The prospects of Muammar Gaddafi’s army collapsing are “highly unlikely”, a senior defector, Col. Mohammed Ali Ethish, tells The New York Times:
“I hope that when we do reach the borders of Tripoli, the revolutionaries there free it. [...] If we don’t go in with an organized army, there’s going to be a huge mess.”
I doubt the rebels will get even that far. The war in Libya is unlikely to end in a slugfest over the capital. In fact, unless the Gaddafi regime somehow implodes, which probably won’t happen since it hasn’t already, the war is unlikely to end at all in the near future. Sitting comfortably in his family compound of Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi has had 42 years to spread his ideology, consolidate his power and, most importantly, to prepare for his own death struggle.
Anyone who visits the battlefields of Libya will sooner or later come across two puzzling and worrisome sights: mounds of empty ammunition crates and slogans scrawled on walls. The first is a grim reminder of the fact that no matter how puny his army may seem on the pages of Jane’s, Gaddafi has had four decades to spend his oil money to buy arms and ordnance, which he will employ in defense of his last stand. But the graffiti is even more disturbing. An army that paints “Allah, Muammar, Libya — nothing else” on the walls of every farm house it occupies doesn’t strike me as exactly non-committal. Someone took the time, between unloading the ammo and setting up the Grad launchers, to actually get some paint and write that slogan. We may laugh at the ramshackle, DIY nature of Gaddafi’s jamahiriya, but it would serve us well to remember that not everyone in Libya thinks it’s a joke.
Gaddafi is not an accidental dictator who secretly thinks of himself as a reformer and is shocked when the mob inevitably arrives at the palace gates. He is hard core — defiant, vengeful and unperturbed by the bloodletting. By all accounts, including my interviews with survivors in Benghazi and Misrata, and documents in possession of the International Criminal Court, the brutal response of his security forces to the first demonstrations in February was pre-planned and well rehearsed. He knew the day would come and he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. His “zenga, zenga” speech may have been bluster, but people in the east believed he was dead serious, and they were mortified. They know their leader, they told me, and he would rather destroy Libya than let go of it.
The war has so far defied analogies (just because dudes have beards doesn’t mean it’s the next Somalia; more on this later), but in one respect Libya may yet come to resemble post-Saddam Iraq. It is not inconceivable, looking at the absolute ruthlessness of Gaddafi’s army, that he has already planned a bloody coda to his rule — a loyalist insurgency with the aim of giving him the last laugh and making his creation a failed state.