– Below the MSM “Radar”: Algeria’s National Liberation Front Regime, Fearing Spread of “Arab Spring” Unrest, Throws Its Weight behind Qaddafi, Transports Arms, Mercenaries, Polisario Guerrillas to Libya
– Looters Steal Vehicles from Algerian Embassy in Tripoli, Supporters of Libya’s Rebel Government Raise Flag of Transitional National Council over Embassy in Algiers (source)
– South African Air Force Plane on Standby in Tunisia to Ferry Qaddafi to Non-ICC Signatory Country Like Cuba, Venezuela, or Russia (source)
– Experts Caution “Tough Urban Battle” May Lie Ahead between Lightly Armed Rebels and Government Forces Held in Reserve for Defense of Tripoli
The “Arab Spring,” which toppled the socialist regimes in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, also provoked revolutions in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, leading to civil war in the first country, a bloody government crackdown in the second, and an internationally mediated transfer of power, now underway, in the third. Pictured above: Smoke billows above neighborhood in Tripoli, on August 22, 2011.
In Libya, especially, NATO-backed rebels who began their insurgency with anti-regime protests in mid-February, entered the capital Tripoli on Sunday, pouring in from the south, east, and west. Hundreds of rebel fighters occupied the city’s Green Square, only to pull back from the latter on Monday upon word that Qaddafi loyalists were organizing a counter-offensive in the capital. Strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces, according to CNN, remain in control of at least three sites in the city: the Bab al-Aziziya military barracks, which have sustained severe damage from NATO air strikes, a hospital, and the Rixos Hotel, where international journalists are housed.
The military situation is fluid in Libya. Rumours abound concerning Qaddafi’s whereabouts , possibly in a bunker under Bab al-Aziziya or somewhere in Algeria, where the government has openly backed the strongman’s defiant anti-West stance. Executive intelligence reports like Austin-based Stratfor assert that the country’s internationally recognized successor regime, the Transitional National Council (TNC), is waging its own disinformation campaign against Qaddafi, ahead of a full-scale assault upon Tripoli (“Libyan Rebels Closing in on Tripoli,” August 20, 2011; email update).
Last Wednesday, Libya’s rebels seized an oil refinery near Zawiya, a town just 30 miles west of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire could be heard after rebels in cars loaded with large-calibre ammunition converged around the refinery. Rebel fighter Abdulkarim Kashaba said that his comrades in arms had taken “control [of] the gates of the refinery” and were planning an assault on the town. Although much of the fuel used by the Libyan army has been smuggled across the border from Tunisia and Algeria, the Zawiya refinery supplies Tripoli, where the strongman has been holed up since the initial uprising.
At the time, BBC correspondent Matthew Price predicted that the fall of Zawiya would be both a “strategic and psychological blow” to the 42-year-old socialist regime of Colonel Qaddafi. This prediction appears to have been accurate. Since then, Qaddafi loyalists have lost territory to rebel forces in the country’s west.
After seizing Zawiya, insurgents pushed rapidly east , capturing an important military base that is home to the Khamis Brigade, an elite force led by Khamis Qaddafi. One of the strongman’s seven sons, Khamis has in the past carried out military exchanges in Belarus, where the Qaddafi clan enjoys the support of President Alexander Lukashenko. “Exultant” rebel troops seized weapons from the base and were seen hauling away boxes of brand-new Belgian munitions, as others sped away in trucks bristling with confiscated weaponry.
By Sunday, rebel forces reached the Tripoli suburb of Janzour, where witnesses said Qaddafi loyalists had earlier abandoned their posts. Residents took to the streets to cheer the rebels as they swept past in their pickups into the southern fringes of the city. At the same time, rebels advancing along the eastern coastal highway were reported to have linked up with opposition fighters in the eastern suburb of Tajura, long a stronghold of opposition to Qaddafi, effectively cutting off the capital from external supply lines.
Rebels also secured Tripoli’s seaport, where several hundred reinforcements for the opposition arrived by boat, and evicted Qaddafi loyalists from the Mitiga air base on the eastern outskirts of the city.
Reporters traveling with the insurgents related how Qaddafi’s defenses were “melting away faster than had been expected.” There were reports of entire regular army units disintegrating as rebels approached the capital, with Qaddafi loyalists inside the city “tearing off their uniforms, throwing down their weapons and attempting to blend into the population.”
“I never thought I’d see a day like this; it’s like our independence day,” rejoiced Tripoli resident Adel Bibas. “This is the end of the colonel,” he added confidently, referring to Muammar al-Qaddafi.
In light of reports that rebels now hold 95 percent of Tripoli, NATO member state leaders are once again demanding Qaddafi’s surrender. British Prime Minister David Cameron urged: “Qaddafi must stop fighting, without conditions — and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya. His regime is falling apart and in full retreat. There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead.”
NATO air strikes against the Libyan army, which began on March 19 with the intent of enforcing a United Nations no-fly zone, will continue, Cameron vowed, “as long as it is needed.” The British PM acknowledged that he had spoken to Mustafa Abdel Jalil, president of the rebel council, last week. Foreign Secretary William Hague, he explained, will coordinate British support for the TNC in the upcoming weeks.
Joining British calls for Qaddafi’s unconditional surrender were Germany, Italy, and other European Union countries, which also urged the rebels to “respect human rights and not to exact revenge on Gaddafi supporters.” In the rebel capital, Benghazi, in the country’s east, huge crowds gathered to celebrate what they hoped was the imminent collapse of regime forces in Tripoli.
