AJDABIYA, Libya -- The defection of Libya's foreign minister, a member of Moammar Gaddafi's inner circle, is the latest sign that the embattled regime is cracking at the highest levels as the West keeps up pressure on the longtime leader to relinquish power.
In another blow to the regime, U.S. officials revealed Wednesday that the CIA has sent small teams of operatives into rebel-held eastern Libya while the White House debates whether to arm the opposition.
Despite the setbacks and ongoing NATO airstrikes on government forces, Gaddafi loyalists have been logging successes on the battlefield, retaking much of the territory the rebels had captured since airstrikes began March 19.
Britain's government said Wednesday that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa had arrived in Britain on a flight from Tunisia and was resigning from his post, though the Libyan government denied it. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the resignation showed the regime is "fragmented, under pressure and crumbling."
Koussa is not the first high-ranking member of the regime to quit – the justice and interior ministers resigned early in the conflict and joined the rebellion based in the east. Koussa, however, is a close confidant of Gaddafi's, privy to all the inner workings of the regime. His departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.
Koussa was Libya's chief of intelligence for more than a decade. The opposition holds responsible for the assassinations of dissidents in western capitals and for orchestrating the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and the bombing of another jet over Niger a year later.
In later years, however, Koussa played an important role in persuading Western nations to lift sanctions on Libya and remove its name from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. He led settlements of Lockerbie, offered all information about Libya's nuclear program and gave London and Washington information about Islamic militants after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"His defection is a serious blow" to Gaddafi, Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said in a story posted on the Council on Foreign Relations' website. "This is the first loss of such a close comrade," he said, adding that he may have be able to identify other potential defectors.
Abrams, who met Koussa in 2004 in negotations over Libya's handover of weapons of mass destruction programs, described him as a handsome, well-dressed man speaking perfect English. Koussa attended Michigan State University in the 1970s.
Abrams said the simple fact that Koussa was able to make it to England "suggests that the regime is falling apart despite its battlefield victories in the last two days." His departure suggest that Gaddafi's inner circle "now know how this story ends, and do not wish to be with the dictator when that end comes," he said.
On Thursday, the rebels came under heavy shelling by Gaddafi's forces in the strategic oil town of Brega on the coastal road that leads to Tripoli. Black smoke billowed in the air over Brega as mortars exploded.
"Gaddafi's forces advanced to about 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Brega," said rebel fighter Fathi Muktar, 41. Overnight, he said the rebels had temporarily pushed them back, but by morning they were at the gates of Brega. "There were loads of wounded at the front lines this morning," he said of rebel casualties.
The poorly equipped rebels' setbacks are hardening the U.S. view that they are probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press.
The U.S. has made clear that it is considering providing arms to the rebels. Still, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday no decision has been made yet.
"We're not ruling it out or ruling it in," he said.
Obama said in a national address Monday night that U.S. troops would not be used on the ground in Libya.
|@ BreakingNews : Anti-Gadhafi fighters in Misurata say 28 people had died in the city in the past three days - Al Jazeera http://bit.ly/ecR130|
Gaddafi forces have reportedly captured the wife of Moussa Koussa, the former Foreign Minister who defected while in England. Reports the Telegraph:
The wife of the Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain earlier this week has been seized by Colonel Gaddafi and is being interrogated by his "internal security" officials, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
She is thought to have been captured amid eyewitness reports of a fierce gunfight at Col Gaddafi's central Tripoli compound as the regime stepped in to stop further defections.
Yesterday, local residents recalled how the most fierce firefight yet seen in central Tripoli had erupted within hours of the regime confirming that the Foreign Minister had defected.
Read the entire report here.
NBC's Ann Curry tweets that the U.S. will move to support missions only:
|@ AnnCurry : NBCNews: US military will stop flying COMBAT missions over Libya, only SUPPORT missions incl reconnaissance, starting April 2.|
Channel Four correspondent Jonathan Rugman spoke with Libya's former Prime Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who said that Gaddafi is trying to set up talks to stop the killing. During the interview, Obeidi told Rugman, "We are trying to talk to the British, the French and the Americans to stop the killing of people. We are trying to find a mutual solution."
