What's Happening in Libya Explained

| Sat Aug. 20, 2011 1:33 PM PDT
Libyan rebels guarding an area to the east of Tripoli on Aug. 23, 2011.

Editors' note: The following is a basic primer on what's happening in Libya. It was updated continuously from February through the beginning of April. On Thursday, October 20, the Libyan Prime Minister announced that Moammar Qaddafi had been killed as his home town of Sirte was taken by fighters seeking to complete the eight-month uprising. Jump straight to the latest news updates

In mid February, Libyan dissident Najla Aburrahman begged Western media to pay attention to the bloodbath unfolding in her country. "If the Libyan protesters are ignored," she wrote, "the fear is that [Libyan dictator Moammar] Qaddafi—a man who appears to care little what the rest of the world thinks of him—will be able to seal the country off from foreign observers, and ruthlessly crush any uprising before it even has a chance to begin."

Why are Libyans unhappy?

Libya has been ruled for 42 years by a cunning, repressive, eccentric dictator who has frequently described his own people as "backwards." More than half of his 6.5 million subjects are under 18. Despite Libya's plentiful oil revenues, which represent most of the national budget, many children suffer from malnutrition and anemia. Under Qaddafi's regime, corruption was rampant, dissidents were brutally suppressed, and many citizens were afraid to say Qaddafi's name in public or in private for fear of attracting suspicion. Instead, Qaddafi was often referred to as "the leader" and his son Seif (until now heir-apparent) as "the principal." Discussing national policy with a foreigner was punishable with three years in prison. Reporters Without Borders described press freedom in Qaddafi's Libya as "virtually non-existent."

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Oil is the economy in Libya and oil profits have bankrolled massive investments in education and infrastructure—yet Libya lags far behind other oil-rich Arab states. Unemployment recently stood at 30 percent. People who have jobs often work only part-time. Basic commodities—including rice, sugar, flour, gasoline—were heavily subsidized by Qaddafi's government and sold for a fraction of their true cost. A 2006 article in The New Yorker described Libya's "prosperity without employment and large population of young people without a sense of purpose."

Libya's society is tribal and traditional—despite liberal laws on issues such as women's rights—and many Libyans identify via clan allegiance first, nationality second.

Some in Libya hoped that Seif Qaddafi, who has been growing more prominent as an adviser to his father, would create openings for democratic reform. Seif earned a doctorate in political philosophy from the London School of Economics and keeps Bengal tigers as pets. He has founded the "Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation," which supposedly seeks to promote human rights and fight the use of torture in Libya and across the Middle East.

Wasn't Qaddafi that guy who set up a giant tent on Donald Trump's spread?

Yup, he's the guy. During his 2009 trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Qaddafi had hoped to sleep and entertain guests inside an elaborate Bedouin-style tent in Manhattan's Central Park. That didn't work out, so instead the dictator rented land on a suburban property owned by Donald Trump. The tent was erected and then dismantled after a public outcry, and both Trump and the Secret Service announced that Qaddafi wasn't coming after all.

Why can't anyone agree on how to spell Qaddafi's name?

Since at least the 1980s, the name has been alternately spelled as "Moammar/Muammar Gadaffi/Gaddafi/Gathafi/Kadafi/Kaddafi/Khadafy/Qadhafi/Qathafi/etc.," according to Chris Suellentrop at Slate. They're all different attempts at transliterating Arabic pronunciation.  

How did all this start?

Inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, Libyan dissidents had planned a "day of rage" for Thursday, Feb. 17. On February 15, security forces arrested a prominent lawyer named Fathi Terbil, who had represented families of some of the 1,200 prisoners massacred by Libyan security forces at Abu Slim prison in 1996. Once released later that day, Terbil set up a webcam overlooking Benghazi's main square, where some of the families had been protesting. With help from exiled Libyans in Canada and around the world, the video spread rapidly on the Internet.

Al Jazeera Arabic conducted a phone interview with Libyan novelist Idris al-Mesmari, who reported that police were shooting at protesters—and then the connection was lost. (Mesmari was reportedly arrested by Libyan authorities.) Shortly thereafter, thousands more began battling Qaddafi's troops, and hundreds are reported to have been killed. "Both protesters and the security forces have reason to believe that backing down will likely mean their ultimate death or imprisonment," says the New York Times. NATO entered the conflict on March 19, after UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized military intervention to protect civilians, was adopted.

What are the implications of Libyan instability?

After decades of being reviled as a state sponsor of terrorism, Libya recently reversed course and joined the ranks of the United States' allies in the fight against Al Qaeda. In 2003, Qaddafi agreed to stop developing weapons of mass destruction and paid $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims of Pan Am 101—the plane bombed by Libyan agents over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. In return, the US and the United Nations lifted economic sanctions against Libya.

On the Arab street, however, Qaddafi is widely loathed. Most of his political victims have been members of banned Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely gain stronger influence if he were overthrown. Qaddafi, once among the Palestinian movement's most vocal international supporters, outraged many Arabs by saying that Palestinians have no special claim to the land of Israel and calling for the creation of a binational "Isratine."

 

UPDATE 1, Monday, Feb. 21, 9:00 a.m. EST/4:00 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): SkyNews is reporting that witnesses claim the state television building and other public buildings in Tripoli are on fire. 

UPDATE 2, Monday, Feb. 21, 11:45 a.m. EST/6:45 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Al Jazeera (via Sultan al-Qassemi) reports multiple accounts of airplanes attacking protesters in Tripoli. Shadi Hamid, an expert on the Arab world at the Brookings Institution, slams the Western response as "business as usual" and asks whether the West is even capable of "bold, creative policymaking." The Atlantic's Max Fisher, meanwhile, says that while the media blackout means the air-attack claims are impossible for press to verify, if they're true, the United Nations should "shut down Libyan airspace immediately."

UPDATE 3, Monday, Feb. 21, 12:15 p.m. EST/7:15 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Mobile and television networks are down across Libya. Al Hurra (a satellite television competitor of Al Jazeera's that is sponsored by the US government) is reporting that the Libyan ambassador in London has resigned and joined protests outside the embassy. The network is also reporting that helicopters carrying senior Libyan officials have left Tripoli "in the direction of Malta," according to Sultan al-Qassemi. (If you're not following him on Twitter, you should be.) William Hague, the British foreign minister, has said that Qaddafi fled to Venezuala, but the Venezualans are denying that. And the head of the Libyan Army is reportedly under house arrest. In short: it's chaos, and no one knows for sure what is happening. There are also reports just now that the Libyan ambassador to Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, has also resigned. 

UPDATE 4, Monday, Feb. 21, 12:50 p.m. EST/7:50 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): NBC News reports that the State Department has ordered all nonemergency personnel to leave Libya immediately. The resigned Libyan ambassador to India told Al Jazeera "it is only a matter of days until the regime is finished." And the Guardian confirms earlier reports that several Libyan airplanes and helicopters have landed in Malta. They were reportedly piloted by Libyan colonels seeking asylum. The earlier reports of military planes attacking protesters also seem to be close to confirmation—Reuters has published a story citing more eyewitnesses to the attack.

UPDATE 5, Monday, Feb. 21, 2:41 p.m. EST/9:41 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Witnesses saw armed militiamen speeding into Tripoli’s Green Square in Toyota trucks, firing on protesters fighting with riot police. Many of the gunmen are believed to be from other African countries. Meanwhile, Colonel Qaddafi's security forces have retreated into buildings around Tripoli, which remains under the control of rebel forces. And in a sign of deepening internal fissures, some of Qaddafi's top officials have broken ranks with the government. Meanwhile, protesters in Benghazi—where the uprising began—have released a list of demands for a secular interim government led by the army in cooperation with a council of Libyan tribes. And on Democracy Now, Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa says his country is "forever changed" by the uprising.

UPDATE 6, Monday, Feb. 21, 3:11 p.m. EST/10:11 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has spoken with Qaddafi and told him the violence "must stop immediately," a UN spokesperson said. The BBC reports that Qaddafi was still in Libya during this Monday phone call.

In an apparent defection, two Libyan fighter jets have landed in Malta, the Times of Malta reports. The pilots had presumably refused orders to bomb protesters in Benghazi.

Al Jazeera Arabic reports that it's received videos of murdered protesters that are too graphic to air. The video below, which was released by Al Jazeera English, gives (non-graphic) on-the-ground footage and a concise synopsis of events on Saturday and Sunday.

