Libyan Rebellion Seems To Be Losing

After two weeks during which it seemed like the government in Tripoli was only hours away from collapse, the forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi appear to be gaining the upper hand:

RAS LANUF, Libya —Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi retook this strategic refinery town after an assault by land, air and sea Thursday, opposition leaders and fighters said, an onslaught that sent scores of rebels fleeing along a coastal road and underlined a decisive shift in momentum in an uprising that has shaken the Libyan leader’s four decades of rule.

The fighting was a stark illustration of the asymmetry of the conflict, pitting protesters-turned-rebels against a military with far superior arms and organization and a willingness to prosecute a vicious counterattack against its own people. Usually ebullient rebels acknowledged withdrawing Thursday, even as the fledgling opposition leadership in Benghazi scored diplomatic gains with France’s recognition of it as the legitimate government and American officials’ promises to intensify talks with its leaders.

“We are coming,” one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, told reporters in Tripoli.

The developments underscored what is emerging as a race against time in the most violent and unpredictable of the uprisings to shake the Arab world: whether the opposition can secure more international recognition and a no-fly zone to blunt Colonel Qaddafi’s offensive before rebel lines crumble in the coastal oil towns west of Benghazi.

“It’s tough these days,” said Mohammed al-Houni, a 25-year-old fighter at the front. “There is no comparison between our weapons and theirs. They’re trained, they’re organized. They got their training in Russia and I don’t know where. We’re not an army. We’re the people, and even if we had weapons, we wouldn’t even know how to use them.”

At a news conference in Benghazi on Thursday evening, the vice president of the opposition government in waiting, Abdel- Hafidh Ghoga, said reports that Ras Lanuf was lost were “not accurate,” though he acknowledged that the city had faced heavy bombardment from the air, sea and land.

“What the Libyan people are facing is actually genocide,” he said, reiterating a call for Western nations to bomb government military installations, including “mercenary camps.”

Both al-Jazeera and the BBC have confirmed the reports of the rebel retreat at Ras Lanuf, so it would appear to be true and, along with reports earlier this week of a rebel defeat in Zawayi and it seems apparent that government forces are starting to gain the upper hand, and that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the Libyan Rebellion.

Assuming that happens and Gaddafi holds on to power, the world will be left with something of a dilemma. Before the events we’ve seen unfold over the past month, Libya was slowly regaining a place in the  world of commerce. That’s been interrupted thanks to the war, but what do we do six months from now if Libya is still ruled by the Gaddafi regime, especially now that the allegation has been made that he personally ordered the attack on Pan Am Flight 103?

If there were any justice, of course, Gaddafi would wake up and find himself even more of a worldwide pariah than he was in the 80s, but I’m not sure that anyone outside Washington and London has the will to do that any more.



FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. BC says:

    Having worked in Tripoli and Benghazi even before sanctions were lifted (with State Dept approval), I fear for those who long for a life of freedom. We are so caught up in the politics that we forget who will be murdered should the revolution fail. I fear we have leaders who can only think about election returns. Empty rhetoric is what we hear instead of leadership. Could our military eat up the Gaddafi forces in days? Yes, but we what we hear about are all the complications. We will dither; I feel it, until the problem “goes away”.

    Will the problem go away, along with the opportunity for America to be relevant on the world stage? My belief is that people and nations are only as relevant as what they do today. I fear that all our past efforts, successes and failures will not count as much as we would like, as much as they deserve to count. Will we be relevant or not based on what we do in Libya? I believe we must stand up and be counted, or be considered as non-relevant because we chose to be. Which do you choose?