Why Libya's Qaddafi is unlikely to push much further east
Qaddafi claims to have taken the oil town of Brega on Libya's eastern front, although rebels – who appear to be developing a more cohesive strategy – say they outmaneuvered his forces and trapped them.
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Ajdabiya is where the desert fighting, which has so far taken place along one main highway, would rapidly change. A network of decent roads runs east from there, and the city would be a major prize for Qaddafi.Skip to next paragraph
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But for now, Qaddafi appears to be using softer methods on the eastern population centers.
At least two air strikes hit the town today – one near a gas station, one in the middle of a deserted traffic circle on the western outskirts of town – but did little damage. The real campaign was psychological. A plane dropped propaganda leaflets on the city, which promised to soon “cleanse” Ajdabiya of the “criminals” running it, and urging citizens to turn on the rebellion.
“If they come, we know we’ll have to fight to the death,” says Salim Abdel Ali, an Ajdabiya native who fought on Qaddafi’s orders in Chad in 1988, and whose eldest son is now fighting with the rebels. “If they come here they’ll destroy our families, rape our wives. If my son has to die defending freedom, I can accept that.”
Residents of both Ajdabiya and Benghazi say they’ve been receiving text messages from Tripoli promising vicious reprisals for supporters of the rebellion.
Rebel generals met today to coordinate plans
Meanwhile, there are nascent signs of greater organization for the rebel forces. A conclave of generals who defected from Qaddafi’s army to the rebellion met in Ajdabiya today, planning the city’s defense and future options.
Among them were Gen. Daud el-Sobhi from Adjabiya and Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud from the far eastern city of Tobruk, who was one of the first senior officers to defect from Qaddafi. Gen. Mahmoud is said to have 3,000 troops under his command.
A spokesman for the transitional government in Benghazi says they’re organizing military units to harass and cut from behind Qaddafi’s supply lines if he tries to make a move further east.
The rebels' plans now depend on how many troops Qaddafi – who has to worry about protecting himself in Tripoli and bringing the unruly western towns of Misrata and Zawiyah to heel – can commit to fighting in the east.
Handi Hasnawi, a fighter just back from Brega this afternoon and who participated in the battle with Qaddafi’s forces last night, estimated they had about 25 civilian cars' worth of soldiers.
IN PICTURES: Qaddafi: A look back