People 3, Dictators 0

by wjw on August 23, 2011

While I was in sunny Reno enjoying the Worldcon, another autocratic regime crumbled into the desert sand.  I only found out when I turned on CNN Monday morning, but then regime c0llapse happened very, very quickly, within the previous 24 hours.

An offensive by a largely Tamazight-speaking Berber force from the western highlands coincided with a massive uprising in Tripoli itself. By the time the rebels arrived, the Tripolitanians had pretty much liberated themselves.  As I watch CNN now, I can see jubilant rebels carrying away gold-plated Kalashnikovs from Gaddafi’s own compound.

Yes, there are Gaddafis still at large, and there is still fighting.  But it’s a mop-up now, not a war.

This is an outcome so stunning, so successful, and so swift, that I really hadn’t even considered it as a serious possibility.  The Gaddafis seemed to have their capital, at least, under control.  I was terrified that there would be a months-long Siege of Tripoli, with massive civilian casualties, before the Gaddafi regime finally kicked the bucket.

Just look at the guys who won!  Ordinary Tripolitanians who had obviously been carefully putting together an armed underground resistance out of bits and pieces and who hid their operations from the security forces until the day of rising.    For a bunch of self-taught resistance fighters, that’s astonishing.

Not to mention the Berber army.  Quad-barreled anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of Toyota pickup trucks!  Volunteers armed with knives and meat cleavers hoping to scavenge an assault rifle!  High-school kids with two hours’ practice firing their AKs!  Officers who in civilian life were barbers, electricians, and shopkeepers!

They kicked the regime’s collective ass.  Colossal.

I even saw a picture of a tank turret mounted on the back of a flatbed truck.  They were firing this thing!  I’m amazed the truck suspension survived.

(I’d like to say that these events should be put down to the Deep State Effect.  Sound good to you?)

While we think about this profound issue, please enjoy this video featuring a young fighter who liberated Colonel Gaddafi’s cap!



Ken Houghton August 24, 2011 at 1:37 am

That the Berbers took out one of, ancestrally, their own tells you all you need to know about the transition of Khaddafi over the past 42 years.

I like “Deep State Effect” for the final throes of the uprising. But the circumstances happened because of the Silas Mariner effect.

Steve Stirling August 24, 2011 at 5:23 am

The NATO airstrikes, and the inconspicuous special-ops units which were directing them on the ground, and the ubiquitous recon and strike drones, were the difference between “rebellion crushed in rivers of blood” and what we got.

Our operation made it impossible for Qadaffi’s regime to use its armor, mechanized forces, artillery and air power effectively — every time they tried, everything went up in showers of sparks and flame and toasty body parts.

Once they couldn’t move openly and couldn’t use their heavy weapons, it was down to the rifle-grenade-and-knife level, and in that the rebels had the advantage, because the rebels really wanted to ‘get stuck in’ and the regime’s troops didn’t, or at least most of them didn’t.

Also we were blockading the country and supplying the rebels with weapons, logistical support, intelligence data, and advisors.

The technical developments of the past generation have made air power (and other indirect-fire weapons) much, much, much more effective — and have made reconaissance much more efficient too. You can now hit with real precision without getting close, and you can find anything that isn’t very carefully disguised and completely static.

This is most obvious in conventional warfare, of course; that is, a stand-up fight to hold or to take territory.

Note that nobody tries to fight us that way any more.

wjw August 24, 2011 at 5:55 am

Yep. And this was managed without sending large groups of conventional troops to Libya.

I remember muttering a few months ago that sending a French marine brigade to Misrata would do a world of good. It probably would have, but it turned out not to be necessary, and might have sent the wrong signal to the region.

Mind you, it would have saved an awful lot of lives in Misrata itself.

Richard Baldwin August 25, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Its interesting that this strategy for NATO is probably more effective at creating and maintaining good relations between the West and liberated populations than would be sending in large groups of conventional troops. By letting the Libyans do the bulk of the ground fighting with air support alone, NATO risks fewer troops, and in return the Libyans are less likely to resent Western involvement.

Dave Bishop August 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I’m not sure how the Libyan opposition managed this because, according to the many reports that I have seen on British TV, they seem to have fired most of their ammunition into the air!

Steve Stirling August 26, 2011 at 7:46 am

Dave, long experience has shown that it’s very difficult to turn Arabs into good shots. They tend to hold guns like it’s their man-part. Really.

There’s a youtube video which gives a perfect example of this. An insurgent rushes out, bandana around his head, and holds his AK out at an angle (like the aforementioned man-part) and fires a long ‘orgasmic’ magazine-load into the air at 45 degrees while screaming some slogan.

Then someone taps a perfect four-round burst from an M249 across his torso, after which he falls down twitching. You hear an East Tennessee voice chuckle: “Well, dang!” and then the gunner taps off another short burst across the body, just to make sure.

In short, Libya was a contest between two bunches of clowns.

Dave Bishop August 26, 2011 at 8:21 am

Yes, Steve, you’re undoubtedly right. God save us from heavily armed clowns!

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