UPDATE 7, Monday, Feb. 21, 4:05 p.m. EST/11:11 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has very belatedly condemned the violence against civilians in Libya, calling it "unacceptable." Over the weekend, Berlusconi said he hadn't phoned Qaddafi because he didn't want to "disturb" him amidst the uprisings.

As chronicled by Mother Jones senior correspondent James Ridgeway, Berlusconi and Qaddafi have worked together to catch Italy-bound migrants and asylum seekers. Berlusconi, who is on trial for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute, has courted Libyan petrodollars, and rolled out the red carpet during Qaddafi's multiple visits to Italy. In June of 2009, Qaddafi flew one thousand Italian women to Libya for a "cultural tour." Just last week, Berlusconi reportedly sent a Danish IC4 train to Qaddafi as a gift.

UPDATE 8, Monday, Feb. 21, 4:20 p.m. EST/11:20 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent Muslim theologian, was just on Al Jazeera. He issued a fatwa during the interview calling for the death of Qaddafi. Sultan al-Qassemi's translation: "To any army soldier, to any man who can pull the trigger & kill this man, do so. Save your countrymen from this brutal tyrant. It is wrong of you to stand by while he kills innocent people." Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that the Egyptian army's Facebook page has been updated with news that Libyan border guards have withdrawn from Egypt's boundary with Libya. And Al Jazeera English just reported that the Libyan ambassador to the US has resigned and come out against Qaddafi. (UPDATE: Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell clarifies that the ambassador may not have technically resigned, but calls it a "moot point" given the ambassador's explicit criticism of the regime.) Meanwhile, Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch is calling for US and international intervention: "NATO enfoced no-fly zone, hold [Qaddafi] + regime individually responsible for deaths, call urgent [security council] meeting, targeted sanctions."

UPDATE 9, Monday, Feb. 21, 5:45 p.m. EST/12:45 a.m. Tuesday Tripoli (Nick Baumann): CNN has a truly awful video of what it says are the bodies of Libyan soldiers who refused to shoot at protesters. And here's Marc Lynch's write-up of his call for international intervention I mentioned in Update 8.

UPDATE 10, Monday, Feb. 21, 6:10 p.m. EST/1:10 a.m. Tuesday Tripoli (Nick Baumann): The State Department has released a transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent comments on Libya:

The world is watching the situation in Libya with alarm. We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya. Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives have been lost, and with their loved ones. The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly. Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed. We are working urgently with friends and partners around the world to convey this message to the Libyan government.

UPDATE 11, Monday, Feb. 21, 6:45 p.m. EST/1:45 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Egypt and Tunisia have both set up field hospitals on their borders with Libya and are trying to send help. A group of Libyan military officers have released a statement calling on all members of the Libyan army to join the protesters. Al Jazeera Arabic reports that advertisements in Guinea and Nigeria are offering up to $2,000 per day to fight as mercenaries for the Libyan army. And Libyan State TV has just announced that Qaddafi will speak shortly.

UPDATE 12, Monday, Feb. 21, 7:20 p.m. EST/2:20 a.m. Tuesday Tripoli (Nick Baumann): In what almost seemed like a piece of bizarre, horrible performance art (with awful consequences), Qaddafi just spoke on Libyan state television. The whole appearance lasted about 15 seconds and consisted of him saying that he is in Tripoli, not Venezuela (as British foreign secretary William Hague had claimed), and warning citizens not to believe "the dog tv channels" saying otherwise. He was holding an umbrella, too. The whole thing was a stark reminder of the fact that an entire country is ruled by a man who is at best a very odd tyrant who is totally willing to kill his people and at worst a total madman—or, as The Atlantic's Max Fisher writes, a "f***king loon."

UPDATE 13, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1:15 a.m. EST/6:15 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates):  Below is a translated YouTube video of Qaddafi's bizarre television appearance.

CNN's Ben Wendeman has managed to sneak into Libya from Egypt, making him the first (and presumably only) western television correspondent to be reporting from Libya. He found no officials, passport control, or customs on the Libyan side of the border. A Libyan man said to him, "You must show the world what has happened here. We will show you everything, everything!"


UPDATE 14, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 10:30 a.m. EST/5:30 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Lots of news to catch up on this morning:

  • There are scattered reports of both Benghazi (Libya's second-largest city and the place where the uprising started) and Tobruk (a large city and strategic port) being in the hands of rebels. The German press agency DPA reports that Benghazi's airstrip has been totally destroyed.
  • A group of Libyan military officers has reportedly asked all members of the Libyan army to move towards the Tripoli, the capital, and attempt to depose Qaddafi.
  • NBC's Richard Engel reports that Libyans are already suffering from shortages of "rice, flour, sugar, [and] oil."
  • Human Rights Watch says at least 62 people have been confirmed killed in Tripoli, the capital, since Sunday.
  • The United Nations Security Council is holding a closed-door session today to discuss the violence in Libya. The BBC's Eleanor Montague reports that Britain will ask the UN to "take action" on Libya "because of its implications for security in the region."
  • Al Jazeera reports that Libyan state television is claiming that Qaddafi will give another address shortly. It remains to be seen whether it will be as bizarre as his last one

UPDATE 15, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 11:30 a.m. EST/6:30 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Marc Lynch finds himself advocating for more aggressive action in Libya:

I don't call for a direct military intervention. And I am keenly, painfully aware of all that could go wrong with even the kinds of responses I am recommending. But right now those fears are outweighed by the urgent imperative of trying to prevent the already bloody situation from getting much, much worse. This is not a peaceful democracy protest movement which the United States can best help by pressuring allied regimes from above, pushing for long-term and meaningful reform, and persuading the military to refrain from violence. It's gone well beyond that already, and this time I find myself on the side of those demanding more forceful action before it's too late.

UPDATE 16, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 11:50 a.m. EST/6:50 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Qaddafi is still in the midst of a long, rambling speech, full of threats and bluster and general delusion and stubbornness. It's "like a mashup of every dictator's excuse ever. Protesters want to Islamify Libya, turn it into…Somalia. Or something," writes Wired's Spencer Ackerman. The headline, though, is Qaddafi's pretty much explicit promise to slaughter protesters. Qaddafi promised the death penalty for numerous crimes and mentioned Tiannemen Square and suggested the Chinese regime had done the right thing. "If there was any doubt before, there is no longer: Qaddafi has unequivocally declared intention to massacre his own people," says Brookings' Shadi Hamid. Other highlights: "We Libyans resisted the…United States and Britain in the past, we will not surrender." "I will not leave the country, and I will die as a martyr." "We will not lose one inch of this land." "We will flight to the last man and woman and bullet." The Times of Malta has perhaps the best early summary of the speech.

UPDATE 17, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 6:15 p.m. EST/Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1:15 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Associated Press reports that Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has spoken to Qaddafi on the phone, as his brutal crackdown on anti-government protests continues. As Jim Ridgeway outlined, the two rulers and their countries are close, and signed a "friendship treaty" in 2008 that called for Italy to pay Libya $5 billion in compensation for its 30-year colonial occupation. Meanwhile, concerns about Italy's natural gas supplies continue to mount after the country's chief energy company, ENI, said it had suspended supplies through its Greenstream pipeline. It runs from Libya to Sicily, and supplies 10 percent of Italy’s natural gas.

UPDATE 18, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 6:27 p.m. EST/Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1:27 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Mother Jones has interviewed Libyan poet and University of Michigan professor Khaled Mattawa, who recounts the horrors of growing up under the Qaddafi regime. He says, "This is the moment we've been waiting for." 


UPDATE 19, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 10:08 a.m. EST/5:08 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Things could be coming to a head:

  • Reports from towns near Tripoli suggest that fighting has reached the capital's doorstep, reports the New York Times. And the spate of high-level defections from the Qaddafi regime continues, with interior minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi leaving on Tuesday night. He urged the Libyan Army to join the people and their “legitimate demands.” State media claimed he has been kidnapped by "gangs." Towns in the east continue to, in essence, declare their independence and establish informal opposition governments. "The widening gap between the capital and the eastern countryside underscored the radically different trajectory of the Libyan revolt from the others that recently toppled Arab autocrats on Libya’s western and eastern borders, in Tunisia and Egypt," reports Times. Internet access in Tripoli remains blocked, and phone service is only intermittent.
  • Foreign governments are continuing their mad rush to evacuate their citizens from Libya, chartering military and civilian planes and even mobilizing military ships. It's unclear how many Americans remain in Libya.
  • French president Nicolas Sarkozy is calling on the European Union to impose sanctions against Libya. "I call on the foreign ministry to propose to our European Union partners the swift adoption of concrete sanctions so that all those involved in the ongoing violence know that they must assume the consequences of their actions," he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. German chancellor Angela Merkel has also said she would support sanctions if Qaddafi doesn’t stop using violence against his own people. And the White House said on Tuesday that it is examining proposals by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to consider reimposing sanctions.

