Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 21, 2011

'Bland Cheeriness' In Libya Reports

On 27 May Rommel opened his offensive in the Western Desert, but all the first reports were optimistic and we had little expectation of being involved. Intelligence reports in the Middle East always breathed the same air of bland cheeriness and patronizing appreciation of the enemy's struggles no matter how badly things were going for us. I don't know at what level commanders were told the truth; corps and divisional commanders may have seen truthful reports. At the Brigadier level they were often infuriating.
H.K. Kippenberger Infantry Brigadier Chap 8

One can only hope that the politicians involved in the assault on Libya do get truthful reports. If they depend on "bland cheeriness" of reports like in today's Wall Street Journal they are likely to make very bad decisions.

Libyan Rebels Advance on a Gadhafi Stronghold

ZINTAN, Libya—Rebel fighters have penetrated Libya's southwest desert and pulled within 80 miles of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's southern stronghold, opening a new front and suggesting the strongman's grip is slipping even in areas believed firmly in his control.

The rebels captured a small village south of Sebha on Monday. The fall of Sebha, one of Col. Gadhafi's three regional power centers, would be a huge symbolic and strategic blow.

The city of 130,000 is a logistics hub for the regime, channeling food, fuel and other war supplies northward from southern farmlands and neighboring Algeria, Chad and Niger, said rebel leaders.

With the latest offensive, rebels have now made progress on every front of the war.

The last sentence is obviously wrong. As reported yesterday the rebel assault against Brega was pushed back. The rebellious Berber in the south west dare not attacking any further and are begging for ammunition and the move out towards west from Misurata had no success either. The civil war is in a stalemate.

But let us analyze the rebel move described in the WSJ article which was written in Zintan, several hundred miles away from the city of Sebha, and is based on rebel accounts.

A resident of the southern town of Al Qatrun, which rebels took last week, estimated the force includes 60 to 65 4X4 vehicles and as many as 300 fighters.

Earlier this month, the force captured a remote desert airfield and army outpost called Al Wigh, near Libya's borders with Chad and Niger, and soon after seized the Tummu border crossing with Chad.

The force began advancing north toward Sebha, and last week, the force took the village of Qatron without a fight. On Sunday, pro-Gadhafi fighters attacked the advancing rebels, said a resident of the village and a rebel commander on the ground, Ramadan Al-Alakie.

The rebel fighters repulsed the attack and pressed their advance, both men said.

The retreating Gadhafi forces concentrated in Taraghin, the hometown of Bashir Salah, Col. Gadhafi's chief of staff, to block the rebel advance to Sebha. The rebel force simply went around the town, and on Monday took control of the tiny village of Umm Al-Aranib, they said.

Now, just 80 miles of empty desert and one tiny village stand between the rebels and Sebha.

That sounds impressive but:

  • The rebel group advancing is just some 300 untrained men strong. They come from Al Kufrah, an oasis in the south east of Libya where mostly people from the Arabized Berber tribe of the Zuwayya are living. These are not Gaddhafi's best friends.
  • The rebels are aiming for a city of 130,000 people which also includes a large military garrison and which is the traditional base of the Magariha, the tribe with the strongest and longest allegiance to Gaddafi.

Those two points alone should already make clear that any attempt of these rebels to "take" Sebha would be unlikely to further their wellbeing.

But, according to the WSJ, these rebels' already had impressive successes so lets take a look at how big those really were.

  • From their home the rebels moved westward by 4x4s through some 500 miles of empty desert. That is a two or three day drive in difficult terrain but also a rather long line for reinforcements and general logistics. What will they do when they run out of gas, ammunition or need medical help?
  • While the WSJ says they "captured a remote desert airfield and army outpost called Al Wigh" a look at satellite pictures reveals that airfield to be just a very empty strip of tarmac in the sand with no planes and no bigger building or settlement in the wider vicinity.
  • The Tummu border crossing with Chad the rebels "seized" at 22°39' 14°5' (pdf) consists of one small building.
  • The town Qatron the rebels "took" without a fight has some 25 houses amid some irrigated fields. I doubt that such a small town would even have a single policeman.
  • The rebels then claim they went from Qatron to Taraghin where Gaddhafi forces were and "went around" them to "take" Umm Al-Aranib. This claim can not be true. The road from Qatron goes first north to Umm Al-Aranib and then west to Taraghin. If the rebels went around Taraghin it must have been in a full circle. Besides that, going around a group of the enemy to attack another group of the enemy further down a road would put one into a rather uncomfortable sandwich position.

