Libya’s NTC thinks Gaddafi Near Algeria

By Joseph Logan and Sherine El Madany

SIRTE (Reuters) – Libya’s new rulers said on Wednesday they believed fugitive former leader Muammar Gaddafi was being shielded by nomadic tribesmen in the desert near the Algerian border, while his followers fend off assaults on his hometown.

Intense sniper and artillery fire from pro-Gaddafi fighters has so far prevented National Transitional Council (NTC) forces from taking Sirte despite more than two weeks of fighting and two full-on assaults.

One of Gaddafi’s last two bastions, it has withstood a siege, NTC tank and rocket fire as well as NATO air strikes, and the United Nations and international aid agencies are worried about conditions for civilians trapped inside.

More than a month since NTC fighters captured the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi remains defiantly on the run pledging to lead a campaign of armed resistance against the new leaders.

Gaddafi himself may be holed up near the western town of Ghadames, near the Algerian border, under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, a senior NTC military official said.

“There has been a fight between Tuareg tribesmen who are loyal to Gaddafi and Arabs living there (in the south). We are negotiating. The Gaddafi search is taking a different course,” Hisham Buhagiar told Reuters, without elaborating.

Many Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbors, have backed Gaddafi since he supported their rebellions against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and allowed them to settle in Libya.

Buhagiar said Gaddafi’s most politically prominent son, Saif al-Islam, was in the other final loyalist holdout, Bani Walid, and that another son, Mutassem, was in Sirte.
Lack of coordination and division at the front-line have been hampering NTC attempts to capture Sirte and Bani Walid.

Fighting continued on separate eastern and western fronts in Sirte on Wednesday and commanders said they would try to join the two fronts together and take the city’s airport.

“There is progress toward the coastal road and the airport…. The plan is for various brigades to invade from other directions,” NTC fighter Amran al-Oweiwi said.

Street-fighting was under way at a roundabout 2 km (1.5 miles) east of the town center, where anti-Gaddafi fighters were pinned down for a third day by sniper and artillery fire.

As NATO planes circled overhead, NTC forces moved five tanks to the front but were immediately met with Grad rockets fired from inside the town, missing the tanks by only yards.

A Reuters crew at the scene saw several NTC fighters flee the front-line under heavy fire while others stood their ground.

“If I die, I’ll die proud,” one fighter shouted as he left a group of hiding comrades and ran back to the front.

“At the buildings! At the buildings!” an NTC commander ordered fighters manning the tanks, in an apparent attempt to target snipers, as thick black smoke rose over the town.

On the western front, fighters leapt into pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns and raced in the direction of the airport.

Medical workers said 15 fighters were killed in Sirte on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll. Two more, including a senior NTC field commander, were killed on Wednesday. More than 100 fighters were wounded, many from sniper fire.

NTC fighters captured 60 African mercenaries in Sirte on Wednesday. They said most had come from Chad and Mali to fight with Gaddafi loyalists.

A commander leading the attack on Sirte said on Tuesday he was in talks with elders inside the city about a truce, but the head of an anti-Gaddafi unit on the east rejected negotiations.

In Tripoli, a senior NTC officer said his fighters, on entering Sirte two days ago, had found and seized a helicopter under camouflage that appeared to have been made ready for a swift departure. He told Reuters he suspected the helicopter was assigned for the use of a senior official of the ousted Gaddafi government, possibly one of Gaddafi’s sons.


As the fighting continues, humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm about the possibility of civilian casualties in the town. Gaddafi’s spokesman has said NATO air strikes and NTC shelling are killing civilians.

NATO and the NTC deny that. They say Gaddafi loyalists are using civilians inside Sirte as human shields and have kidnapped and executed those they believe to be NTC supporters.

“Our main worry is the people being displaced because of the fighting,” said Jafar Vishtawi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), near Sirte.

Civilians fleeing the town have said there is no power, little water and that the local population is terrified.

Taking the last two Gaddafi strongholds and finding the toppled leader would bring the NTC closer to establishing their credibility as the country’s new rulers.

A Syria-based television station that has been broadcasting audio speeches by Gaddafi, reported on Tuesday that Gaddafi had addressed his supporters and urged them to fight in a speech broadcast on a local radio station in Bani Walid. The report by Arrai television could not be independently verified.

In a separate development, NTC justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said he was ready to work with Scottish authorities to probe the possible involvement of others in the Lockerbie bombing apart from the sole Libyan convicted for the attack.

His remark reversed a position he took only on Monday, when he said that as far as Libya was concerned the case of the bombing of the U.S.-bound airliner over the Scottish village of Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives was closed.

Scottish prosecutors had asked Libya’s NTC to give them access to papers or witnesses that could implicate more suspects in the attack, possibly including Gaddafi himself.

(Additional reporting by William MacLean and Alexander Dziadosz in Tripoli, Emad Omar in Benghazi, Samia Nakhoul in London, Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Louise Ireland)


Libyan Rebels Push Towards Tripoli on Two Fronts

By Peter Graff


A Libyan boy flashing a victory sign attends a rally against Muammar Gaddafi in Misrata July 6, 2011.  

