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.
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.