Watch a report from Channel Four on the Libya talks below:
Despite complaints to the contrary, the U.S. Senate actually did support a no-fly zone over Libya. The AP reports:
Some lawmakers are grousing loudly that President Barack Obama sent the nation's military to Libya without Congress' blessing. They're ignoring a key fact: The Senate a month ago voted to support imposing a no-fly zone to protect civilians from attacks by Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
With no objections, the Senate on March 1 backed a resolution strongly condemning "the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya" and urging the U.N. Security Council to take action, "including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory."
There was no recorded vote. It was simply approved by unanimous consent.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libyan government rejects rebels' conditions for ceasefire, says troops will not leave Libyan cities|
"They are asking us to withdraw from our own cities. .... If this is not mad then I don't know what this is. We will not leave out cities," said Mussa Ibrahim, the government spokesman.
Robert Haddick, writing at Foreign Policy, argues that the rebels need combat skills much more than they need heavy artillery. He writes:
On March 30, it was reported that CIA officers were in Libya with the rebels, making an assessment of their situation and possibly directing airstrikes in support of their fighters. We can gather from open sources much of what these intelligence officers are likely to report. As a military force, Libya's rebels are a disorganized rabble and seem incapable of preparing and holding defensive positions or maneuvering effectively against rudimentary enemy resistance. The rebels need boot camp, fundamental infantry training, and the development of some battlefield leaders, not a new stockpile of weapons.
Those Western leaders whose plan currently consists of hoping that Qaddafi will be spontaneously overthrown need to think again. Absent a Western invasion of the country, the rebel force is the only means of removing Qaddafi, and the rebels will need many months or even years of training before they are capable of defeating loyalist ground units and marching all the way to Tripoli.
Read the entire piece here.
Gunfire has been reported in Gaddafi's compound. Reuters reports:
Sustained gunfire rang out near Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's heavily fortified compound in Tripoli on Friday and residents said they saw snipers on rooftops and pools of blood on the streets.
It was not clear what triggered long bursts of machinegun and automatic gunfire that echoed around the city center for about 20 minutes and stopped before dawn.
Cars were heard speeding along central Tripoli streets, their tires screeching on the asphalt. Distant shouting or chanting also was heard.
A journalist who was picked up by Libyan security details his ordeal. Here's an excerpt of his story from Reuters:
We sat quietly. I turned to Chris, a London-based Canadian I had worked with in Iraq. I said I thought they would kill us.
A soldier opened the lock and the rear door swung open again. We looked down at the back of a station wagon which had been opened up to reveal some blankets. I thought they would perhaps drive us away. Maybe they were going to free us?
But a closer look showed feet poking under the blankets.
Soldiers then pulled aside the coverings and hauled three handcuffed young men up and in beside us. When we were locked in again, they told us they were Libyan university students.
Later, several soldiers came in. "Who are you?" one asked me. We are Reuters journalists, I said. He is our driver. We have permission. We were invited here by your government.
The soldier shook his head. "Bad time to be a journalist in Libya." Reporters were part of a foreign conspiracy against Libya, he said. But then he made it clear that if they decided we were not journalists but spies, that would be worse.
"If you tell us the truth, it should be fine, God willing. But if we catch you lying, oh we will show no mercy. None."
Read the rest here.
Libyan rebels have made a deal to sell oil to Qatar. Reports the AP:
A plan to sell rebel-held oil to buy weapons and other supplies has been reached with Qatar, a rebel official said Friday, in another sign of deepening aid for Libya's opposition by the wealthy Gulf state after sending warplanes to help confront Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
It was not immediately clear when the possible oil sales could begin or how the arms would reach the rebel factions, but any potential revenue stream would be a significant lifeline for the militias and military defectors battling Gadhafi's superior forces.
Gaddafi forces are attacking home in Misrata, according to rebels. Reuters reports:
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are mounting an intense artillery bombardment of rebel-held Misrata and pro-Gaddafi troops are attacking shops and homes in the city center, a rebel spokesman said.
Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces appear to be gradually loosening the rebels' hold on the city, despite Western air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets there.
