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As Libya Passes First Phase, Next Steps Are Tricky

Missing. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released

The rebels in Libya have control over much of Tripoli at this hour. Fighting continues in pockets, and Moammar Gadhafi has gone missing. David Ignatius believes he and his family are preparing exit to Angola. Two of his sons are under the control of the rebels, captured last night. There will still be a dangerous fight to mop up the remaining military pieces of the old regime, including Gadhafi himself. But from a 1,000-foot view, this looks like a successful, home-grown revolution.

NATO did play a key role over the past several days, however. According to Chris Stephen of The Guardian, NATO raids blew up the munitions on the front lines, decimating the defenses for the moment when the poorly trained rebel fighters could advance. In addition, coordination and surveillance increased significantly in the final weeks.

NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.

At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.

“We always knew there would be a point where the effectiveness of the government forces would decline to the point where they could not effectively command and control their forces,” said the diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential details of the battle inside Tripoli.

“At the same time,” the diplomat said, “the learning curve for the rebels, with training and equipping, was increasing. What we’ve seen in the past two or three weeks is these two curves have crossed.”

Let’s not pretend that there were no “boots on the ground” in Libya to bolster this uprising. Right now, arming and training is all that’s being admitted to.

The scenes at the moment in Tripoli are of jubilation over the demise of a repressive dictator who ruled by fear for over 40 years. Gadhafi was the government, and creating a new one in a clannish, tribal society will be an arduous task. Though the Transitional National Council in Benghazi is seen by the West as the natural and legitimate authority and the base from which to set up a government, it was the tribes in the western mountains who took Zawiya and actually paved the way for the fall of Tripoli. NATO members will want to have a public posture of letting the Libyans figure this out for themselves, a hands-off perception. You can see that in President Obama’s statement: [cont’d.]

The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy.

Behind the scenes they are likely to be the ones setting up the new government. And that’s a delicate dance. Steve Clemons has a good analysis.

But as in the case of those who cheered the downfall of the dictator Saddam Hussein and didn’t ask questions about the bigger consequences of that event, it’s important that after rejoicing that a monstrous dictator is on the run that folks get serious about a playbook that will keep the hopes and aspirations of the Libyan people moving forward rather than backward.

Even more so than in Egypt, Islamists are a powerful undercurrent in Libyan society and despite the apparent success of the partnership thus far between Libya’s Transitional National Council and Western allies, these Islamists — who were jailed, tortured and sometimes killed by Qaddafi — will have a claim on power and are suspicious and opposed to a strong Western stake-hold inside Libya.

Elsewhere, intervention supporter Juan Cole has his own version of how Libya played out. I liked Robert Farley’s read, in addition.

CommunityThe Bullpen

As Libya Passes First Phase, Next Steps Are Tricky

The rebels in Libya have control over much of Tripoli at this hour. Fighting continues in pockets, and Moammar Gadhafi has gone missing. David Ignatius believes he and his family are preparing exit to Angola. Two of his sons are under the control of the rebels, captured last night. There will still be a dangerous fight to mop up the remaining military pieces of the old regime, including Gadhafi himself. But from a 1,000-foot view, this looks like a successful, home-grown revolution.

NATO did play a key role over the past several days, however. According to Chris Stephen of The Guardian, NATO raids blew up the munitions on the front lines, decimating the defenses for the moment when the poorly trained rebel fighters could advance. In addition, coordination and surveillance increased significantly in the final weeks.

NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.

At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.

“We always knew there would be a point where the effectiveness of the government forces would decline to the point where they could not effectively command and control their forces,” said the diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential details of the battle inside Tripoli.

“At the same time,” the diplomat said, “the learning curve for the rebels, with training and equipping, was increasing. What we’ve seen in the past two or three weeks is these two curves have crossed.”

Let’s not pretend that there were no “boots on the ground” in Libya to bolster this uprising. Right now, arming and training is all that’s being admitted to.

The scenes at the moment in Tripoli are of jubilation over the demise of a repressive dictator who ruled by fear for over 40 years. Gadhafi was the government, and creating a new one in a clannish, tribal society will be an arduous task. Though the Transitional National Council in Benghazi is seen by the West as the natural and legitimate authority and the base from which to set up a government, it was the tribes in the western mountains who took Zawiya and actually paved the way for the fall of Tripoli. NATO members will want to have a public posture of letting the Libyans figure this out for themselves, a hands-off perception. You can see that in President Obama’s statement:

The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy.

Behind the scenes they are likely to be the ones setting up the new government. And that’s a delicate dance. Steve Clemons has a good analysis.

But as in the case of those who cheered the downfall of the dictator Saddam Hussein and didn’t ask questions about the bigger consequences of that event, it’s important that after rejoicing that a monstrous dictator is on the run that folks get serious about a playbook that will keep the hopes and aspirations of the Libyan people moving forward rather than backward.

Even more so than in Egypt, Islamists are a powerful undercurrent in Libyan society and despite the apparent success of the partnership thus far between Libya’s Transitional National Council and Western allies, these Islamists — who were jailed, tortured and sometimes killed by Qaddafi — will have a claim on power and are suspicious and opposed to a strong Western stake-hold inside Libya.

Elsewhere, intervention supporter Juan Cole has his own version of how Libya played out. I liked Robert Farley’s read, in addition.

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David Dayen

David Dayen