Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Hunt For Khadafi Continues As Fighting Continues In Libya

The hunt for Mumar Khadafi continues. Mumar Khadafi was nowhere to be seen in the capital of Tripoli or in his overrun compound, but he apparently issued an audio recording calling on his supporters to fight to the bitter end. He also vowed to fight to victory or death. Rebels ransacked Khadafi's compound, which included all kinds of valuables, including some of the uniforms and costumes Khadafi wore in public, statues to himself, and other assorted items.

I think the Libyans will oblige him on the latter bit. Khadafi's now incapable of winning; his forces were routed from key areas around the country and his area of operations keeps shrinking. It's wishful thinking for the loyalists to think they can stem the tide of history.

Khadafi can't be seen out in the public and his son Saif could only show himself during a few minutes during the overnight to repute claims he had been captured by rebel forces.

None of this means that the country is safe by any stretch. Journalists holed up in the Rixos hotel are effectively prisoners to Khadafi's loyalists; they aren't allowed to leave, which means that the few journalists who opted not to stay in the hotel are going to get the scoops of a lifetime. The fighting continues as pockets of resistance are dealt with by the rebel forces, and artillery and gunfire continues to ricochet around the capital.

The concern is that like Saddam Hussein, did Khadafi plot the disappearance of his key forces so as to carry on an insurgency against the rebel groups.
With Gaddafi and son Saif al-Islam still nowhere to be found, it is likely that the family slipped out of the capital at the last moment, along with their die-hard supporters, according to one Libyan who has had contact with regime supporters during the conflict. He says he was told last month by tribal officials allied to Gaddafi that they had been carefully crafting a retreat, as the regime increasingly became aware that it was unlikely to survive. "It is obvious that everything is ready for them," says Noman Benotman, former head of an armed militant Libyan group who is now senior analyst for the London think tank Quilliam. "The way he evacuated Tripoli was all part of the plan." (See pictures of the lengthy battle for Libya.)

In a crackling audio address from his hideout in the early hours of Wednesday, Gaddafi said he had made a "tactical retreat" from Tripoli. Of the rebel fighters, he said: "They are evil incarnate. We should fight them." His words were broadcast on a new pro-Gaddafi web-television channel seemingly designed to replace the national propaganda network the leader has just lost. The address was widely dismissed by Libyans as the desperate words of a defeated tyrant. But they might hold some other meaning, according to Benotman. He claims to have met officials last month from a "very significant, large tribe" supportive of the regime, who told him that they had made a "pact" to support the regime's holdouts if Gaddafi's rule collapsed — even if the Colonel himself was captured or killed. Benotman believes that Gaddafi might have retreated to Al-Jufra, a military base south of the leader's hometown of Sirte, and that Saif al-Islam likely slipped out of Tripoli early Tuesday, shortly after dropping by the Rixos Hotel, where about 35 foreign journalists have been besieged since last weekend.
Rebels have placed a bounty on Khadafi, dead or alive.

While Khadafi purportedly claims to still be inside Tripoli somewhere, I think he's slipped out of the city and moved towards Sirte, which is his hometown. I just can't picture him leading this fight from the front and he's much more likely to be caught wearing a burkha or costume to avoid being captured than wearing a military uniform.

The number of regimes and countries still considering Khadafi (or Gathafi as his passport apparently shows) is shrinking. Burkina Faso and Chad, two nations which received large amounts of aid from Libya under Col Gaddafi, have now joined the list of more than 40 countries recognising the rebels' NTC as Libya's legitimate authority. Burkina Faso says it will offer Col Gaddafi exile if he requests it. From what Khadafi has been saying, I doubt Burkina Faso will have to worry about putting him up. The BBC also reports that there are more defections.

Not among those who have distanced themselves - [T]hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

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