The Associated Press reports:
Libya's rebels will agree to a cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime, an opposition leader said Friday.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition's interim governing council based in Benghazi, said the rebels' condition for a cease-fire is "that the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom."
Read more here.
Libyan rebels moved towards the key oil town of Brega on Friday, as conditions drifted towards a stalemate. Reuters reports:
Libyan rebels moved heavier weaponry toward the oil town of Brega on Friday and sought to marshal rag-tag units into a more disciplined force to regain momentum against Muammar Gaddafi's regular army.
While military action appeared to drift toward stalemate, coalition diplomatic efforts focused on breaking Gaddafi's hold on power in Tripoli. London urged Gaddafi loyalists to abandon him, following the defection of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa.
Rebels said neither side could claim control of Brega, one of a string of oil towns along the Mediterranean coast that have been taken and retaken several times by each side in recent weeks. The insurgents have failed to hold gains, even when helped by Western air strikes.
From Al Jazeera:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle says Libya's crisis cannot be resolved through military means and all sides must get to work on a political resolution.
Westerwelle said on a visit to China that a first step must be a cease-fire that is heeded by Gaddafi.
BBC News reports that U.S. senators are drafting legislation that would authorize the use of force in Libya. The senators include John Kerry and John McCain.
The 1973 War Powers Act says US armed forces must start to withdraw after 60 days unless explicitly authorised to fight by Congress. In the case of Libya, that mark would fall on 20 May, Mr Kerry said.
The National Journal reports that the U.S. may be on a slippery slope when it comes to the Libyan mission:
It’s an old question, but we’ve been through enough of these interventions now --from Vietnam to Kosovo to Afghanistan--to insist on asking it once again: Is the United States on a slippery slope in Libya, one that will lead to American military involvement on the ground? The evidence, on balance, is that under President Obama the U.S. presence is going to expand quickly—but covertly.
Read the full article here.
Reuters reports that Libya's top oil official, Shokri Ghanem, has denied rumors that he left the country.
Al Jazeera television listed Ghanem as one the figures who had left Libya, but Ghanem said in a phone call, "This is not true, I am in my office and I will be on TV in a few minutes."
BBC News reports that London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, offers his concerns about involvement in Libya:
"I am worried that what we may be doing inadvertently is entrenching support for the mad colonel... I do worry that if we get into a stalemate, if the rebels don't seem to be making the progress we hope they would make, then we should be brave enough to say to ourselves our policy isn't working."
The New York Times reports that as a second top Libyan official, Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, defects from the Gaddafi government, fears mount within the regime.
The capital of Tripoli was alive with rumored defections on Thursday, with the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament, among other top figures, said at various times to be quitting the country. None of those reports could be verified. But the authorities were taking no chances, assigning guards to senior officials to assure they cannot leave, a former Libyan official said.
BBC News reports that, according to U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, international air strikes have been hampered by bad weather over the past few days.
According to AFP, Mullen says that they have not been able to see through the weather to identify targets. "And that has more than anything else reduced the impact... reduced the effectiveness, and has allowed the regime forces to move back to the east."
Al Jazeera reporter Anita McNaught discusses the defections in Libya:
"We got word from sources outside of Tripoli that there were at least four senior figures from the Gadaffi administration who were perhaps in Tunisia, or certainly outside the country and not intending to go home. These were, last night as we understood it, the current head of the Intelligence Service, the Oil Minister (and I'll mark a question mark with that in a minute), the Secretary of the General People's Congress, and the Deputy Foreign Minister."
BBC News reports on apparent threats in London by a pro-Gaddafi protestor:
Libyan state television has broadcast footage showing a pro-Gaddafi protestor in London yanking open his jacket and vowing to turn himself an "explosive bomb", a video on YouTube shows. The incident is said to have occurred at the protest near the Foreign Office in Whitehall on 29 March. In the clip, which has been circulated widely on social media, the man refers to anti-Gaddafi protestors as "traitors and rats", and exhorts Libyans to "return to the Koran."
The Guardian reports that Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, has traveled to London for confidential talks with British officials.
It is suggested that the regime may be looking for an exit strategy. There is speculation that Gaddafi's sons, namely Saif al-Islam, Saadi and Mutassim, are looking for a way out.
