BBC and Reuters report that the rebels in Misrata have managed to advance from the previous western frontline in Dafniya and are consolidating their positions at Souq al-Thulatha’a 13 kilometres from Zliten, the next city along the road to Tripoli.
Lest anyone gets any big ideas about a blitzkrieg straight to the hornet’s nest, let’s have a reality check:
The fighters captured Dafniya on May 10, two months ago today. Since then they have pushed towards Zliten several times, only to be thrown back badly mangled. If — and that’s a big clump of if — they succeed in holding onto their newly fortified position at the souq and it becomes the new frontline, it would mean that they have advanced at an average rate of approximately 160 metres a day. By my count, it will take them a little less than three years to reach Tripoli. And that’s not counting the inevitable fight over Zliten, which will stall them for days if not weeks. There is talk of “special forces” being ferried across the Gulf of Syrt from Benghazi, but it is unclear who exactly they are and what their role might be once they reach Misrata.
I don’t mean to sound cynical. I’m just as fond of the brave and ingenious Libyans as all the other journalists who have spent time with them on the frontlines. Dislodging a siege army from the heart of your city using only your wits, some ancient AKs and a few dump trucks is a feat only the gutsiest can pull off.
But Misrata’s fighters are not an army, they’re a home guard — masters at urban warfare but ill-equipped to maneuver in the open. It does no one any good to pretend that saving their homes from an invader means they can beat him on his home turf, or to claim, as some well-meaning observers have done on Twitter, that they have already taken Zliten or Tawergha. Maybe some day they will; until then, the best one can hope for is that they can at least keep their own families beyond rocket range.