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Gadhafi’s Troops Rally Against Rebels: What’s Next for Libya?

March 16, 2011 at 8:21 PM EST
Jeffrey Brown talks to Dartmouth College's Dirk Vandewalle about what's next for Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's troops rally to recapture key rebel-held cities.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Also today, The New York Times reported, four of its journalists are missing in Libya. They disappeared Tuesday while covering the rebels’ retreat in the east.

To update the overall situation, we’re joined again by Dirk Vandewalle. He’s an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya.”

So, how has Gadhafi been able to seemingly turn things around and retake these towns?

DIRK VANDEWALLE, Dartmouth College: Well, I think, originally, we had all anticipated that, as the uprising proceeded, that this would turn into a longer conflict, in which eventually this international community would have a chance to weigh in.

But it now seems that Gadhafi has managed very skillfully to keep around him, not only the Revolutionary Guards, and he has also managed to keep bring in mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. And overall, he has simply managed also in part convincing the population in Tripolitania — and, certainly, he has a number of supporters in Tripolitania — that his political experiment is still viable and that what he describes as a fifth column, the United States and others coming in, may indeed be a danger to Libya.

So, he’s put all his resources, both military and ideological resources, into fighting off what he calls the invaders. And, of course, that has been primarily done by the brigades that have been headed by his two sons and that will perhaps prove instrumental, if indeed the army now moves beyond Ajdabiya toward Benghazi.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of Benghazi, just — just now on the wire — I don’t know if you have had a chance to see this, but apparently, the Libyan army went on television tonight and issued an ultimatum to residents of the opposition of — of Benghazi, warning them to leave rebel-held locations and weapons storage area.

That sounds quite threatening. What — what is going on there? How strong is Benghazi as an opposition capital right now?

DIRK VANDEWALLE: Well, it is indeed a very ominous development, as you point out.

The Gadhafi government, over the last few days, has already distributed leaflets from helicopters in a number of cities in the east part of the country, and indeed — and Saif al-Islam actually repeated that in his news conference earlier today, that those who oppose the regime, this is their last chance to really get out, and the way to get out is through Egypt.

What it means also, however, is that we now have in Benghazi the remnants of that uprising, quite disorganized. The leaders of the uprising have tried to come up with some kind of organization, military organization, if at all possible, but have simply proven unable to do so.

And so, what we have in Benghazi is really a ragtag army of irregulars, people who have really very little experience. There are very few experienced military men in Benghazi. And so, everybody is really worried, because, after what happened in Misrata, in Ajdabiya, it’s quite clear that this army by itself is not capable of really withstanding what will undoubtedly be a — kind of a pincer movement if indeed the Libyan army moves from Ajdabiya along the coastal road and through a desert road into Benghazi.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in the meantime, as we have watched, as we said in our setup piece, there’s been continued discussions and debate in the international community about a no-fly zone or other actions, but nothing definitive.

What is your read on that? Which countries have been pushing hard? Which countries have been most hesitant? And where do things stand right now?

DIRK VANDEWALLE: I think the international community, and particularly Secretary Clinton, has realized — and she indicated that in her comments today in Cairo — that, in a sense, a no-fly zone is no longer really sufficient, because what we really face is now a final fight in Benghazi that, in part, will only be fought with airplanes, but mostly perhaps with armored units, with tanks and so on.

And so, what — when Secretary Clinton was talking in Cairo, when she said that we would seek additional authorization from the international community for measures beyond the no-fly zone, in a sense, she indicated that we needed to have these to really make any stands against the government forces possible, so not just a no-fly zone, but also sometimes what is called a no-drive zone, in other words, the ability to stop tanks and heavy artillery from moving toward Benghazi.

And, of course, there has been an enormous amount of disagreement within the international community, the European Union, the G8, and then, of course, the Security Council at the United Nations. And it was not really until today, really, that a lot of — all of these support systems started to fall into place.

And so, when Secretary Clinton talked about the vote particularly at the Arab League as a sea change, she meant precisely that — that it now gives particularly the United States, I think, the ability to move forward in cooperation with the United States — with the United Nations Security Council and hopefully do something before this final fight for Benghazi really starts in earnest.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will leave it there.

Dirk Vandewalle, thank you. Thank you once again.