UPDATE 20, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 10:20 a.m. EST/5:20 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini says his country estimates that 1,000 people have died in Libya since the uprising began.

UPDATE 21, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 11:30 a.m. EST/6:30 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Hewing close to his Egypt-react script, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned Qaddafi for "unimaginable repression" against the Libyan people. "It is unimaginable that someone is killing his citizens, bombarding his citizens," Ahmadinejad said on state television. "How can officers be ordered to use bullets from machine guns, tanks and guns against their own citizens?…This is unacceptable. Let the people speak, be free, decide to express their will…Do not resist the will of the people."

UPDATE 22, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 11:51 a.m. EST/6:30 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates):  Thomas Friedman argues in today's New York Times that events unfolding in Libya and across the Middle East highlight the failures of oil interest-driven US foreign policy. His solution: a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, to be phased in at 5 cents a month beginning in 2012, with all the money going to pay down the US deficit. Friedman says:

For the last 50 years, America (and Europe and Asia) have treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of big gas stations: Saudi station, Iran station, Kuwait station, Bahrain station, Egypt station, Libya station, Iraq station, United Arab Emirates station, etc. Our message to the region has been very consistent: "Guys (it was only the guys we spoke with), here's the deal. Keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don't bother the Israelis too much, and, as far as we're concerned, you can do whatever you want out back.

UPDATE 23, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1:00 p.m. EST/8:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Michael J. Totten on why Libya isn't Tunisia or Egypt:

The contrast between Libya and its neighbors is stark. When I visited Tunisia just a few months before going to Tripoli, I met plenty of people willing to criticize Ben Ali even when others were present. Sure, they lowered their voices, but they didn’t cower in fear. Egypt under Mubarak was even more open. I spoke to dissident bloggers like “Big Pharaoh” and “Sandmonkey” in restaurants and bars, and they didn’t care if anyone heard them slagging the president. Cairo’s mukhabarat didn’t seem to mind what anyone said as long as they didn’t act on their disgruntlement. Granted, regimes like these wouldn’t have lasted decades if they were easy to get rid of, but, ultimately, they lack the staying power of the hard totalitarian states.

States like Libya, that is. Tunisia is pleasant, prosperous, and heavily Frenchified, while Egypt is a poverty-stricken shambles, but Ben Ali and Mubarak were both pragmatic, standard issue authoritarians. Qaddafi, by comparison, is an emotionally unstable ideological megalomaniac. He says he’s the sun of Africa and swears to unite the Arabs and Africans underneath him. He has repeatedly threatened to ban money and schools, and he treats his country, communist-style, like a mad scientist’s laboratory. What I knew when I was there holds true today, even as his grip on power seems shaky: This guy is not going to liberalize, and he is not going to go quietly.

UPDATE 24, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1:25 p.m. EST/8:25 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Atlantic's Max Fisher tweets: "Isolated but largely consistent reports seem to indicate sweeping military defections across Libya's northeast." And, on the ground, Anjali Kamat's tweet confirms that things are breaking down for Qaddafi: "Entering #Libya now. Greeted by army who have all joined revolution. Man checking our passports is an airforce major general #feb17"

UPDATE 25, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2:07 p.m. EST/9:07 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Two from earlier today that're worth a read. First, Leslie Gelb urges caution, not grandiose action, for the United States. "My fear is that an activist and grand strategy will grossly exaggerate America’s power to shape events and will do more harm than good," he writes. And former CIA field officer Robert Baer reports from sources in Libya on just how far Qaddafi is willing to go to maintain his grip on power. Qaddafi "has ordered security services to start sabotaging oil facilities. They will start by blowing up several oil pipelines, cutting off flow to Mediterranean ports. The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya's rebellious tribes: It's either me or chaos."

UPDATE 26, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2:35 p.m. EST/9:35 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The International Organization for Migration reports that migrants have begun to cross into Tunisia from Libya. "Although most of the arrivals have largely been…Tunisian…nationals migrants of various nationalities"—including Syrian, Lebanese, Turkish, and German—"have been crossing the border into Tunisia’s Medenine Governorate requesting assistance to go back home," IOM writes in a press release. Additional IOM staff are set to deploy to the border area.

UPDATE 27, Wednesday Feb. 23, 3:55 p.m. EST/10:55 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): This is the way we bail. Channel News Asia has a short dispatch on a pair of Libyan pilots who refused orders to bomb Benghazi. And the New York Times reports that thousands of African mercenaries and militiamen are heading to Tripoli to back up Qaddafi, as rebel forces continue to secure their control of surrounding towns. Witnesses say that protesters appear to have taken control of the northwestern city of Misurata.

UPDATE 28, Wednesday. Feb. 23, 5:56 p.m. EST/Thursday, Feb. 24, 12:56 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Earlier today, I spoke on the phone with Ali Ahmida, a University of New England political science professor whose work explores power, agency, and anti-colonial resistance in Libya. Here are some of his thoughts:

On Where This Could Be Headed: Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get worse. The regime closed the last chances for reform and negotiations when Seif Qaddafi gave this really threatening speech that was more of a declaration of war, an ultimatum.…The regime is clinging to the old days, thinking they can crush the opposition.

On France's No-Fly Zone Proposal: No, no, no. I think it's is a bad idea. I think, in the long run, it would be a liability more than a help. The Libyan people have fought against one of the most brutal western colonizations in Africa. They lost half a million people in the [1911-1943] war against Italian colonialism and 60,000 people perished in the [Italian] concentration camps. So Libyan people are very wary of foreign intervention.…And Iraq is a big, lousy lesson for all of us. Look at how much killing happened in Iraq. How much agony. And how the exiled Iraqis have really conned the United States.

On Libya's Democratic Potential: It's possible there would be no democracy after Qaddafi, but that's not unusual. It's not because the people don't want freedom of choice or democracy. It's because either the state and its authoritarian forces are too powerful, or because the [western] conservatives have always supported dictatorships and absolutist monarchies. They are just as guilty. Having democracy is not an easy matter. As in the American and the western experience, this is going to take more than just having a constitution and voting rights.…I also think that question has to be guarded against foreign intervention and an exaggerated role for the Libyan exile community, which has been out of touch for a long time.

On What America Should Do: First, pressure the Libyan regime through the UN to negotiate a peaceful transition and stop the killing. Second, really try to learn about Libyan society. There's a huge vacuum in our knowledge about Libya. We reduce it to tribes and clans, or to Qaddafi, or to oil. There's nothing about Libyan society. I find that appalling, even among our commentators and our scholars.

 UPDATE 29, Wednesday. Feb. 23, 6:13 p.m. EST/Thursday, Feb. 24, 1:13 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): In his first televised comments on the Libya crisis, President Obama announced that he's sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva for a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council and for talks with allied foreign ministers. Obama condemned the Qaddafi government's "outrageous" violence, said that protecting American citizens in Libya was his "highest priority," and rejected allegations that western powers are meddling in Arab uprisings. "The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region," he said.

UPDATE 30, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 8:00 p.m. EST/3:00 a.m. Thursday in Tripoli (Nick Baumann): The Independent's Robert Fisk, who seems to be the first Western reporter to get into Tripoli, has a report from "a city in the shadow of death."


UPDATE 31, Thursday, Feb. 24, 10:52 a.m. EST/5:52 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Today: witnesses say Qaddafi is consolidating his forces in preparation for a showdown against rebel forces in Tripoli. 

