Reports: Libyan rebels retreating in disarray

posted at 10:12 am on March 29, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

After last night’s speech, Barack Obama had to hope that the rebels in Libya would keep the momentum as leadership for the Western intervention changed hands, at least nominally.  Instead, both Reuters and CBS report this morning that government forces have begun pushing rebels back east after a few days of falling back, and that the rebel retreat looks more like a rout.  In fact, it looks like the government may be picking up popular support:

Muammar Gaddafi’s better armed and organized troops reversed the westward charge of Libyan rebels as world powers gathered in London on Tuesday to plot the country’s future without the “brother leader.” …

Later, a hail of machinegun and rocket fire hit rebel positions. As the onslaught began, rebels took cover behind sand dunes to fire back but gave up after a few minutes, jumped into their pick-up trucks and sped off back down the road to the town of Bin Jawad. Shells landed near the road as they retreated.

Without air strikes it appears the rebels are not able to hold ground or make advances. The battle around Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, will show if the rebels have reached their limit.

Reports from retreating rebels that some residents outside Sirte fought alongside government troops are an ominous sign for world powers hoping for a swift end to Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

CBS called the retreat a “panicked scramble”:

Libyan government tanks and rockets blunted a rebel assault on Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on Tuesday and drove back the ragtag army of irregulars, even as world leaders prepared to debate the country future in London.

Rockets and tank fire sent Libya’s rebel volunteers in a panicked scramble away from the front lines, suggesting that the opposition is still no match for the superior firepower and organization of Qaddafi’s forces, despite an international campaign of deadly air strikes. ….

Tuesday’s shelling and the undisciplined volunteers’ disorganized flight in their pickup trucks, however, showed that the rebels’ fundamental inability to counter Qaddafi’s heavy weapons without extensive outside help.

It’s also disturbing that Gaddafi seems to be successful in recruiting his own militias.  They come from his power base, of course, and it’s not a great surprise that Sirte residents won’t be happy to see rebels take out their vengeance on their city.  Don’t be surprised to see Gaddafi try to focus media attention on his own “grassroots” support.

That opens a serious political risk for Obama, as all of the news agencies now routinely report that the only reason the rebels advanced this far was because of air strikes from the US and its coalition.  If the rebels cannot hold ground against the much-more disciplined government forces without allied air cover, that tends to discredit the notion that we are only enforcing a UN mandate and not intervening on their behalf.  If Gaddafi triumphs, the West will look weak; if the rebels can stall Gaddafi’s forces — which looks less likely without significantly increased air attacks — then we will have set Libya up for a long, bloody civil war, one which will create all of the failed-state conditions that serve as breeding grounds for radical Islamist terror groups.

If the West wants to avoid those outcomes, they will have to commit far more resources and work more openly on behalf of the rebels to do so, which will end up violating the UN mandate.  John McCain wants an all-out effort to topple Gaddafi, which sounds extreme but actually diagnoses precisely the predicament in which the US finds itself now.  If we’re not prepared to force regime change in Libya now that we’ve very obviously committed ourselves to it by helping the rebels advance, then we should get out — and shouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place.


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Comments

Our (erstwhile) Arab League “allies” should be encouraged to publicly bark their ‘casus belli’— including (but not limited to) the Saudi royal family, who (recall) Kaddafi targetted in 2004.

What’s the expiration date on Saudi blood debts?

What are Kaddafi’s merc wages in riyals?

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 12:12 PM

If he can pull off just one repeat performance pretty soon, the terror effect will be magnified tenfold, and the resulting egg splatter on various international coaltions plus our president would be profound.

a capella on March 29, 2011 at 12:21 PM

Dear Mr. President,

If you think a “cleansing” of his opponents by Gaddafi’s supporters is bad, what would it be if the rebels you have allied the US with decide to “cleanse” Libya of the “civilians” who supported Qaddafi?

What would be the Arab League’s position? What would the UN call for? What would “responsibility to protect” demand? What would you do?

Or have you thought about this?

BLOC on March 29, 2011 at 12:23 PM

day late and a dollar short

hanzblinx on March 29, 2011 at 10:17 AM

More like two weeks late and $100 million worth of Tomahawks short.

if the rebels can stall Gaddafi’s forces — which looks less likely without significantly increased air attacks — then we will have set Libya up for a long, bloody civil war, one which will create all of the failed-state conditions that serve as breeding grounds for radical Islamist terror groups.

