Libyan rebels number less than 1,000?

Via Jim Geraghty, who wonders how the West hitched its star to such a poorly formed and hopeless band of opponents.  Look on the bright side: at least this makes the CIA’s job of vetting the resistance a lot easier than we thought.  CNN’s Jon Lee Anderson gives Eliot Spitzer the bad news, as Moammar Gaddafi’s forces roll back the rebellion even with NATO air strikes:

During “In the Arena,” Jon Lee Anderson, staff writer for The New Yorker reporting from Benghazi, Libya, tells Eliot Spitzer that the number of opposition fighters on the front lines are fewer than anyone would think and that they are poorly armed and badly trained. Anderson says, “Effective number of fighting men, well under 1,000. Actual soldiers, who are now in the fight, possibly in the very low hundreds on the opposition side.”

Speaking of those air strikes, just how is Gaddafi’s military avoiding them in their sweeping offensive?  They downsized their armored vehicles to something a little more sporty and a lot less conspicuous:

Moammar Gadhafi’s forces recaptured strategic territory and moved within striking distance of another major eastern city in Libya on Thursday, nearly reversing the gains rebels made since international airstrikes began.

The rebels, meanwhile, pleaded for more help, while a U.S. official said pro-Gadhafi forces were making themselves harder to target by using civilian “battle wagons” with makeshift armaments instead of tanks.

They shifted their transports to pickup trucks and other passenger vehicles, betting that NATO won’t fire on civilian vehicles on the road.  That may or may not be a good bet long-term, but in the short run it appears to have been effective.

The siege of Misrata turned critical today as well:

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shelled the rebel-held city of Misrata on Thursday and dozens of civilians have been killed in the past few days when their homes were hit, a rebel spokesman said.

Misrata, the last big rebel strong-hold in western Libya, has been encircled by pro-Gaddafi forces for weeks and repeated Western air strikes aimed at protecting civilians there have not so far succeeded in halting the attacks.

“Massacres are taking place in Misrata,” the rebel spokesman, called Sami, told Reuters by telephone.

“Artillery bombardment resumed this morning and is still going on. The (pro-Gaddafi) brigades could not enter the town but they are surrounding it,” he said.

The West’s attempt to push Gaddafi from power rests on a force that can’t possibly accomplish it on their own.  NATO and the US will have to reconsider the parameters of their mission if they hope to avoid the embarrassment of a rout of the rebels, with an ascendant Gaddafi and his family atop the dictatorship once again.