  • Qaddafi's forces are fortifying their position around Tripoli, as cities in the east continue to fall to rebel forces and defections from the military and his inner circle continue. Witnesses told the the New York Times that members of Qaddafi's forces—made up, in large part, of mercenaries and slices of the military loyal to his tribe and its allies—were training their energies on the roads leading to the capital, while establishing checkpoints on the road to the west of Tripoli. And there are now reports of protests in the pro-Qaddafi city of Sabha for the first time. Meanwhile, Egyptian officials said on Wednesday that nearly 30,000 people, mostly Egyptian, had fled across the border back to their home country.
  • The latest defector: Qaddafi aide (and cousin) Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, who announced on Thursday that he has defected to Egypt in protest against the regime's "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws," reports the Associated Press.
  • In a speech aired on state television on Wednesday, Qaddafi blamed the unrest on Al Qaeda, reports Al Jazeera. "It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda…No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events…They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable!" said the Libyan ruler.

UPDATE 32, Thursday, Feb. 24, 12:13 p.m. EST/7:13 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Two from Mother Jones: Jim Ridgeway sheds more light on the cozy relationship between and Italy, oil, immigrants, and all. And Mac McClelland speculates on why the UN has dragged its feet in Libya: "When it comes to the lack of meaningful UN action on Libya, it's not disorganization, or excessive bureaucracy to blame—just a healthy dose of sacklessness."

UPDATE 33, Thursday. Feb. 24, 12:22 p.m. EST/ 7:22 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Below is a compelling three-minute video recently posted by Al Jazeera. It tightly summarizes the events of the last few days, features non-graphic footage from cities across Libya, and shows chilling clips from Libyan state television.

UPDATE 34, Thursday, Feb. 24, 1:56 p.m. EST/8:56 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Just tweeted by @SultanAlQassemi: "Breaking Al Hurra: the Libyan mission to the UN takes down Gaddafi's green flag & raises the Kingdom of #Libya independence flag instead."

UPDATE 35, Thursday, Feb. 24, 4:20 p.m. EST/11:20 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Another must-watch from Al Jazeera: an interview with Muhammad al-Senussi, the man who would have been Libya’s crown prince. The country was a monarchy until Qaddafi led a coup in 1969.

UPDATE 36, Thursday, Feb. 24, 5:22 p.m. EST/Friday, Feb. 25, 12:22 a.m. Tripoli (David Corn): I just spoke to a friend's husband who is in Benghazi. He's Libyan, works there and in Europe, and his family is in this city, the second largest in the Libya. He asks that I don't use his name—because Moammar Qaddafi is not gone yet (and though he'll eventually return to Europe, his relatives won't). He reports:

* Benghazi is quiet and safe. Shops and banks—though not schools—were open today. He had no trouble driving throughout the city. "Everybody's fine," he says. It's very safe…Unbelievably. Nobody is afraid of Qaddafi like before."

* The Internet is not functioning in the city. International phone service is sketchy. Many residents are receiving and watching Al Jazeera.

* The city is being governed by an ad hoc assortment of military people, police, past government officials, and groups of citizens.

* There is a major fear shared by the residents of Benghazi: that Qaddafi will launch an air assault on the city. My friend's husband notes that the military guarding the city does not possess anti-aircraft guns. He says that because Qaddafi was distrustful of this region, he did not supply the military based there with large amounts of weaponry. "We cannot fight back against an air attack," he says.

* The residents of Benghazi have been trying to follow what's happening in Tripoli. "I was able to talk to a friend in Tripoli," he notes. "He told me, 'It's hell in Tripoli. There's shooting everywhere. Qaddafi's mafia is shooting people everywhere in the city.'"

He's hopeful that the violence in Libya—a friend of his was shot and killed in Benghazi—will soon be over and Qaddafi gone. "In a couple of days," he says, "everything will be finished."

UPDATE 37, Thursday, Feb. 24, 6:28 p.m. EST/Friday, Feb. 25, 1:28 a.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): More bizarre, disturbing news: The US State Department announced today that the Libyan government may arrest foreign journalists who enter the country illegally as "Al-Qaida collaborators." Western and Arab journalists, including CNN's Ben Wedeman, have entered Libya without permission.


UPDATE 38, Friday. Feb. 25, 9:43 a.m. EST/ 4:22 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): The brutality continues as anti-Qaddafi protesters fight on:

  • In an act of desperation, Libya state television announced shortly before Friday prayers that Qaddafi will offer a 150 percent increase in wages for all government workers and $400 to every family. 

  • The announcement had no apparent effect, and tens of thousands took to the streets across Libya following Friday prayers. The worst violence occurred in Tripoli, where Qaddafi forces are still clinging to power. Al-Arabiya reports that gunmen open fired on protesters in several areas of the capital.

  • Sheik Yousef Qaradawi, a relatively moderate Muslim cleric admired in the Arab world for his encyclopedic knowledge of Islamic law and feared by some commentators in the West for his anti-Israel views, gave a Friday sermon in Qatar that was broadcast live by Al-Jazeera. Qaradawi said (reported via Sultan AlQassemi), "We are expecting good news from Libya. I can almost see the victory in my eyes now.…I believe in this victory because I believe in God." Qaradawi also advised revolutionaries to take pity on mercenaries that Qaddafi has reportedly hired from neighboring African countries. "They are poor," Qaradawi said. "Give them the security to leave."

  • Qaddafi's son, Seif Qaddafi, was asked in a Friday interview with CNN Turk television whether his family had a "Plan B." He replied defiantly that his family plans to "live and die in Libya."

  • Navy Pillay, the UN high commisioner for human rights, said Friday that Qaddafi's bloody crackdown is "escalating alarmingly" and "thousands may have been killed or injured." 

  • Activists have launched new radio stations and newspapers in eastern Libya, where anti-Qaddafi forces have gained the upper hand.

UPDATE 39, Friday, Feb. 25, 11:10 a.m. EST/6:10 p.m. in Tripoli (Nick Baumann): The New York Times' Kareem Fahim and David Kirkpatrick have a dispatch from what are increasingly looking like the front lines of a war between Libyan revolutionaries and Qaddafi's mercenaries. Lede: "Rebels seeking to overturn the 40-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi repelled a concerted assault by his forces on Thursday on cities close to the capital, removing any doubt that Libya’s patchwork of protests had evolved into an increasingly well-armed revolutionary movement." Highlight [emphasis added]: "Tawfik al-Shohiby, one of the rebels, said that in the early days of the revolt one of his relatives bought $75,000 in automatic weapons from arms dealers on the Egyptian border and distributed them to citizens’ groups in towns like Bayda." Read up. Also:

  • The entire Libyan mission at the United Nations mission in Geneva, Switzerland quit on Friday morning.
  • Paul Schemm of the Associated Press has an interesting piece on how the citizens of Benghazi, the city where the uprising started, are governing themselves

UPDATE 40, Friday, Feb. 25, 1:56 p.m. EST/8:56 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): From Mother Jones: Qaddafi's son, Saif, authored a 2007 doctoral thesis praising democracy and human rights. No, it's not a joke.

UPDATE 41, Friday, Feb. 25, 2:57 p.m. EST/9:57 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): A flurry of news from Washington, brought to you by Twitter: 

  • Josh Rogin retweets Chuck Todd: "RT @chucktodd: "Pretty much everything that was on the table short of a no-fly zone is being enacted by US govt re: #libya"
  • From Reuters: "White House says U.S. has decided to move forward with unilateral sanctions against #Libya, will be coordinated with European allies"
  • And from @SultanAlQassemi, via Al Arabiya:  "Breaking - Al Arabiya: AP: Washington suspends US embassy activities in Tripoli #Libya"

UPDATE 42, Friday, Feb. 25, 3:35 p.m. EST/10:35 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Here's the State Department's full statement on suspending embassy operations in Libya:

Given current security conditions in Libya, coupled with our inability to guarantee fully the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in the country, the Department of State has temporarily withdrawn Embassy personnel from Tripoli and suspended all embassy operations effective February 25, 2011. The safety of the American community remains paramount to the Department and we will continue to provide assistance to the greatest extent possible through other missions.

UPDATE 43, Friday, Feb. 25, 4:10 p.m. EST/11:10 p.m. in Tripoli (Nick Baumann): The Guardian has the scoop on UK officials telling Qaddafi loyalists to "defect or face war crimes trials." This is important. First, it shows the UK believes Qaddafi is definitely going down, and puts a lot of pressure on his key people. It also demonstrates that the West hopes to hold Libyan officials accountable for the deaths of civilian protesters. Hillary Clinton, William Hague, and Catherine Ashton—the top foreign affairs officials for the US, the UK, and the EU, respectively—are headed to Geneva on Monday to argue that the International Criminal Court should prosecute Libyan leaders. Between this and the unilateral US moves mentioned in Update 41, it's pretty clear that the West is finally, ever-so-slowly, moving to do at least something about the horrible violence and massacres in Libya.