The "successes" these rebels had so far, while sounding solid to a cursory reader, are in reality nothing. They "captured" empty areas, "seized" an irrelevant checkpoint at a wide open border and "took" undefended small towns. To assume that they will be able to take on a 130,000 strong city with likely opposing inhabitants is foolish.

Let's just hope that the political deciders, who do not even have plans of how to avoid or stop a very likely tribal war and brutal retaliations in the case that the Gaddhafi regime comes down, do not take the bland cheeriness slant in the WSJ piece for real.

Posted by b on July 21, 2011 at 11:52 AM | Permalink

Comments

the truth is irrelevant... the only thing that matters isd keeping up this smokescreen to cover the looting operations.

the price of oil is another good example: the US media only reports the price of WTI crude, which is trading at 99.79 as of this posting...

nevermind that Alaska North Slope is trading at 117.79, Louisiana Sweet is at 118.79, Tapis is 124.83, Bonny Light is 120.24, Urals is 116.75, and Brent, probably the most relevant index, is at 118.45.

it seedms inevitable that the really heavy duty guys have been thinking about this end game for decades, escpecially when you throw israel into the picture... israel is more cover, if nothing else.

Posted by: groundresonance | Jul 21, 2011 12:36:11 PM | 1

what are the squares 5 miles north of the airfield? crops?
if there is nothing, why the airport in the sand?

Imagine a underground complex?

Posted by: an idiot | Jul 21, 2011 2:16:30 PM | 2

Don't be surprised if the rebels turn up a secret chemical weapons plant and Ghadhafi's personal porn stash.

Posted by: dh | Jul 21, 2011 2:29:06 PM | 3

cui bono? turns out the Somali pirates
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-21/libya-conflict-diverting-navies-from-piracy-patrols-maritime-group-says.html

Posted by: somebody | Jul 21, 2011 3:39:46 PM | 4

what are the squares 5 miles north of the airfield? crops?

Yes crops - supported by a deep desert well. These fields are sometimes round, sometimes square depending of the type of automated irrigation system used. One can find them in sat pictures all over the middle east/north africa.

Posted by: b | Jul 21, 2011 3:41:43 PM | 5

They look like yellowcake mines to me.

Posted by: dh | Jul 21, 2011 4:35:13 PM | 6

While one can appreciate the added value of b's detailed map and satellite-based analysis of the events portrayed in the WSJ report, the wording of the report itself raises serious doubts about the basis for any optimism.

The first quoted passage...

"ZINTAN, Libya—Rebel fighters have penetrated Libya's southwest desert and pulled within 80 miles of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's southern stronghold, opening a new front and suggesting the strongman's grip is slipping even in areas believed firmly in his control."

... describes a position 80 miles from a rebel objective as a new 'front'. The rebels have light artillery and rockets with a maximum effective range of 10 miles. Whatever kind of 'front' 80 miles represents in this situation (in the minds of WSJ's editors) it is more a wishful thinking front than a 'battle' front.

In the next passage the editors virtually come clean about their cheery optimism.

"The rebels captured a small village south of Sebha on Monday. The fall of Sebha, one of Col. Gadhafi's three regional power centers, would be a huge symbolic and strategic blow."

It's a pity that the MSM feels the need to resort to thinly veiled ambiguity in order to tread the line between informing readers and appeasing the West's warmongers merely to keep doors (to sources of lies and arrant nonsense) open.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Jul 21, 2011 10:30:28 PM | 7

'the Gaddhafi regime comes down, '

theres no such thing as the 'Gaddhafi regime'...Gadafi is not the ruler of Libya: he is its moral and spiritual leader...thats all.

Your wording is an necho of the MSM attempts to make him seem a dictator, like the dictators in Brussels, washington, london or paris

Posted by: brian | Jul 24, 2011 6:31:54 PM | 8

Isn't threatening the safe water supply of 4.5 million people a war crime or something?

http://libyasos.blogspot.com/2011/07/liby-great-man-made-river-reason-for.html

Posted by: Eureka Springs | Jul 25, 2011 1:38:15 PM | 9

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