Libyan rebels are advancing toward the capital Tripoli, after regaining control of the strategic oil town of Ajdabiya from pro-Gaddafi forces. Meanwhile, NATO is due to meet on Sunday to discuss transferring control of the mission in Libya.
There certainly seems to be an important turnaround in the military conflict between Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and the opposition, as rebel forces have finally made significant progress.
Recent reports say that rebel troops have entered the crucial oil port of Ras-Lanouf, 660 km away from Tripoli, while government forces are retreating to Sirt.
On Saturday the rebels took over the city of Ajdabiya, which is 160 kilometers away from Beghazi, the opposition’s stronghold.
After Ajdabiya, the rebels took over another oil seaport, Marsa-el-Brega, which they had lost in the beginning of the conflict.
On Sunday morning Libyan rebel forces occupied the town of Uqayla, a town 40 km to the west of Brega.
Now the rebels have recaptured all the cities they lost in the last week.
Allegedly, the opposition leaders intend to march on Tripoli.
However, from Ras-Lanouf onwards the next major city is the city of Sirte, the hometown of Muammar Gaddafi, where the support for him is incredibly strong. There the rebels are likely to meet with much more resistance than they have seen already.
Although the mood in the cities the rebels are recapturing is one of celebration, reportedly there are concerns among the population that this is not the end of the fight for their city. Some of the citizens also expressed distress over the rebel fighters themselves, saying some of their leaders cannot be trusted.
On Saturday there was also fighting in Misrata, the closest city to the capital Tripoli where Gaddafi’s troops and the opposition meet face to face.
However, there were reports that the government has the upper hand in Misrata, as reinforcements were brought in and the city is being shelled again.
Earlier, US army officials claimed they fired some one hundred Tomahawk missiles at Misrata and other targets. Over the last 24 hours at least five Libyan planes and two helicopters have been destroyed on the outskirts of Misrata.
Is opposition’s euphoria justified?
The focus of the rebel groups now is to advance westward; however, their euphoria may not last long. It is expected that forces loyal to Gaddafi will show much stronger resistance to the fighters.
What raises concern is that it took the rebels almost a week to overcome the might of Gaddafi’s army, and this confirms how reliant the opposition troops have been on international involvement.
The rebels have actually called on the coalition forces to conduct more air strikes, admitting that they encountered almost no defense in Ajdabiya.
It remains unclear how far the Western alliance will go in terms of providing air cover and protecting the opposition fighters as the conflict goes on.
A scenario might unfold in which Gaddafi’s troops will be pushed into the desert or in which fighting will begin in the cities currently fully under Gaddafi’s control, where there have previously been no military operations.
If the coalition continues to fight in these places, this will clearly be an offensive and will contradict the intention of merely protecting civilians from Gaddafi’s strikes.
In some places a strong opinion already exists that coalition forces have already violated the UN Security Council resolution, aimed at protecting civilians.
The Libyan government accused the Western community of taking sides in an internal conflict.
Government spokesperson Ibrahim Mussa was quoted as saying Western military involvement is “immoral”, “illegal”, and “an action that was not authorized by the UN Security Council”.
Mussa also said that despite the coalition claims that they are in Libya to protect civilians, they are merely pushing the country on the brink of the civil war.
Meanwhile, on Sunday NATO is expected to take command of the no-fly zone over Libya. NATO ambassadors are also meeting to discuss whether or not they can expand their role in operation, possibly turning the no-fly zone into what is being called a “no-fly plus”.
US officials have allegedly said there are only few more steps in the planning process, after which the command of the whole mission will pass to the NATO members.
According to RT correspondent Paula Slier, who is in Tripoli monitoring the situation, the common fear on the ground is that as a result of the present situation Libya will be stuck in a stalemate, and will be finally divided into two. However, most people, regardless of their political views, do not seem satisfied with such a scenario.