Although he has little public profile in either Libya or internationally, Ismail is recognised by diplomats as being a key fixer and representative for Saif al-Islam.
According to cables published by WikiLeaks, Ismail has represented the Libyan government in arms purchase negotiations and acted as an interlocutor on military and political issues.
"The message that was delivered to him is that Gaddafi has to go and that there will be accountability for crimes committed at the international criminal court," a Foreign Office spokesman told the Guardian , declining to elaborate on what else may have been discussed.
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan continued his defense of embattled Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi during a press conference in Chicago Thursday, and slammed the United States' decision to get involved in the conflict.
The 78-year-old leader of the Chicago-based organization spoke at Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam headquarters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"It is a terrible thing for me to hear my brother called all these ugly and filthy names when I can't recognize him as that," Farrakhan said of Gaddafi, according to the Tribune. "Even though the current tide is moving against him ... how can I refuse to raise my voice in his defense? Why would I back down from those who have given so much."
Farrakhan has publicly defended Gaddafi a number of times since the Libyan uprising began. He reportedly visited the Libyan leader in the 1980s, and told attendees of a Nation of Islam convention in February that the United States should stay out of Libya's affairs.
Full report here.
Breaking News reports on Twitter that according to the UK Independent, Britain is in talks with ten more Gaddafi officials about possible defection.
BBC News provides the account of a witness in Tripoli.
According to the witness, any anti-government dissidents who spoke out publicly were deemed by officials as mentally ill and thus detained indefinitely. Because of this, the witness is not surprised that Iman al-Obeidi was immediately described as mentally ill last week.
She is not the first case of rape we have heard of here.
I have heard of two other cases in recent weeks. One of them was of a Moroccan housekeeper who was left behind by her employers as they fled to a safe house because half their family members had been detained.
The story that circulated through word-of-mouth was that security forces stormed the house she was staying in with the intention of detaining the rest of the family. Finding her alone there instead, they raped her.
Read the full account here.
A top Libyan diplomat now supporting the opposition says most high-rank Libyan officials are trying to defect but are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Libya's U.N. Mission, which now totally supports the opposition, knew two days in advance that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa planned to defect.
"This is a big blow to the regime," Dabbashi said.
He said the mission had been waiting for about 10 days for Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president named by Moammar Gadhafi to be the new U.N. ambassador, to defect. Treki announced his defection Thursday in Cairo.
Libya's Transitional National Council has released a statement on counter-terrorism. The council says that it condemns and will combat all forms of terrorism.
Regarding al-Qaeda, the council states:
It emphasizes also its full commitment to the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions on Counter-Terrorism, including the resolutions on the Sanctions concerning al-Qaeda and Taliban, with the full commitment to all measures and sanctions concerning any individual or entity associated with al-Qaeda and Taliban as determined by the Sanctions Committee.
The council pledges to help the United Nations and cooperate with it's counter-terrorism task forces.
Read the full statement here.
HuffPost's Saki Knafo reports:
Earlier this week, rebel forces in Libya fought their way to the outskirts of Sirte, a seafront city about the size of Tallahassee. The day before, pushing westward along the coast from Ajdabiya, they'd recaptured the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf -- Sirte, experts said, was the last major obstacle standing in the rebels' path to the capital city of Tripoli.
Sirte. Before Sunday, few outside Libya had heard of it. Now it's being portrayed as the key to Libya's hopes for democracy, the fulcrum on which the nation's fate would turn. Its importance can be explained partly by location, its proximity to the capital. But it mattered for other reasons, too, reasons that reveal a lot about a conflict with complexities outsiders are only beginning to grasp.
Read the full story here.
According to The New York Times, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague denies that Moussa Koussa was offered any immunity to lure him to leave Gaddafi's regime. Hague reports that he is voluntarily speaking with British officials.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said on March 3 that he would investigate “alleged crimes against humanity committed in Libya since 15 February, as peaceful demonstrators were attacked by security forces.” He placed Mr. Koussa second after Colonel Qaddafi on a list of “some individuals with formal or de facto authority, who commanded and had control over the forces that allegedly committed the crimes.”