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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Inside the Rebel Endgame: How did Tripoli fall so suddenly?

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Fadel Lamen, The Daily Beast / Aug 22, 2011 1:48 PM EDT.

People in Benghazi celebrating the arrest of Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and the partial fall of Tripoli, Gianluigi Guercia / Getty Images.

How did Tripoli fall so suddenly? The Daily Beast’s Fadel Lamen, who was with rebel leaders in Libya last week, reveals their strategy, and a secret plea from a Gaddafi deputy.

Having spent the past two weeks with rebel leaders in Libya, as well as in Tunisia and Egypt, where more opposition leaders bide their time, I am less surprised than most by the rapid assault on Tripoli and the seemingly imminent collapse of Gaddafi.

First, I saw firsthand the level of coordination between NATO and the Libyan opposition’s Transitional National Council, and its systematic strategy of capturing, controlling, and then protecting liberated land. Compared with the ragtag back-and-forth fighting we saw in the early days of the uprising, the opposition forces in the western front used different tactics and organized themselves better. Clearer command and control meant better coordination and steady progress.

The fact is, Tripoli was never meant to be invaded from the east regardless of how much the rebel fighters wished for that. So for months, while the Al-Briga battles raged in the east, the rebels in the west trained in the Nafoosa mountain camps. The new philosophy: train forces who can sneak back to their own cities, well armed, in order to fight from within the cities when the time comes. This past week, these new brigades—Zawiyah, Tripoli, and Gharayan—demonstrated the fruits of this tactic.

Those who stood in the way faced classic carrot-and-stick choices, which reduced resistance and in some cases enticed residents to join the uprising. Patience indeed proved a virtue. Some Gaddafi strongholds were surrounded, but not invaded, such as in Gharayan, a city of 185,000 where Waheed Burshan, head of the local rebel council, chose to foment uprising rather than roll in. The city fell without any resistance.

Zawiyah was different: a combination of perimeter force and trained Zawiyah brigade soldiers planted within the city provided an outside-inside punch that surprised and overwhelmed Gaddafi’s forces. The same tactic in Tripoli yielded even better results, especially after NATO softened the morale and military capabilities of Gaddafi’s forces.

Indeed, a few days ago you could literally feel the desperation among Gaddafi’s leaders. After Benghazi, I stopped for few hours in Cairo, where I met some Libyan writers and activists meeting to discuss the upcoming Libyan transition.


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