The Last Stand

March 13, 2011 |  by  |  Politics and Society  |  Share

This article analyzes why the Libyan rebel offensive toward Tripoli failed.

The mood of celebration and euphoria after finally kicking out the security forces has quieted down in the streets of the Libyan City of Benghazi.

After protests began against the sometimes brutal and maniacal Gaddafi , the people in the east of Libya did the improbable: they kicked out troops loyal to the dictator. The first weeks of the uprising saw scores of troops defecting to the side of the “rebels.” Ambassadors and envoys from Libya also voiced their discontent at the rampage of the security forces within the Nation [1].

Taking inspiration from the east, some in western Libya also rose up against his rule, and the key cities of Misurata and Zawiyah were rid of Gaddafi’s security forces.

However, like so many other revolutionaries before, in their excitement, the youthful and untrained rebels charged on to the cities of Brega and Ras Lanuf in a western push before consolidating their defenses. The rebels also did not have a proper central command, and therefore they began waging battles without a commander in chief [2].

They almost completely ignored or underestimated the resistance they would face in Sirte, the hometown of the “brother leader”.

The revolutionaries had no air support, no artillery, few heavy weapons, and fewer armored vehicles. It would be impossible to break through the defenses of a well defended Sirte without such equipments. In essence, the rebels headed to commit a siege without any siege weapons [3].

Further exasperating their failure in the offense was the fact that planes had open territory to bomb them as they all traveled in a line down the huge open roads of the desert. The rebels’ air defenses were limited to a few heavy machine guns, which are almost obsolete against modern fighters. According to the U.S national intelligence director, James Clapper, the only reason that the entire rebel army was not obliterated by the air force was due to the fact that the Gaddafi’s pilots “can’t shoot straight [4].” The Libyan pilots have little training flying, due to sanctions which had grounded a number of their planes. They reputedly have trouble flying at high speeds and altitudes.

Gaddafi for his part called in mercenaries and his own tribe members. He called upon the sections of society which had benefited most from his rule, and upon well trained soldiers that remained loyal. He armed them with heavy weapons, and backed them with helicopters and fighter jets. The momentum turned, and within days the western city of Zawiyah had fallen. Now the rebels have been pushed out of the eastern oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega [5].

In the West, Misurata is defending against a heavy attack by the special Libyan forces led by Gaddafi’s son Khamis [6].

There remains a single stronghold of the rebels, and it is in the east, where so many of Libya’s revolts began. Benghazi, the first city to be liberated, remains the last city to stand. Only the town of Ajdabiya stands between the forces of Gaddafi and the city.

In Benghazi, teachers, doctors, engineers, students and other civilian professionals are arming themselves to defend against an attack. However, without outiside help, through weapons or the much disputed no-fly zone, they will not reverse the course of action which Gaddafi and his sons have embarked upon.

In the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, the city defended against an attack by a well trained army for nearly four years. The defenders of Sarajevo, like those in Benghazi, were poorly equipped and often poorly trained [7].

The residents of Libya’s last rebel stronghold will be hoping to repeat that moment in history. It is clear that while Gaddafi has not begun a mass purge of the areas he has reconquered, he is only avoiding doing so because he fears a massacre will prompt an international outrage which will take the form of a no-fly zone. Therefore, Gaddafi will wait until he has full control of Libya again to commit a massacre against the rebels which is probably going to leave a few thousand people dead.

The rebels of Benghazi know that they will have to defend themselves and hope that one of the great powers of the world, eventually, embarks upon a controversial route and sends in arms or imposes a no fly zone[8].

The Libyan uprising began in the east by those who were disgusted with the current rule and hoped for a brighter future for themselves. Now for the last defenders, there remains two options, to defend Benghazi against formidable odds, or be massacred when Gaddafi’s troops march in.

Work Cited

[7] “BBC ON THIS DAY | 29 | 1996: Siege of Sarajevo Is Lifted.” BBC News. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

[4] “James Clapper Says Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi Will Prevail.” BBC. 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

[6] Karouny, Mariam. “4-Libyan Troops Defect near Rebel-held Misrata-rebel Reuters.” 12 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

[3]”Libyan Rebels Flee Gaddafi Advance – Africa.” AJE – Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera English 13 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

[1] Moynihan, Colin “Libya’s U.N. Diplomats Break With Qaddafi.” The New York Times. New York Times, 21 Feb. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011

[8] Shugart, Matthew “Libyan Rebels Call for Airstrikes.” Fruits and Votes. 2 Mar 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011

[2, 5] Tran, Mark. “Gaddafi Troops Pound Libya Rebels out of Ras Lanuf Guardian 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <>.

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