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

AL-QAWALISH, Libya (Reuters) – Rebel fighters seized a village south of the Libyan capital and another group advanced toward Tripoli from the east on Wednesday in the biggest push in weeks toward Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold.

Rebels firing their rifles into the air in celebration poured into the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after a six-hour battle with pro-Gaddafi forces who had been holding the town.

Rushing through an abandoned checkpoint where government troops had left tents and half-eaten bread in their rush to get away, the rebels ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags.

Farther north, rebels pushed westward from the city of Misrata to within 13 km of the center of the town of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Gaddafi forces are based.

But they came under artillery fire. Doctors at the al-Hekma hospital in Misrata said 14 fighters had been killed on Wednesday and about 50 were injured.

The advances came amid reports that Gaddafi — under pressure from a five-month uprising against his rule, sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign — was seeking a deal under which he would step down.

His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.

A Libyan official told Reuters on Wednesday there were signs a solution to the conflict could be found by the start of August, though he did not say what that solution might involve.

In the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata, thousands demonstrated against Gadaffi, waving European and rebel flags and calling for the end of his four-decade rule.

The rebel advances followed weeks of largely static fighting. Heavily armed Gaddafi forces still lie between the rebels and Tripoli, and previous rebel advances have either bogged down or quickly turned into retreats.

But with Al-Qawalish now in rebel hands, they can advance northeast to the larger town of Garyan, which controls the main highway leading into Tripoli. Libyan state television reported on Wednesday that NATO hit targets in Garyan as well fuel tanks in the town of Brega, 200 km (130 miles) west of Benghazi.

The previous big advance in the region was last month, when rebels pushed 20 km (12 miles) north from their base in the Western Mountains to the town of Bir al-Ghanam.

Misrata Push

At the frontline on the outskirts of Zlitan, a unit of fighters had built a sand-bank behind which they could shelter while firing at government troops. There were still sounds of intermittent shelling as night fell.

Unit commander Tarek Mardi, a 36-year-old former banker, said pro-Gaddafi forces had tried to push his fighters back but they had held their ground.

“Why isn’t NATO doing its job, where are the Apaches?” he asked, referring to the attack helicopters the alliance had deployed to Libya. “We are protecting our people, our country. We want to save our land from Gaddafi. He is a criminal.”

More than 100,000 rebel supporters spilled into the streets of Benghazi waving European and rebel flags and chanting slogans against the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi, who has ruled oil producer Libya for 41 years, says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s oil.

Deal Talk

A Russian newspaper this week quoted what it described as a high-level source as saying Gaddafi is sounding out the possibility of stepping down on condition there was a political role for one of his sons.

A Libyan government spokesman denied that report, saying Gaddafi’s future was not up for negotiation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Reuters in Tripoli that a solution to the conflict could be found before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins early in August.

“There are signals that the crisis will find a solution in the coming weeks. We will do whatever possible so that our people will spend Ramadan in peace,” he said.

“Currently the key hurdle to a solution is the NATO military campaign, and we hope that our friends in the African Union organization will do whatever possible to convince it to stop its aggression against our people.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no confirmed information that Gaddafi had sounded out the possibility of stepping down.

“But it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power,” Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Misrata, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Lamine Chikhi in Tripoli, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Maria Golovnina in Benghazi, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Moscow bureau; Writing by Christian Lowe and David Dolan; Editing by Diana Abdallah)


India and Pakistan: Cold Start for the Hottest War?

By J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t

We have all been witness to a long and continuing war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad ever since the Mumbai terrorist strike of November 2008 disrupted the India-Pakistan “peace process” and “composite dialogue” which had kept going until then despite smaller problems and provocations. These statements and counter-statements, however, do not constitute the exchange that should cause the most serious concern over peace in South Asia.

A larger and direr threat is what a strangely less-noticed debate between the military establishments of the two countries presents. The chiefs of the two armies and security experts on both sides, besides others in either distinguished uniform or defense-related positions of prominence, have been engaged in the debate where a nuclear war is treated in mind-numbingly matter-of-fact terms.

It all started with a statement on November 23, 2009, by India’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Deepak Kapoor, which deserved a much wider notice than it received. He told a seminar in New Delhi: “The possibility of a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still a reality, at least in the Indian sub-continent.”

He followed this up with public observations on December 29, 2009, about a plan to “launch self-contained and highly-mobile ‘battle groups,’ adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours.” The reference was to the “cold start” military doctrine, reportedly first propounded by the Indian army in 2004 and fine-tuned subsequently. The doctrine for a “limited war” – something “short of a nuclear war” – has triggered a debate that actually raises again the prospect of the most dreaded of conflicts between the close neighbors.

Details of the doctrine make it clear that it is designed to promote war by countering Indian democracy and international peace initiatives. India’s security analyst Subhash K. Kapila – who describes the doctrine as “a blitzkrieg-type strategy” to be pursued through “integrated battle groups” drawn from all the three wings of the armed forces – puts these objectives in other words.

In a paper titled “India’s new ‘cold start’ doctrine strategically reviewed,” Kapila notes that the doctrine, which says goodbye to weeks-long “military mobilization,” will not only retain the surprise element in the offensive. It will also serve two other purposes.

