Sunday, August 21, 2011

With NATO's Help, Rebels Take Key Base on Day 2 of Siege of Tripoli

Libyan rebels captured a strategic military base today outside Tripoli after NATO warplanes cleared the way with massive air strikes in what the insurgents said was a coordinated attack on Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The base was a headquarters for the one-vaunted Khamis Brigade, located 18 miles to the west of downtown Tripoli. according to multiple media reports. The well-armed Khamis Brigade is named for Gadhafi's son, a general who may have been killed in earlier fighting, though the government disputes that claim by rebels.

A rebel celebration, witnessed by Western journalists, erupted after the installation was captured.

"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," Ahmed al-Ajdal, 27, a fighter from Tripoli, told the Associated Press as he loaded up a truck with ammunition. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."

The rebel breakthrough came this week when it captured the key crossroad city of Zawiyah, about 30 miles from downtown Tripoli.

The private military intelligence service STRATFOR made an interesting observation in an intelligence report it distributed this morning, suggesting the advancing rebels are being led by Western elite forces.

"It is unlikely that the rebel forces advancing from Zawiyah are fighting on their own. It will be important to watch for any signs of special operations forces from participating NATO countries quietly leading the offensive and preparing operations to locate and seize Gadhafi," the STRATFOR analysis said. 

In a separate unconfirmed mission, the rebels claimed they pulled off a daring sea assault, landing fighters from Misurata near Tripoli to bolster the opposition forces preparing to enter Tripoli.

There were more reports of protests and small arms fire by Tripoli residents rising up against the 42-year rein of the Gadhafi regime. In addition to some high-profile Gadhafi advisers abandoning the regime this week, some of his forces are now indicating they are ready to quit the fight, as well.

Loyalist snipers, however, were believed to be targeting protesters in parts of Tripoli, signaling that many Gadhafi loyalists will fight on in what NATO fears could be bloody street-to-street fighting if the regime does not capitulate.

On his working vacation, President Obama was being kept abreast of the developments by his deputy national security adviser John Brennan.

"This morning, the President was briefed on the situation in Libya by John Brennan, including inputs from our team in Benghazi. The national security team will continue to provide updates to the President on this situation, as necessary," said White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest.

"The United States continues to communicate closely with our allies, partners, and the TNC. We believe that Gadhafi's days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," added Earnest, who like Brennan, is with Obama on Martha's Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast.                                                                                  

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