Details emerge of rebel and Nato plans to oust Gaddafi, involving bombing, sleeper cells and special forces squads
August 25, 2011
Details of the rebel uprising in Tripoli are emerging, showing weeks of careful planning by rebels and their international allies before they seized the Libyan capital.
Rebel leaders had been hoping that the people of Tripoli would rise up against Muammar Gaddafi, but after a bloody crackdown crushed local opposition they began planning their own revolt.
British military and civilian advisers, including special forces troops, along with those from France, Italy and Qatar, have spent months with rebel fighters, giving them key, up-to-date intelligence and watching out for any al-Qaida elements trying to infiltrate the rebellion.
More details emerged yesterday of how Nato forces helped Libyan rebels storm Tripoli. "Honestly, Nato played a very big role in liberating Tripoli. They bombed all the main locations that we couldn't handle with our light weapons," said Fadlallah Haroun, a military spokesman who helped organise the operation, according to the Associated Press.
Prior to the attack, rebels smuggled weapons into Tripoli and stashed them in safe houses. Local revolutionaries were told that protests would begin after the Ramadan evening prayers on 20 August, a day that coincidentally marks the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's liberation of Mecca.
Rebels organised a flotilla of boats from the town of Misrata in an operation dubbed Mermaid Dawn. Tripoli's nickname in Libya is mermaid or "bride of the sea". As sleeper cells rose up and rebel soldiers advanced on the city, Nato launched targeted bombings ľ methodical strikes on Gaddafi's crucial communications facilities and weapons caches.
An increasing number of American hunter-killer drones provided round-the-clock surveillance.
Covert special forces teams from Qatar, France, Britain and some east European states provided critical assistance, such as logisticians, forward air controllers for the rebel army, as well as damage-assessment analysts and other experts, a diplomat at Nato's HQ in Brussels told AP.
Foreign military advisers on the ground provided real-time intelligence to the rebels, enabling them to maximise their limited firepower against the enemy.
To boost morale, US officials passed along snippets of intercepted telephone conversations in which Libyan commanders complained about shortages of food, water and ammunition, the New York Times reported. US officials told the paper that the rebel seizure of the oil refinery at Zawiya last week may have been the campaign's real turning point, cutting off Tripoli's fuel supplies.
As the regime collapsed, Gaddafi's aides called several Obama administration officials, including the American ambassador, Gene Cretz, and Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state to try to broker a truce, according to the Times. Officials said the calls were not taken seriously.
As rebel forces broke through the frontlines and approached Tripoli, locals were inspired to join them. The surge also forced government troops into the open, allowing allied warplanes to strike.
Gaddafi's forces attempted to hold off the rebels on Sunday by trying to outflank the rebels and recapture Zawiya. But Nato warplanes bombed the convoy before it could reach the city as part of a series of attacks on Gaddafi's forces, including bombing raids on bunkers set up in civilian buildings in Tripoli in an effort to ward off allied attacks.
The western advisers are expected to remain in Libya, advising on how to maintain law and order on the streets, and on civil administration, following Gaddafi's downfall. They have learned the lessons of Iraq, when the US got rid of all prominent officials who had been members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party and dissolved the Iraqi army and security forces.
The role of Nato is likely to continue to be significant. Its work could include humanitarian aid and logistical support for the UN. "The biggest caveat was 'Don't consider anything that would involve Nato forces on the ground'," said an official.
The North Atlantic Council, Nato's decision-making body, had agreed that any role for Nato had to "satisfy the criteria of a demonstrable need, a sound legal basis and wide regional support", said Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
Nato will continue to deploy strike aircraft, spy planes and unmanned drones over Libya but will not put any troops on the ground to help the transitional council maintain law and order, alliance officials made clear last night.
If any international organisation were to take on the task of a stabilisation force, it would be the UN, they said. "It is a classic case for blue helmets," said one official.
The North Atlantic Council has set out "political guidelines" for military planners who are now drawing up options. "Nato will help the UN if asked," said an official.There are many Nato countries that could work on the ground, given the extensive experience of post-conflict stabilisation in the Balkans. No Nato government official wants to compare Libya with Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nato aircraft flew 20,121 sorties, including 7,587 strike sorties, over the past five months, the alliance said yesterday.