking about.

Rebels Lose Brega, Gov’t 90 Miles from Victory