UPDATE 44, Saturday. Feb. 26, 9:58 a.m. EST/ 4:58 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): A roundup of news from around the web:

  • Qaddafi forces are still maintaining a stronghold in Tripoli. They've set up checkpoints around the city and are opening arms depots for their supporters, attempting to pit tribes against one another. "We shall destroy any aggression with popular will," Qaddafi said in his latest television address. "Libya will become a red flame, a burning coal."

  • In most other Libyan cities, including Benghazi, where the revolution was launched, anti-Qaddafi forces are in full control.

  • Foreign Policy reports that some Latin American leaders, including Fidel Castro of Cuba and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, are standing by Qaddafi amidst the bloodbath. Ortega has spoken regularly with Qaddafi by phone and thinks Qaddafi is "fighting a great battle." Castro distrusts the accuracy of news coming out of Libya and fears a "western invasion." Both Ortega and Castro are longtime friends of Qaddafi and recipients of the "Muammar Qaddafi International Human Rights Prize." 

  • African migrants who were working in Libya's oil industry now fear they'll be killed on suspicion of being Qaddafi mercenaries. A Turkish oil worker who escaped from Libya told the BBC that his Sudanese and Chadian colleagues had been "massacred" by attackers who reportedly said, "you are providing troops for Qaddafi." Many white Libyans have long harbored racist sentiments. Professor Saad Jabbar, deputy director of the North Africa Center at Cambridge University, told NPR he fears a "genocide against anyone who has black skin."

  • The US State Department said Saturday morning that some Americans "may" remain in Libya despite its attempt to evacuate all US nationals. American journalists, for example, will presumably opt not to leave. A US "task force" will stay in Libya to assist Americans.

  • The UN Security Council will meet in New York today to discuss imposing international sanctions. This includes an arms embargo, an asset freeze, and a travel ban against Qaddafi government officials. Friday night, Obama issued an executive order to freeze the American-held assets of Qaddafi family members and high level government officials. Libya's ambassador to the UN has pleaded for the Security Council to "save Libya" by imposing sanctions.


UPDATE 45, Sunday, Feb. 27, 3:00 p.m. EST/10:00 p.m. in Tripoli (Nick Baumann): Here's what's happening today:

  • The Times' David Kirkpatrick reports on the "tour" of Tripoli Qaddafi offered for foreign journalists on Saturday, and notes that it "appeared to backfire": "When government-picked drivers escorted journalists on tours of the city on Saturday morning, the extent of the unrest was unmistakable."
  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an extensive statement Saturday on "holding the Qaddafi government accountable." On Sunday, she briefed reporters on her plane as she prepared to fly to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with European leaders, keep up US pressure on Libya, and make sure the International Criminal Court looks into war crimes committed by the Qaddafi regime. (The UN Security Council has already referred the case to the ICC.) Headline: Clinton reiterated that the US has "made it clear we expect [Qaddafi] to leave" the country.
  • Clinton was also asked about the rival government a former Qaddafi justice minister has set up in Benghazi. She said "it's way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we're going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States."
  • Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) both mentioned potential military aid to Libyan rebels in Sunday show appearances this morning, shocking absolutely no one.
  • The foreign minister of Italy, perhaps Qaddafi's closest European ally, said Sunday that the "point of no return" had been reached in Libya and that the end of Qaddafi's rule is "inevitable."
  • Saif al Islam Qaddafi, Moammar's son, was on Christiane Amanpour's program this morning disputing well-documented reports of the regime using violence against civilians. 
  • The key equation going forward will be whether rebels have the numbers and arms necessary to beat Qaddafi's mercenaries—or whether Western sanctions will decrease Qaddafi's ability to pay those mercenaries. There's also a chance Qaddafi will change his mind and leave the country, but so far both he and his son have said they will "die fighting." Bottom line: this could get even bloodier as rebel forces converge on Tripoli.

UPDATE 46, Monday, Feb. 28, 10:05 a.m. EST/5:05 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi remains in denial as his support dwindles and defects. And the fighting continues:

  • Conspiracies, Homegrown: the Libyan government is blaming the combined powers of Islamic radicalism and the West for conjuring a conspiracy to take over the country, reports The New York Times. “The Islamists want chaos; the West also wants chaos,” said Musa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, to reporters. He argued that the West wants Libya’s oil, while Islamists want to establish a base for international terrorism. He also denied reports that Qaddafi loyalists have fired their guns at civilians. Meanwhile, fighting rages on, with rebels saying they've foiled Qaddafi's attempt to retake the eastern city of Misurata. And low-paid contract workers continue fleeing across the country's eastern and western borders into Egypt and Tunisia, respectively. 
  • Off with his bizarrely-coiffed head: Count French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and British Prime Minister David Cameron among the foreign authorities calling for Qaddafi to go. The EU's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, has also announced that the EU will adopt sanctions against Libya. And Germany has offered a proposal to end all financial payments to Libya for 60 days, reports Reuters, while Italian foreign minster Franco Frattini suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the grounds that the Libyan state “no longer exists.”

UPDATE 47, Monday, Feb. 28, 10:25 a.m. EST/5:25 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): A must-watch: ABC News' Christiane Amanpour interviewed Qaddafi heirs Said and Saif on ABC's This Week yesterday. “Nobody is leaving this country,” Saif told Amanpour. He also denied that the military has attacked its own people, and insisted that most of the country is calm. “Show me a single attack, show me a single bomb,” he said. “The Libyan air force destroyed just the ammunition sites,” he said. 

UPDATE 48, Monday, Feb. 28, 10:51 a.m. EST/5:51 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta)Megalomania, Noy Going Viral: Noy Alooshe, an Israeli journalist living in Tel Aviv, cut this YouTube video lampooning Qaddafi's speech from last Tuesday. Alooshe set the speech to the song "Hey Baby" by the American rappers Pitbull and T-Pain. He titled his creation "Zenga-Zenga," alluding to Qaddafi’s repetition of the word zanqa (Arabic for alleyway). "The original clip features mirror images of a scantily clad woman dancing along to Colonel Qaddafi’s rant. Mr. Alooshe said he got many requests from Web surfers who asked him for a version without the dancer so that they could show it to their parents, which he did," reports the Times

UPDATE 49, Monday, Feb. 28, 1:35 p.m. EST/8:35 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera is reporting that Qaddafi has appointed his intelligence chief, Bouzaid Dordah, to speak to anti-government protesters in the east. They've formed a "national council" as a means of keeping the uprisings in different cities under one, unified body.

UPDATE 50, Monday, Feb. 28, 2:06 p.m. EST/9:06 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Democracy Now's Anjali Kamat has just returned to Egypt from a five day trip to eastern Libya. "There is a sense that Qaddafi could do anything to people [in Tripoli] and there is a real sense of fear,” she says in this dispatch. Watch the whole thing.

UPDATE 51, Monday, Feb. 28, 3:50 p.m. EST/10:50 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Key tweets, brought to you by the indispensable @SultanAlQassemi: "Gaddafi to ABC: America is not the policeman of the world. Obama is a good man but he was misinformed by those around him. #Libya" and "Breaking - Reuters/CNBC: US Treasury Dept freezes $30 billion in Libyan assets in the US #Libya Via @acarvin & @ThamerSalman". Meanwhile, it's looking more and more like Qaddafi views peaceful negotiation with the rebel forces as a realistic possibility.

UPDATE 52, Monday, Feb. 28, 6:20 p.m. EST/Tuesday, March 1, 1:20 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reports that a senior White House officials says the administration doesn't think that Libya's chemical weapon arsenal—including mustard and sarin gas—is vulnerable to theft. Experts think that Libya destroyed over three thousand bombshells designed to carry gas as part of its deal to end years of isolation by the west. But a large stockpile of mustard and sarin gas remain stored in barrels at three locations south of Tripoli:

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, the administration official suggested the Libyans have moved to bolster the security of the material since protests erupted earlier this month, but he refused to specify what those steps were or how the administration had communicated with the Libyans.

"We have continued to urge the Libyans to safely complete destruction of their remaining chemical weapons agent as quickly as possible," the official said. "As part of that process, the Libyans have taken appropriate steps to secure their CW [chemical weapons] from unauthorized access."


