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What Qaddafi loses with Moussa Koussa's defection

Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who as former intelligence chief is intimately familiar with Qaddafi's most notorious operations, defected from the Libyan regime yesterday.

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NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen – whose US-led alliance assumed command of all air operations on Thursday – said that the UN mandate does not extend to tipping the military balance with new weaponry.

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“We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people,” Mr. Rasmussen said in Stockholm.

Rebel setbacks in recent days, however, have shown that the ragtag force is not likely to prevail militarily against Qaddafi loyalists without substantial outside help.

“We are seeking weapons that will be able to destroy the heavy weapons they are using against us such as tanks and artillery,” said rebel spokesman Col. Ahmad Bani, according to Reuters. A headlong rebel advance days ago made it to within a few dozen miles of Sirte, Qaddafi’s well-defended coastal hometown, on the back of US- and French-led airstrikes that decimated loyalist armor along the way.

RELATED: Why more weapons wouldn't help Libya's rebels – at least not right away

But the rebels were pushed back as quickly as they advanced, fleeing in panic before the superior firepower of units loyal to Qaddafi.

“We thought it better to make a tactical withdrawal until we can think of better tactics and a strategy to face this force,” said Col. Bani.

West is 'tightening the noose' around Qaddafi's men

After days of military news, and weeks of defiance by Qaddafi – who has said the rebels are drug-addled Al Qaeda militants, “rats” whom he vowed to hunt down “house to house, closet to closet” – the diplomatic impact of Koussa’s departure to Britain took center stage.

“His resignation shows that Qaddafi’s regime, which has already seen significant defections to the opposition, is fragmented, under pressure, and crumbling from within,” said Mr. Hague, the foreign secretary.

Another senior Libyan official who previously defected, immigration minister Ali Errishi, told France 24 television on Thursday that Koussa’s defection was a “sign that the regime’s days are numbered. It is the end … it is a blow to the regime [and] others will follow,” according to Agence France-Presse.

“Koussa is so important because you could not get a bigger fish,” says Gerges of LSE. “The fact that the West is willing to tolerate this man, who has blood on his hands, sends signals to other nasty characters around the Libyan regime that they still have a way out.”

"The meaning of his defection is that the Western-led alliance – including the United States – is trying to really tighten the noose around Qaddafi’s men," he adds. "It’s not just about the airstrikes."

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