In Libya, tide seems to be turning in favor of Qaddafi's forces

Amid reported gains for pro-government forces in Ras Lanuf and Zawiyah and concern that the window for helping rebels has closed, Muammar Qaddafi's eldest son warned rebels that there was more to come.

Hussein Malla/AP
Anti-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi protesters, wave pre-Qaddafi Libyan flags before Friday prayers at Court Square, in Benghazi, eastern Libya, on Friday, March 11.

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Shortly after Libya’s pro-government forces made significant gains in the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s eldest son vowed to continue pushing rebels further east.

“I have a message from Tripoli I want to send to our families and our brothers in the east,” said Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, speaking before hundreds of supporters, according to the Los Angles Times. Qaddafi’s son, who once advocated democratic reform, referred to antigovernment leaders as “demons” and called the rebels Al Qaeda-led gangs.

“To all the people – and there are hundreds and thousands of them from which I've had calls – my answer is two words, and these gangs must hear my answer: We’re coming," he said.

His pronouncement comes as some observers worry that time may be running out for the international community to support rebel forces. Even America’s top spy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has said Qaddafi appears to have the upper-hand. Still, there is some optimism among rebel forces who say they are being reinforced by soldiers and other military officials who’ve defected from Qaddafi’s army.

This is likely no idle threat, according to an assessment of the situation by Mr. Clapper. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Clapper said that rebels are starting to lose their momentum. Qaddafi, who “appears to be hunkering down for the duration” designed Libya’s military so those who received the best training and equipment were the most loyal to him. Rebels will face a tough fight trying to defeat them, Clapper said.

The reality of the uneven fight is just now setting in for many rebels. The initial advance of antigovernment forces toward Tripoli may soon be over as Qaddafi's forces strike back, writes the Asia Times' Derek Henry Flood.

The rebels may have gone too far, too fast in their initial lightening assault, and bolstered by their own machismo and the relatively peaceful fall of nearby dictators, thought they had the upper hand, which in turn inflicted an early psychological coup against regime troops. Now, the opposition will have to strategize or learn to very quickly, or risk fading away as a tangential Arab revolt that peters out, albeit with plenty of bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi has extended his battle against rebels into Libyan school houses, where children are being told to only watch state television and periodically receive visits from military officials. A third of Libya's population is under 15 and a full 70 percent is under 35, so Qaddafi likely views controlling young people as a priority. In a report by The New York Times, however, a number of students told reporters that they did not necessarily oppose those fighting against the government in the east.

“I, for myself, I wouldn’t want a single dude from Benghazi to die,” one 14-year-old girl told the Times. “I even cried for them. We are really, really close to each other. … I am sure people are watching and I may be, like, dead or something, but I shouldn’t lie at this point, because there are a lot of lives at stake.”

Despite their struggle against antigovernment forces, it appears that rebel forces are winning international support. France announced Thursday that it would recognize the rebels' government and a source close to French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Agence France-Presse that the president may propose that the European Union launch limited air strikes against Qaddafi’s forces. British and French officials are also calling on the EU to recognize the rebels' National Council.

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