UPDATE 53, Tuesday, March 1, 11:00 a.m. EST/6:00 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Here's what's happening today:

  • As the prospect of civil war in Libya looms ever larger, the New York Times reports Qaddafi's forces are having little success in staving off rebel attacks around the country. And the colonel is facing growing international pressure to step down. The US, meanwhile, has repositioned its naval fleet in anticipation of possible humanitarian or military intervention in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's message: to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.”
  • The Times also reports on the ongoing impact of the chaos in Libya on the economies of its neighbors:

The enduring impact of the region’s turmoil was evident in Cairo, where Egypt postponed the reopening of its stock exchange again on Tuesday until Sunday. The exchange has been closed for over a month, after antigovernment protests in late January shook investor confidence and drove the value of the country’s benchmark index down 17 percent in two trading days. In Bahrain on Tuesday, protesters marched down King Faisal Highway in the capital, Manama. In Oman, whose first major protests were reported over the weekend, demonstrations continued on Tuesday, a day after violent clashes with the security forces in the port city of Sohar, and the unrest spread for the first time to the capital, Muscat.

  • Western countries are still debating the option of enforcing a no-fly zone over the country. But The Assocated Press reports that Russian officials have ruled out the idea, with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov calling the proposal "superfluous."
  • And on ABC News on Monday, Qaddafi revealed the depths of his delusion. "They love me. All my people with me, they love me," he said. "They will die to protect me, my people."  

UPDATE 54, Tuesday, March 1, 11:24 a.m. EST/6:24 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): On apples, trees, and not falling far from them:
the Council on Foreign Relations' Steven Cook debunks the fallacy of the second generation reformer—in Libya's case, the erroneous title belongs to the allegedly pro-democracy Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, Phd.

UPDATE 55, Tuesday, March 1, 11:35 a.m. EST/6:35 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Is Sergey Lavrov on to something when it comes to no-fly zones? (see Update 53). How do they work? And do they work? Foreign Policy's Josh Keating takes a swing.

UPDATE 56, Tuesday, March 1, 1:15 p.m. EST/8:15 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing the international community to act against Qaddafi. "It's not acceptable that Colonel Gaddafi can be murdering his own people, using aeroplanes and helicopters gunships.. and we have to plan now to make sure that if it happens we can do something to stop that," he said. In his remarks, Cameron also discussed the possibility of arming opposition fighters. And he's also asked his defense ministry to work with the country's allies on a plan for a no-fly zone over Libya.

UPDATE 57, Tuesday, March 1, 2:15 p.m. EST/9:15 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Things could be flaring up in Tajoura, a neighborhood in eastern Tripoli that's served as the epicenter for unrest in the capital. "Tajoura is very tense. There were small demonstrations. Regime had removed grafitti/signs, but last night people put them back. #Libya," tweets @iyad_elbaghdadi.

UPDATE 58, Tuesday, March 1, 2:35 p.m. EST/9:35 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Must-watch: the latest footage from Libya's border with Tunisia, where tens of thousands of refugees are spilling over into the recently revolutionized country. It's from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees:

UPDATE 59, Tuesday, March 1, 2:50 p.m. EST/9:50 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): File this under "aggressive, but maybe not aggressive enough": The Associated Press reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the Obama administration may seek the prosecution of Qaddafi for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, after some ex-Libyan officials claimed that Qaddafi personally ordered the attack. Clinton told Congress that she will ask the FBI and Justice Department to look into the matter. The US considers the bombing a closed case.

UPDATE 60, Tuesday, March 1, 4:15 p.m. EST/11:15 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): While Josh Keating broke down the logistics of installing a no-fly zone, David Axe tells us why Libya's complex, 25-year old air defense network probably won't save it if foreign nations decide to go all-in.

UPDATE 61, Tuesday, March 1, 4:50 p.m. EST/11:50 p.m. in Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): In an unprecedented move, the UN general assembly has voted, unamimoiusly, to temporarily suspend Libya's membership to the UN Human Rights Council, reports Al Jazeera. The country will be prevented from  participating in the assembly until the body makes a more permanent decision. Speaking to the assembly in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that "[t]he world has spoken with one voice: we demand an immediate end to the violence against civilians and full respect for their fundamental human rights, including those of peaceful assembly and free speech." His next move: consulting with the heads of the UN's humanitarian agencies, the Arab League, the African Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference on what steps to take next.


UPDATE 62, Wednesday, March 2, 12:58 p.m. EST/ 8:58 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates):  The bloodbath continues as the US prepares for a humanitarian intervention:

  • Libyan planes bombed the eastern port city of Brega on Wednesday. Al Jazeera reports that at least 4 were killed and 10 were injured. This oil-exporting city had recently been overtaken by rebel forces. Libyan state television claims the government has seized an oil company complex and an airbase.
  • The New York Times reports that two American amphibious warships entered the southern end of the Suez Canal on Wednesday and 400 marines are currently en route to the Mediterranean. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the warships and marines would be there for humanitarian relief and emergency evacuation, and played down the possibility of American military intervention in Libya.
  • Josette Sheeran, the director of the World Food Program is stationed on Tunisia's border with Libya. On Wednesday, she called for a safe humanitarian corridor to Libya to help those fleeing the violence.

UPDATE 63, Wednesday, March 2, 2:10 p.m. EST/ 10:10 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): The Arab League is considering imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, in cooperation with the African Union. "The Arab League will not sit with its hands tied while the blood of the brotherly Libyan people is spilled," Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Wednesday. Moussa is also a likely contender for president of Egypt.

UPDATE 64, Wednesday, March 2, 4:20 p.m. EST/ Thursday March 3, 12:20 a.m. Thursday Tripoli (Ashley Bates): The Jerusalem Post reports that Qaddafi's children are encouraging him to seek political asylum in Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega has spoken regularly to Qaddafi by phone, and recently said that Qaddafi is "fighting a great battle."


UPDATE 65, Thursday, March 3, 11:45 a.m. EST/ 6:45 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta)Qaddafi's first major push to reclaim the east has been rebuffed. Meanwhile, chaos among the ranks (on both sides) reigns. And Hugo Chavez has a peace plan.

  • Qaddafi's strike on the eastern city of Brega—an oil town—represents his first major attempt to take back territory from the rebels; Reuters reports that his planes bombed the city. Despite their success in repelling Qaddafi's incursion, the rebels remain uncertain of what the autocrat's next move might be.
  • In a must-read dispatch, the New York Times reports from the front lines:

The battle of Brega was a ragged affair. There were no orders, no officers, no plans: most of the men said they had simply jumped in cars to defend their freedom after hearing that government loyalists, whom the rebels call mercenaries, had begun a dawn raid on Brega.

Fighters carried every kind of weapon. Some manned big antiaircraft guns, wearing black military berets and saluting as they rode past. Others drove beat-up old taxis, clutching rifles, pistols, anything they could find, even butcher knives.

  • And about that peace plan: Reuters also reports that the Libyan government has accepted Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's plan to end the war, according to a Chavez spokesman.
  • Foreign Policy has a searing, exclusive slidehow of desperate refugees fleeing Libya. And speaking of refugees: The Daily Mail reports that the British government is coordinating an airlift of thousands of refugees stranded at the country's borders with Tunisia and Libya. Three planes chartered by the British government will shuttle between Tunisia and Egypt to evacuate some 6,000 Egyptians working in Libya. 

UPDATE 66, Thursday, March 3, 2:25 p.m. EST/ 9:25 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Mother Jones' Mac McClelland writes that the International Criminal Court's chief will investigate Qaddafi for possible crimes against humanity. From Mac:

So, what now? The court has two months to report back to the Security Council with the results of its investigation. Then the ICC judges will decide whether to issue arrest warrants. The ICC does not have any authority to actually bring in defendants, so if Qaddafi is indicted, someone will have to apprehend and deliver him to The Hague. Maybe some anti-Qaddafi Libyans could get hold of him. Or maybe he will be forced out or step down and then leave the country, and the authorities of whatever country he goes to will arrest him.