If there’s a stalemate between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels along a line east of Sirte, this might be an opportunity for some CIA folks to start talking to the “rebels” in the cities they already hold and find out who they are and what they want, the decide what to do based on what they answer.

The UN resolution allows NATO to protect Libyan civilians in eastern Libya against Gaddafi’s forces, but if the people of Sirte are pro-Gaddafi, would they be better protected if NATO did nothing in Sirte?

Gaddafi is a terrorist and an enemy of the United States, but if the rebels (with NATO help) eventually take Tripoli and set up a government more hostile to the West than Gaddafi, what would be gained? However, Gaddafi’s air force is now weakened, and he is less of a threat to Europe. If eastern Libya and western Libya really can’t get along, could a split Libya be the best solution?

Steve Z on March 29, 2011 at 12:25 PM

However, Gaddafi’s air force is now weakened, and he is less of a threat to Europe. If eastern Libya and western Libya really can’t get along, could a split Libya be the best solution?

Steve Z on March 29, 2011 at 12:25 PM

He wasn’t a threat to Europe because of his air force. He was/is a threat to Europe(and us) because of his ability to terror bomb civilian airliners. We better hope he doesn’t have anything in the pipeline, now that he has nothing to lose.

a capella on March 29, 2011 at 12:32 PM

…we should get out — and shouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place.

I have Middle East war fatigue. We have been saving Muslims from Muslims for many years, are still considered the Great Satan, and it’s way past time they took care of one another. These different sects of Islam have been killing each other for eons, and even if we send in troops to stop them, it will only be temporary. They will get right back to their age old patterns as soon as we leave.

As long as we step in, their fellow ME Muslim countries can sit on their hands and save their resources…their funds, their armies.

This will end badly for us. We need to GTFO.

marybel on March 29, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Juan McVain is insane and should be locked up in a psychiatric facility immediately.

Heckle on March 29, 2011 at 12:04 PM

+ eleventy

angryed on March 29, 2011 at 12:33 PM

BTW where are crr6, Ernie, Grow Fins et al these days? A little tough to defend your Jesus now eh boys and girls?

angryed on March 29, 2011 at 12:34 PM

a capella: “If he can pull off just one repeat performance pretty soon, the terror effect will be magnified tenfold

Kaddafi’s terror turnaround time is measured in weeks or months.

March ’86: US Gulf of Sidra
April ’86: Libya Berlin bombing + TWA840

April ’86: US El Dorado Canyon
Sept ’86: Libya PA73
Dec ’88: Libya PA103
Sept ’89: Libya UTA772

You can see Kaddafi really learned his lesson from Reagan.

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Compare and contrast:
Republican President: slowly builds political and military coalition to topple dictator perceived as threat to US interests. Executes carefully-planned attack, and in the face of reverses, perserveres to a long victory, being vilified by Democrats and the US media all the way.

Democrat President: hesitates to take a position, finally argued by his own staff into limited attack with limited and unclear objectives, on dictator not threatening US interests. Then tries to form political support and military coalition to allow him to escape responsibility, all the while being hailed by the US media as a great leader, and questioned only rather gently by his own and opposition parties.

This is why responsible adults ignore the propaganda from the MSM, and don’t vote for Democrats, for anything, including dogcatcher. Dogs are our loyal and trusting friends, and deserve better.

drunyan8315 on March 29, 2011 at 12:44 PM

You can see Kaddafi really learned his lesson from Reagan.

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Well, Reagen tried to put him away for good. But, your point on timing is a bit ominous.

a capella on March 29, 2011 at 1:16 PM

BTW where are crr6, Ernie, Grow Fins et al these days? A little tough to defend your Jesus now eh boys and girls?

angryed on March 29, 2011 at 12:34 PM

I’m pretty sure Fins got the ban hammer a while back.

Mr. D on March 29, 2011 at 1:31 PM

So when is the REAL WAR going to start? You know, when Barry again drops a promise and introduces troops on the ground…..as if Special Ops isn’t there now.

GarandFan on March 29, 2011 at 1:32 PM

a capella: Reagen tried to put him away for good.

Do or Do not… there is no try.”

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 1:39 PM

Looks like Øbama will be arming the rebels, so Daffy’s days are numbered.

Øbama‘s doing everything now that he spent his first two years apologizing for.

Øbama, of course, will claim Daffy’s death/departure as a historic victory for his presidency. But if the rebel victory has the effect of increasing the grip of radical Islam over that country, then it’ll be a huge net loss to the U.S., Israel and the West.