While there is a “big question mark” about Qaddafi’s whereabouts, Al-jazeera reports that his “all powerful” brother-in-law and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi had been killed, whether by rebels or NATO air strikes is not clear.
Over the weekend, the TNC revealed that its forces in Tripoli had arrested three of Qaddafi’s sons, including Saadi, a businessman who has invested in Hollywood movies. When the insurgency erupted in mid-February, former soccer player Saadi returned to his homeland to command his father’s special forces units.
In 2010, the Hollywood media reported on the strange alliance between producer Matty Beckerman and Saadi in their formation of Natural Selection, a company with plans to make five movies over the next 20 years. Saadi has invested US$100 million in the company, which by last year had allocated US$12 million toward the movie The Experiment, and fully financed the US$3 million Isolation, a thriller directed by Steven Kay (The Shield). Natural Selection’s operations have been “paralyzed” since the Libyan civil war began.
The rebels’ governing body acknowledged that its officials had also arrested another Qaddafi offspring, Saif al-Islam, while a third, Muhammad, surrendered to rebel fighters who stormed his residence in Tripoli. CNN states that the International Criminal Court held talks on Monday with the TNC on transferring Saif al-Islam to its custody. He is wanted on a war crimes charge for allegedly having ordered attacks on unarmed anti-regime protesters.
Elsewhere in the region, last Friday night Tunisia’s armed forces repelled a group of armed Libyans who had infiltrated the smaller North African country by vehicle. The fighting, which continued into Saturday, resulted in several casualties. A Tunisian military source could not confirm whether the Libyan infiltrators were Qaddafi loyalists or rebels. In recent days, the Tunisian army has reinforced its presence along its border with Libya. As a result of rebel advances in western Libya, Qaddafi’s forces near Tunisia have been cut off from their supply lines to Tripoli.
It is possible that this skirmish between Tunisian and Libyan forces represented an attempt by Qaddafi loyalists to smuggle their leader out of the country to Algeria. Some reports suggest that the Libyan strongman is in fact hiding near the Algerian border. The long-ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) regime in Algiers is openly supporting Qaddafi, no doubt in order to thwart the spread of the populist “Arab Spring” to Algeria.
Like the Libyan strongman, Algeria’s FLN has for nearly 50 years been committed to Arab socialism and a vigorous pro-Moscow, anti-Washington ideological line. Algerian leaders surely remember with trepidation the 1988 riots and civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, both of which threatened to topple their military-backed dictatorship.
Recently, Algeria’s opposition Socialist Forces Front accused the FLN of “operations meant to destabilize the transitional democratic government in Tunisia, and also of undermining the Libyan resistance.” In the last two weeks, Algeria denied accusations that a Libyan ship offloaded armaments, destined for Qaddafi’s troops, at the port of Djen Djen, 267 kilometres east of Algiers. Libya’s rebel government insists that the ship, sailing under Qaddafi’s plain green flag, arrived at Djen Djen on July 19 and then the shipment was conveyed across the land border into Libya.
Abdulhafidh Ghoga, TNC vice president, has denounced the “duplicity” of the FLN and accused the Algerian government of backing Qaddafi both militarily and politically. He asserts that Chad, Mali, Zimbabwe, and Kenya have dispatched regular troops to participate in Qaddafi’s defense of Tripoli and that “there is evidence that the government of Algeria is taking part in this.” The Algerian opposition in exile in Europe, moreover, alleges that there are Algerian armed forces in Libya. TNC spokesman Shamsuddin Abdulmollah reports that rebels have captured 15 Algerian “mercenaries” in western Libya.
There is additional evidence that Algeria has sent its proxy forces in the Polisario Front to bolster the Libyan strongman. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican Respresentative in the US Congress, has pointed to evidence that combatants from the Algerian-backed Western Saharan guerrillas are among the forces fighting for the Libyan regime. Edward Gabriel, former US ambassador to Morocco, alleges that “hundreds of Polisario mercenaries are being paid $10,000 (Dh 36,700) each by Qaddafi to fight in Libya.” Algeria has used the Polisario Front to wear down its old foe Morocco, which claims Western Sahara.
In April, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé challenged Algiers about its connection to an arsenal that Qaddafi’s troops had abandoned on the battlefield, which was discovered by French military advisers to Libya’s rebels.
On the diplomatic front, Algerian officials have worked assiduously at the United Nations, European Union, and Arab League to limit or terminate NATO involvement in the Libyan civil war. Algeria and Syria are the only two Arab countries that opposed the UN-imposed no-fly zone over Libya. Algerian authorities contend that the Libyan rebels have close links with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and, therefore, refuse to recognize the TNC. Instead, the Algerian government has endorsed an African Union “peace” plan that would leave Colonel Qaddafi and his sons in power.
When on May 8 Algerian parliamentarian Saddek Bouguettaya attended a meeting in Tripoli of Libyan tribes supporting Qaddafi, he described the strongman’s efforts to remain in power as “valiant and praiseworthy” and condemned NATO for its “bombing of the civilian population.” Bouguettaya is a member of the FLN Central Committee. For his part, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the FLN’s secretary general and personal representative of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has called the Libyan rebels “agents of foreign powers who receive orders from the West.” In addition, Daho Ould Kablia, Algeria’s interior minister, affirmed on a recent talk show that “future relations with Libya would be strained in case the rebels [TNC] take over power in Tripoli.”