UPDATE 67, Friday, March 4, 4:59 p.m. EST/ 11:59 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta)

  • The New York Times reports that Qaddafi's forces expanded their attack against rebels on Friday, in an effort to retake the city of Zawiya, about 25 miles west of Tripoli. Reports say that at least 35 were killed, and over 100 were wounded. A government spokesman claimed victory: "[Zawiya] is liberated this afternoon, and we are going to take you there tomorrow to see for yourself," he said. But reports from rebels suggest that that the outcome of the battle is far from certain. Fighting also rages on in the oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Zewietina.
  • When it comes to responding to Libya diplomatically, the United States' most prominent options appear to include sanctions and invoking a no-fly zone. The CIA's playbook is a little more permissive, writes Jeff Stein, who spoke to a former senior CIA operations official that consults with US intelligence services. It's probably fair to say he yearns for the days of yore:

"CIA should be on the ground collecting intelligence, but should also be in touch with the rebels. They should provide weapons, training and guidance to remove Gaddafi. They should be helping the opposition to establish radio and press capabilities—we used to have radio flyaway kits that could be sent in with 24-48 hours and used to set up radio stations.

"We should be giving the U.S. government the ability to clandestinely help the opposition overthrow the government without having to send in the Marines," he added.

But the CIA doesn’t have the stomach for such interventions now, he asserted. “We have become such pussies that we would crap our pants if we were asked to do any of this.”

  • And Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said that the Qaddafi regime has formally accepted Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez' peace plan, reports Reuters. Initially, the plan had been rejected by Qaddafi's son, Saif. The Chavez blueprint calls for a committee to be formed by African, Asian, and Latin American countries "to help the international dialogue and to help the restoration of peace and stability."
  • Speaking of Foreign Leaders Who Love MQ: CNN tells us who the Qaddafis can still lean on.

UPDATE 68, Monday, March 7,  11:35 a.m. EST/ 6:35 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The battle for Libya rages on, as pro-Qaddafi forces scored some key victories over the weekend.

  • Hell from above: Qaddafi's forces continue their air assault on rebels in the coastal town of Ras Lanuf, reports the New York Times. Over the weekend, pro-government troops attacked rebels in the town of Bin Jawwad using tanks, helicopters, and planes, pushing them further east. And opposition fighters told the Times that loyalists used residents of the town as human shields, causing them to hold back their fire. In the east, the poorly trained but well armed anti-Qaddafi forces are trying to take the dictator's eastern stronghold of Surt, and are still fighting to maintain their grip on Zawiyah.
  • And in Tripoli, pro-government media continues to spin the war being waged in the east, reports the Times: "Not a day passes in Tripoli without some improbable claim by Colonel Qaddafi or the top officials around him: there are no rebels or protesters in Libya; the people who are demonstrating have been drugged by Al Qaeda; no shots have been fired to suppress dissent. In an interview broadcast on Monday with the France 24, Col. Qaddafi called his country a partner of the West in combating Al Qaeda, insisting that loyalist forces were confronting 'small groupings' and 'sleeper cells' of terrorists."
  • The UN is sending a humanitarian assessment team to Tripoli, reports Al Jazeera. The international body's request was agreed to by Libyan foreign minister Musa Kusa, after UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon urged him to "consider the best interests of the Libyan people, and listen to the united voice of the international community." Ban has also appointed Abdelilah al-Khatib, the former foreign minister of Jordan, as his special envoy to consult with the Libyan government on the humanitarian situation.

UPDATE 69, Monday, March 7,  12:52 p.m. EST/ 7:52 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Veteran Middle East correpondent Robert Fisk reports that the United States has secretly asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to rebels in the anti-Qaddafi stronghold of Benghazi. "The Saudi Kingdom…has so far failed to respond to Washington's highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago," writes Fisk. The kingdom's help—in the form of anti-tank rockets, mortars, and ground-to-air missiles—"would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain—even though the arms would be American and paid for by the Saudis."

UPDATE 70, Monday, March 7,  3:01 p.m. EST/ 10:01 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Cutting ties: Reuters reports that the US-based oil companies ExxonMobil, Conoco, and Morgan Stanley will cease oil trade with Libya. Their moves comply with recently imposed sanctions against Libya, whose oil production of 1.6 million barrels a day has more than halved since the rebellion against Qaddafi began.

UPDATE 71, Monday, March 7,  3:35 p.m. EST/ 10:35 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Associated Press reports that the United States and its NATO allies are still considering a military response to the ongoing chaos in Libya. "I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Qaddafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place," President Obama said on Monday. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the US is still weighing the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over the country and arming rebel forces, and is continuing to use existing diplomatic channels to amass information on opposition groups. Deploying ground troops, he underlined, "is not top of the list at this point."


UPDATE 72, Tuesday, March 8,  3:08 p.m. EST/ 10:08 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta):

  • Qaddafi's planes continue bombing rebels in the east, leading to few casualties but worrying the rebels that their movement has stalled, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The bombing raids are being carried out around Ras Lanuf, an oil town about 150 miles from Benghazi, as NATO planners meet in Brussels to consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. But NATO is unlikely to act without a resolution from the UN Security Council. Britain and France support a UN draft resolution for action, while China and Russia are unlikely to throw their hat in.
  • Libyan troops led by Qaddafi's son Khamis left the rebel-held town of Misrata on Tuesday, heading east to join up with other pro-Qaddafi forces, reports Reuters.
  • Meanwhlie, rebel forces are digging in outside of Ras Lanuf. "They seem to be better organized and more professional than forces previously seen on the frontline," with better armor and more sophisticated weapons, reports SkyNews.

UPDATE 73, Tuesday, March 8,  3:15 p.m. EST/ 10:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Newt would know what to do: 2012 GOP presidential-maybe Newt Gingrich insists it would take mere minutes to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. From HuffPo:

Gingrich accused the Obama administration of being "confused," saying, "The idea that we're confused about a man who has been an anti-American dictator since 1969 just tells you how inept this administration is." The Obama administration has said that a no-fly zone is being considered, but has not yet committed to the policy, according to the Guardian.

"This is a moment to get rid of [Qaddafi]. Do it. Get it over with," the potential 2012 presidential candidate stated.

UPDATE 74, Tuesday, March 8,  6:57 p.m. EST/ Wednesday, March 9, 1:57 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Josh Rogin reports that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denied reports that the US has asked Saudi Arabia to arm Libyan rebels. For the record: supplying arms to anyone in Libya would be illegal:

Pressed by reporters to clarify whether the Obama administration had any plans to give arms to any of the rebel groups in Libya, Crowley said no.

"It would be illegal for the United States to do that," he said. "It's not a legal option."

Crowley's blanket statement seemed to go further than comments on Monday by White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said, "On the issue of…arming, providing weapons, it is one of the range of options that is being considered."

Crowley maintained that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, which imposed international sanctions on Libya that included an arms embargo, applied to both the Qaddafi regime and the rebel groups.

"It's not on the government of Libya: It's on Libya," he said.


UPDATE 75, Wednesday, March 9,  11:15 a.m. EST/ 6:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The news for the day:

  • The New York Times reports Qaddafi's forces continue their assault on Ras Lanuf, as rebels push west toward Tripoli. Al Jazeera reports that "[t]he air force is concentrating on the big junctions at the entrance to the town. The fact that it’s such consistent black smoke could well means there is oil underneath it. It is continuing to burn," panicking opposition fighters.
  • And government air strikes on the desert oil hub and the western city of Zawiyah—which Qaddafi's government claims to have recaptured—continue. Tanks moved into the rebel-held main square as "their snipers shot at anything that moved."
  • Meanwhile, President Obama and British prime minister David Cameron have agreed on the shared objective of "the departure of Qaddafi from power as quickly as possible," the White House said in a statement. They've committed to "press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo and a no-fly zone."

UPDATE 76, Wednesday, March 9,  11:23 a.m. EST/ 6:23 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi has sent his deputy defense minister, Abdelrahman al-Zawi, to Cairo. Al-Zawi, reports Al Jazeera, is also an army general in charge of logistics and supplies. Reports indicate that he may be meeting with Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, which will meet on Saturday to discuss the imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

UPDATE 77, Wednesday, March 9,  12:00 p.m. EST/ 7:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): D.B. Grady, a former paratrooper with US Army Special Operations Command and a veteran of Afghanistan, explains what's at stake in imposing a no-fly zone. If Obama's going to act, he argues, he better make it quick:

If it is the intent of the United States to use military force in Libya by imposing a no-fly zone, the president and his administration should make the argument now rather than later. Qaddafi is a madman, but he is a madman with a well-honed survival instinct. This same Qaddafi in December of 2003 admitted that his government had been actively developing a massive weapons program, but promptly surrendered it to President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Qaddafi further opened his borders to international weapons inspectors. More astoundingly, he wrote billion dollar checks to the families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and UTA Flight 772. He feared the Bush Doctrine.

