Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Signs Gadhafi's Grip Is Slipping

Updated 6:45 p.m. edt

Rebels have pulled back to just west of Ajdabiya after a crushing, constant artillery barrage from loyalist forces who were supposedly running out of ammunition, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported late today.

Moammar Gadhafi's forces struck the rebel caravan on the main coastal road, with some precision, Wedeman said. There was no sign of NATO warplanes as the rebels once again pulled back, he said.

Gadhafi's forces were thought to be running short of ammunition because of disruptions to his supply lines, but it clear his army in the East had ample stockpiles of shells and rockets.

The offensive by Gadhafi loyalists did not immediately threaten the provisional rebel capital of Benghazi, but with only Ajdabiya in its path the regime was once again taking back precious oil ports of the east and the valuable territory around them.

Opposition leaders say NATO's lone Muslim member nation, Turkey, with its lukewarm support for the no-fly zone, is behind the diminished air strikes, CNN correspondent Reza Sayah reported. The rebels plan to let Turkey know of their growing frustration over the lack of air cover, he said.

Meanwhile, authorities want to question ex-Libyan foreign minister and spymaster Musa Kusa over his alleged role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Though he has not been granted immunity, the U.S. yesterday took him off the list of Gadhafi's top aides whose assets were frozen to pressure the regime into folding. The Telegraph of London reports Kusa is believed to be cooperating with British intelligence. 

"Mr. Kusa is thought to be helping MI6 understand the inner workings of the regime of Col Moammar Gadhafi including the Libyan leader’s sources of finance and the make-up of his armed forces," the newspaper reported. "He is also thought to be trying to persuade other members of the regime to join him in exile."

end update

Update 11 a.m. edt

Libyan Rebels retreated today from Brega under heavy shelling from Moammar Gadhafi's artillery just one day after the insurgents boasted of having loyalist regime forces surrounded in the eastern oil town.

But according to Agence France Press, "as the first sleepy-looking insurgents arrived cautiously to take up the position they had left late yesterday, artillery and gunfire met them, sending them racing in retreat."

The ragtag band of rebels light arms are no match for Gadhafi's big guns and tanks, and their motor pool looks like something out of the "Mad Max" movies. They continue to complain that they need more air strikes and better equipment to beat back the loyalists.

“When you see this, the situation is very bad. We cannot match their weapons,” Kamal Mughrabi, 64, a retired soldier who joined the rebel army, told the Associated Press. “If the planes don’t come back and hit them we’ll have to keep pulling back.”

end update

There remains reasons to be optimistic that a diplomatic solution may oust Moammar Gadhafi from power, but there are few indications the rebel army stalled in Brega will bust out make a sweep toward Tripoli anytime soon.

On the positive side for the hapless rebel army, they have kept Gadhafi from recapturing the oil patch in Eastern Libya, likely expediting the demise of the regime by cutting into another of its financial pipelines. Gadhafi's supply lines and armor have been pummeled by NATO warplanes.

And amid defections and emissaries trying to make a deal, Libya's oil minister became the latest senior Gadhafi official to suggest the handwriting is on the wall regarding the country's leadership.

"There will be changes of course, whether we like it or not," said Shukri Ghanem said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In another diplomatic boost, Italy became the third nation along with France and Qatar to recognize the rebels' Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

But adding to the diplomatic disarray, a Libyan government spokesman said reforms are fine, but Gaddafi must stay in power to avoid another Iraq or Somalia.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged the United Kingdom is providing rebels with mobile phones, the Daily Mirror reports.

The Ottawa Citizen has a bit more insight into who's who among the rebels.

Following up on the woman who bravely told the world how she was attacked by Gadhafi's militia, Eman al-Obeidy said on CNN's "AC360" show in a telephone interview she is no longer in the custody of Gadhafi forces, but she still fears for her life.

"My life is in danger, and I call on all human rights organization ... to expose the truth and to let me leave now. I am being held hostage here," wailed the woman who stormed into a Tripoli hotel where journalists were staying, telling them she was beaten and raped by forces loyal to Gadhafi last month before she was taken away by secret police.

"They have threatened me with death and told me I will never leave prison again, if I go to the journalists or tell them anything about what's happening in Tripoli," al-Obeidy told Anderson Cooper.

Closer to home, the FBI has begun questioning Libyans, gathering information agents hope will help deter any potential terror payback from Gadhafi, should he survive, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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