Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libyan rebels 'too weak' to defeat Gaddafi

THE Libyan rebels are so poorly organised that they cannot defeat Muammar Gaddafi without arms or training, British official sources say.

British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted his government was considering arming them following talks in London with Libyan opposition leaders, despite having previously indicated this might not be possible under the terms of arms sanctions imposed on Libya.

Concern is growing after rebel forces were forced to retreat again and surrendered several towns in the face of heavy resistance from troops loyal to the regime.
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However, there are fears that any move to arm the rebels could lead to ''mission creep'', dragging Western ground forces into the civil war.

A military stalemate is now a real possibility, partly as both sides are struggling to re-equip their forces.

While the regime is thought to be ''hurting more and missing more'' because many of its heavy weapons have been destroyed, the rebels could struggle to take advantage because of their own problems. They do not have a supply chain or logistical mechanisms.

It is understood that Libyan opposition leaders have requested anti-tank weapons and other equipment, which could be provided by a Middle Eastern country, such as Qatar, in return for oil.

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons: ''It is an extremely fluid situation, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind the ceasefire is still being breached and it is absolutely right for us to keep up our pressure under UN Security Council [resolution] 1973.''

A British defence source insisted there had been ''no request for ground forces'' and the government had ''no intention'' of providing ground forces.

On Wednesday the influential chairman of the US House of Representatives' intelligence committee said he opposed supplying arms to rebels.

Republican Mike Rogers said: ''We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them.''

His remarks came after US admiral James Stavridis, supreme allied commander-Europe for NATO, told Congress that while opposition leaders appeared to be ''responsible men and women'', there were ''flickers in the intelligence'' of potential ties to al-Qaeda.

British military sources said air strikes on arms dumps had left the regime ''incredibly stretched'', but Colonel Gaddafi's forces were still able to ambush rebels outside the leader's home town of Sirt. The rebels quickly retreated but were outflanked in the desert.

The towns of Nawfaliya, Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf fell in quick succession. The rebels showed no sign of trying to hold the next town, Brega, but carried on towards Ajdabiya, where some regrouped. TELEGRAPH, AGENCIES


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