In the first place, it will “compel the political leadership to give political approval ab initio and thereby free the armed forces to generate their full combat potential from the outset.” The government is required to give the army a blank check, so to speak. Long mobilization “gives the political leadership in India time to waver under pressure, and in the process deny Indian Army its due military victories.” Secondly, lengthy preparations also allow time for “Pakistan’s external patrons … to start exerting coercive pressures and mobilizing world opinion …”

The analysis makes it clear that the doctrine will demand a new degree of militarism of India’s political leadership. The strategy can succeed, Kapila points out, only if New Delhi has the “political will to use offensive military power” and “pre-emptive military strategies,” the “political sagacity to view strategic military objectives with clarity” and the “political determination to pursue military operations to their ultimate conclusion without succumbing to external pressures.”

Last, but certainly not the least, condition for the success of the strategy will be what Kapila calls the “political determination to cross [the] nuclear threshold if Pakistan seems so inclined.” The paper notes: “Pakistan has declared that it will go for nuclear strikes against India when a significant portion of its territory has been captured or likely to be captured, … when a significant destruction of the Pakistani military machine has taken place or when Pakistani strategic assets (read nuclear deterrents) are endangered.” Offensives under the doctrine will not allow “Pakistan to reach the above conclusions.”

What about the dreadful possibility that Pakistan does reach such a conclusion, even if by mistake, and responds with a nuclear strike? The analyst provides the answer implicit in the doctrine: “Pakistan cannot expect that India would sit idle and suffer a Pakistani nuclear strike without a massive nuclear retaliation.” As the paper elaborates, “Pakistan’s external strategic patrons can coerce or dissuade both sides to avoid a nuclear conflict, but once Pakistan uses a nuclear first strike no power can restrain India from going in for its nuclear retaliation and the consequences for Pakistan in that case stand well discussed in strategic circles. Pakistan would (be) wiped out.”

Pakistani responses have been prompt and even worse than predictable. General Deepak’s counterpart, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani charged India with “charting a course of dangerous adventurism whose consequences can be both unintended and uncontrollable.” As Pakistan’s peace activist Zia Mian put it: “In other words, Pakistan was threatening to use nuclear weapons if India tried to carry out the kind of conventional attack it has been rehearsing.”

The civilian-military National Command Authority (NCA) of Pakistan, meeting under Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on January 13, took “serious note of recent Indian statements about conducting conventional military strikes under a nuclear umbrella” and said “such irresponsible statements reflected a hegemonic mindset, oblivious of dangerous implications of adventurism in a nuclearized context.”

The NCA added: “Massive inductions of advanced weapon systems, including installation of ABMs (anti-ballistic missiles), build-up of nuclear arsenal and delivery systems through ongoing and new programs, assisted by some external quarters, offensive doctrines like ‘Cold Start’ and similar accumulations in the conventional realm, tend to destabilize the regional balance.” Earlier, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri took it upon himself to declare: “Pakistan’s defense establishment has taken serious notice of the Indian doctrine of ‘Cold Start’ and all necessary arrangements have been made for an appropriate and timely response in case of any Indian misadventure.”

It was left, again, to security experts to elaborate on the subject. Among these was Maleeha Lodhi, a journalist, an academic and a diplomat. A former high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom, and a former ambassador to the US, she was recently reported to be under consideration as a possible replacement for Hussain Haqqani as the new Pakistani ambassador in Washington.

In an analysis published on January 5 in Pakistan’s News International, Lodhi talks of the notion of “limited war” contained in the doctrine, and says: “It overlooks the fact that in a crisis the nuclear threshold will be indeterminate. The threshold cannot be wished away by “speed in mobilization,” she said.

“In fact,” she added, “the shorter the duration needed for a mobilization the greater the risk of escalation and the likely lowering of Pakistan’s nuclear red lines. The long fuse in a crisis provided by the time required for assembly and deployment of forces has so far helped to avoid a catastrophic war.”

Lodhi warns: “If operationalized, the ‘cold start’ doctrine will force Pakistan to re-evaluate its policy of keeping its nuclear arsenal in ‘separated’ form and move towards placing its strategic capability in a higher state of readiness, including mating warheads to delivery systems. The action-reaction cycle will move the subcontinent to a perilous state of hair-trigger alert.”

The same scary prospect is raised in an article by security columnist Farzana Shah in the Asian Tribune of January 14. She writes: “(The) Indian military establishment is relying much more on President (Asif Ali) Zardari’s announcement that Pakistan will not use its nuclear weapon as first strike. In reality, it is Pakistan army who will decide which weapon is to be used when and where.”

The deciding authority, Shah suggests, only makes the danger more real. She adds: “Another problem, which India is going to face during any execution of Cold Start, is the gauge of nuclear threshold of Pakistan, a point where Pakistan would decide to go for unconventional warfare. This is where Army Chief Asfaq Pervez Kayani (has) hinted that the consequences of any misadventure in a nuclear overhang can be suicidal for India.”

Anyone with any doubt about the alternative to a peace-oriented India-Pakistan dialogue needs only to listen to even a little of the debate over the cold start doctrine and its nuclear dimension.