(Rumor is that Øbama offered to give Daffy Texas, if only he’d move out of Libya.)

petefrt on March 29, 2011 at 1:45 PM

BTW where are crr6, Ernie, Grow Fins et al these days? A little tough to defend your Jesus now eh boys and girls?
angryed on March 29, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Busy fighting in Libya?

Really, my bets are they just enjoying some waffles…

Rookie on March 29, 2011 at 1:57 PM

HILLARY CLINTON: Hey, here’s an idea. How about we overthrow a tinpot dictator we already have contained and marginalized and help France prop up some ragtag group of terrorists… errr… civilians, that can control the oil fields and refineries?

ROBERT GATES: I thought different tribes with different allegiances controlled those different regions?

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah, I understand different terrorist groups, err… civilians, will control the refineries and oil fields, but surely the French can get them to work out their differences and be friendly.

After all, look at what a great job the French are doing with the Muslims in their own country.

BARACK OBAMA: Has the UN signed off on this? I don’t want an illegal war on my hands.

ROBERT GATES: Sir, shouldn’t Congress be consulted first?

BARACK OBAMA: Congress? No. I called Kathleen Sebelius up and she gave me the okay. We sneaked in a “Secretary shall” that everyone missed. Declaring war is now within the Secretary of Health and Human Service’s control. Good and welfare clause and all. You understand.

HILLARY CLINTON: Damn! Why didn’t I think of that for HillaryCare?

BARACK OBAMA: Let’s do this!!!!

ButterflyDragon on March 29, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Yikes is right … RUN, RUN AWAY.

tarpon on March 29, 2011 at 10:29 AM

You mean like this?

AH_C on March 29, 2011 at 2:36 PM

“Do or Do not… there is no try.”

Terp Mole on March 29, 2011 at 1:39 PM

Yeah, I know, but doing it from the air with certainty leaves lots of civilian parts scattered around. I wish we would take some lessons from the Mossad.

a capella on March 29, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Checking back with an old Italian friend,Machiavelli, and my German buddy Von Clausewitz I find the following advice.
Arm them enough,let it drag out long enough, you let both sides slaughter at will. This kills off future breading stock,warriors,ruins the country,so that it weakens one player on the chess board of the ME. Might break up OPEC as well as screwing the French who are really wanting an old Colony back for oil.The French can re Colonize,assume the burden,restart the Foreign Legion or do whatever. The UN will ring its hands and Bono will hold a sing along for some “Victims.”
Pragmatic solution and if it spills over to other OPEC countries we will finally DRILL in our own self interest.
Watch the Chinese as they need oil.

Col.John Wm. Reed on March 29, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Mean whilst…

… anyone else notice the price of gas lately.

I can’t wait for Petrobras to hurry up and start drilling so we can buy it

… Oh, wait!

Seven Percent Solution on March 29, 2011 at 3:39 PM

How this whole mess ends up a net positive is beyond me.

OxyCon on March 29, 2011 at 3:42 PM

Strangely enough, the British papers seem to think it’s all under control. Let’s hope Daffy delivers a big slap in the face for both Obama and Cameron. Almost funny.

Fortunata on March 29, 2011 at 3:45 PM

Hey. At least we have the Olympics in Chicago to look forward to.

TexasDan on March 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

The Rebels should plead with Obambi to please not be on their side.

Dr. ZhivBlago on March 29, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Dr. ZhivBlago
.Every thing zero tries to improve turns into a CF and FUBAR.

Col.John Wm. Reed on March 29, 2011 at 5:31 PM

If [AQ are in the ranks], we certainly cannot arm the rebellion… which means the game is over… unless NATO wants to use ground forces… but then to whom do you hand over power?

mankai on March 29, 2011 at 11:24 AM

How do we arm the rebellion in any case, without completely exposing the “innocent civilian” pretext for the fraud that it is? If Qaddafi were smart, he’d get off the “no mercy” rhetoric and adopt his own version of “protecting the innocent,” while using “universally accepted means for defeating an armed insurrection.”

Barnestormer on March 29, 2011 at 6:32 PM

Qaddafi supporters push east in pickups 29 Mar 2011 part one & part two
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fyNzsS-UBI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSGRurgNRao

looks like they learn not to use tanks

will13smith on March 29, 2011 at 10:26 PM

BTW where are crr6, Ernie, Grow Fins et al these days? A little tough to defend your Jesus now eh boys and girls?

angryed on March 29, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Ed banned a bunch of them… last week, I believe… BAD behavior…

Khun Joe on March 29, 2011 at 10:39 PM