Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rebels Take Central Tripoli Amid Scant Defenses From Gadhafi Forces

Updated 10:30 p.m. edt with statement from President Obama

The Libyan rebels liberated a square in downtown Tripoli today with little resistance from Moammar Gadhafi's forces who finally may be abandoning the bloody back and forth revolution of the Arab Spring after six months of fighting.

At least two of Gadhafi's son's, including the loose-tongued Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, have been taken into custody by representatives of the rebel Transitional National Council. They may be turned over to international authorities at The Hague for prosecution.

After half a year of fierce fighting it is almost shocking how Gadhafi forces have disappeared, or are simply refusing to take up arms, just a day after the Tyrant of Tripoli promised rebel invaders street-to-street fighting to the death.

The citizens of Tripoli rising up to join the rebellion overnight should not be underestimated as a key to the speedy fall of the city.

NATO called for a peaceful and immediate transition of power in Libya.

President Obama issued a statement on Martha's Vineyard after he consulted by teleconference with his war council, made up of his top military, civilian and intelligence advisors.

"Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator," Obama said.

"Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC  should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya," Obama added.

The regime claimed to have a 65,000-member force waiting for the rebels, but so far it has not been seen. NATO's eye-in-the sky: mainly U.S. spy satellites and drones, are believed to be keeping a watch for signs of that force.

Gunfire could be heard from small pockets around the city and there was no indication that the rebels had not captured Gadhafi's Bab el-Azizia compound by 9 p.m. Washington time.

It is night in Libya, so NATO and the rebels are waiting to see if daylight brings out the Gadhafi forces. The biggest fear now is of snipers under the cover of darkness.

The rebels moved slowly at first today, capturing key military installations and then finding scant resistance as they pressed on to central Tripoli and occupied what was formerly known as Green Square, renaming it Martyr's Square. It had been a favorite rallying spot for the Gadhafi regime.

There are very strong indications that elite forces from Western nations have lead, plotted and coordinated the rebel attacks. For months sources have said at the very least ex-American, British and French special forces have been among the trainers on the ground.

French-armed forces out of the Nafusa mountains led the invasion of Tripoli, backed by a daring dawn sea assault from fighters out of Misurata dubbed "Operation Mermaid Dawn." Overnight, NATO paved the way with strategic air strikes on military installations and command and communications facilities.

The rebels raised a French flag to apparently say thank you for the arms from Paris.

The Nafusa army includes at least two forces known as the Tripoli Brigades made up of men who fled the city to train and fight Gadhafi forces on a western front that virtually popped up overnight at the end of the spring.

The Nafusa fighters slowly, but steadily rolled towards Tripoli, while Gadhafi forces were focusing on the main rebel army out of the Transitional National Council capital Benghazi, and another force in Misurata, 

Along the way the rebels captured tanks and other armor and coordinated with NATO warplanes, holding down friendly fire casualties to a relatively few, given the size and scope of the battlefield.

NATO's strategic strikes overnight, the Nafusa brigade's march on Tripoli and a daring dawn sea landing by Misurata fighters was a potent combination.

Freedom-seeking Libyans began their pro-democracy Arab Spring uprising on Feb. 17, hoping the Gadhafi regime would implode and the army would back their cause, as the armed forces did in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

When Gadhafi ordered his forces to crack down on the peaceful Arab Spring protesters, they decided to fight back. The rebels took up arms, made some quick gains, but on March 19 an armored tank column under orders from Gadhafi was poised outside Benghazi, promising to exterminate the rebels in their stronghold once and for all.

And then that same day, French fighter jets and more than 110 U.S. and British cruise missiles lit it up against Gadhafi, virtually giving the Libyan rebels the most powerful air and sea force on the planet.

The mission, sanctioned by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, was initially under the command of Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command

The U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps did the lion's share of the work, until  March 27 when NATO took on the whole military operation in Libya under the command of Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey, the lone Muslim member of NATO, ultimately joined the mission.

The U.S. provided ships, drones, AWACS and other support after NATO took over, but American air strikes were still called in when necessary. Britain and France showed its commitment to the campaign when they upped the ante in late May and committed Apache and Gazelle attack helicopters to the campaign.

The Western and Arab coalition did not lose a single man or woman in combat, strongly suggesting the U.S. Africa Command, NATO and Arab coalition members pulled off the mission with random precision. France and Qatar also scored some points by breaking UN rules and arming the rebels.

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