The Obama Doctrine, meanwhile, takes a clearly different approach. Though he's followed through with the previous administration's Iraq plans and heeded advice from Bush's generals and Secretary of Defense on Afghanistan, elsewhere in the world Obama is hesitant to pull the trigger, so to speak. The feeling seems to be that Team America has done enough. This is, in other words, a humbler foreign policy—the very course of action embraced by Bush supporters in 1999. [emphasis added]

UPDATE 78, Wednesday, March 9,  12:15 p.m. EST/ 7:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Just tweeted by @AlArabiya_English: "Libyan authorities offer a bounty of $400,000 to anyone who captures revolutionary leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil and hands him in #Libya"; who is Jalil? The leader of the key opposition group, the National Libyan Council.

UPDATE 79, Wednesday, March 9,  4:45 p.m. EST/ 11:45 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The White House is working to stop mercenaries from joining pro-Qaddafi forces, reports Josh Rogin. Soldiers of fortune have been streaming in from surrounding countries like Chad and Niger, but the administration isn't saying whether Qaddafi is still trying to bring in more. The hope: that keeping them out will help prevent violence from spilling over into other countries. Meanwhile, the administration's outreach to opposition groups is increasing. And National Security Council senior director for multilateral affairs Samantha Power said that the US is doing its best to help civilians trying to leave Libya.

UPDATE 80, Wednesday, March 9,  6:52 p.m. EST/ Thursday, March 10, 1:52 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Fadel Lamen has the scoop on the resignation plan Qaddafi offered on Tuesday morning:

According to the insider, Gaddafi sent a letter, in the care of a former Gaddafi cabinet minster, containing the following offer: Gaddafi would call a meeting of the General People's Congress—supposedly the highest governing body in what is in reality an autocracy. At the meeting, Gaddafi would submit his resignation. A formal process would give then appearance of a democratic turnover.

In exchange, Gaddafi would require that the congress declare immunity for him and his family, both domestically and internationally, using the congress's putative legitimacy over the Libyan people as cover.

The insider tells me the interim Transitional Council, overseen by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the closest thing the Libyan people have as an alternative to Gaddafi, rejected the idea as a "farce."

But the council rejected the plan, viewing the letter as a "trial balloon": a ploy to divide Libyans as Qaddafi continues trying to take back rebel-held territory.


UPDATE 81, Thursday, March 10,  11:05 a.m. EST/ 6:05 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi is mounting a vicious counterattack, making key gains in cities previously held by rebels:

  • Rebels are fleeing the oil town of Ras Lanuf, as Qaddafi's forces mount a strong resurgence, reports The Guardian. Ras Lanuf sits some 300 miles east of Tripoli, and has been under attack by planes, tanks, and gunboats. "We don't have any heavy weapons," a fleeing rebel fighter told Reuters. "There are people with heavier weapons." Time reports that "rebels lack armor and air support, and have been pinned down by government attack helicopters, fighter jets, and bombers. The attack on the oil refinery today suggests Gaddafi's willingness to use his air superiority to target the country's infrastructure in rebel-held territory, whatever the cost."
  • Qaddafi's forces also launched an air strike on Brega, another oil town some 50 miles east of Ras Lanuf, according to rebels. And rebels were forced to withdraw from Bin Jawad, just west of Ras Lanuf. Military analysts think that Qaddafi might be focusing his military might on stanching uprisings in the west before turning his full attention to the east.
  • Also from Time: leaders of the National Libyan Council, a key opposition group, say all they need are guns and ammunition to win. But,

behind the scenes, the rebel government appears to be less sanguine about their chances for survival without international intervention. "The No-Fly Zone is crucial," one rebel official told Time. "Without it, they're just going to keep killing us." And the National Libyan Council appears divided over political alternatives to carrying on an against-the-odds military struggle whatever the costs. In an interview with Al Jazeera on Tuesday, former Justice Minister current head of the National Libyan Council Mustafa Abdel-Jalil that he was in negotiations and offered Qaddafi 72 hours to leave Libya with guarantees of safe passage. But Ghoga, speaking officially on behalf of the council, said that there would be no negotiations with the regime, and no immunity would be given to Qaddafi. "No one has the right to deny justice to the victims of this regime," he said on Tuesday.

UPDATE 82, Thursday, March 10,  11:45 a.m. EST/ 6:45 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Meanwhile, in Brussels: Western nations are faced with "an ever more insistent stark choice between aiding the rebels, perhaps with a no-flight zone, or standing by as Colonel Qaddafi reasserts his grip on the country," reports the New York Times. The United Kingdom and France appear to favor imposing a no-fly zone, while the United States continues to emphasize the difficulty of such an action. Nick Kristof doesn't think it could be all that tough:

If the Obama administration has exaggerated the risks of a no-fly zone, it seems to have downplayed the risks of continued passivity. There is some risk that this ends up like the abortive uprisings in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or in southern Iraq in 1991.

The tide in Libya seems to have shifted, with the Qaddafi forces reimposing control over Tripoli and much of western Libya. Now Colonel Qaddafi is systematically using his air power to gain ground even in the east. As the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an arms analysis group in London, noted this week, “The major advantage of the pro-regime forces at the moment is their ability to deploy air power.”

UPDATE 83, Thursday, March 10,  1:00 p.m. EST/ 8:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): In an interview with Qaddafi's son, Saif, Reuters reports that the Libyan military is planning a full-scale push to crush the rebellion, and won't surrender even if the West intervenes. "It's time for liberation. It's time for action. We are moving now," he said. "Time is out now. It's time for action...We gave them two weeks (for negotiations)...We will never ever give up. We will never ever surrender. This is our country. We fight here in Libya. The Libyan people, we will never ever welcome NATO, we will never ever welcome Americans here. Libya is not a piece of cake." What set Saif off? Maybe everything that's been written about his maybe-fake dissertation. Or losing his crib in England.

UPDATE 84, Thursday, March 10,  2:43 p.m. EST/ 9:43 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta)Must-watch dispatch from Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting on the bombing of Ras Lanuf: 


UPDATE 85, Friday, March 11, 10:33 a.m. EST/ 5:33 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi remains resolute, as the West continues to debate what it will do. Meanwhile, rebel forces are being pushed east, as they continue to call on the West to impose a no-fly zone.

  • Qaddafi's forces seem to have all but claimed victory in Ras Lanuf, as rebels have pulled out of the desert oil town and moved east. "The apparent ease of [Qaddafi's forces'] victory provided a stark illustration of the asymmetry of the conflict, pitting protesters turned rebels against a military with far superior arms and organization and a willingness to prosecute a vicious counterattack against its own people," reports the New York Times. And for the first time on Friday, rebels tried to keep photographers from taking pictures of their positions, in an effort to keep Qaddafi in the dark about their positions.
  • Take it or leave it: also from the Times, an analysis of President Obama's "policy of restraint" in the Middle East: "This emphasis on pragmatism over idealism has left Mr. Obama vulnerable to criticism that he is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab street protesters. Some say he is failing to bind the United States to the historic change under way in the Middle East the way that Ronald Reagan" did with the end of Communism. 
  • A delegation sent by Qaddafi has arrived in Cairo, reports Al Jazeera. The Libyan government says the delegation is lead by Umran Abu-Kra'a, identified as the minister of electricity. The group will attend an Arab League meeting on the carnage in Libya, but it's still unclear whether they will be allowed to attend the gathering: the league has suspended the Tripoli government in protest of Qaddafi's brutal attack on his own people.

UPDATE 86, Friday, March 11, 10:45 a.m. EST/ 5:45 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that at least seven journalists covering the conflict in Libya have gone missing. The most recent: Guardian correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. And this week, three BBC reporters were tortured by Libyan military and security forces for 21 hours after being detained south of Zawiya. From BBC reporter Feras Killani:

Killani told the BBC: "They were kicking and punching me, four or five men. I went down on to my knees. They attacked me as soon as I got out of the car. They knocked me down to the ground with their guns, AK47s. I was down on my knees and I heard them cocking their guns. I thought they were going to shoot me." He said he was later beaten severely and accused of being a spy. [BBC colleague Chris] Cobb-Smith described a mock execution: "A man with a small submachine gun was putting it to the nape of everyone's neck in turn. He pointed the barrel at each of us. When he got to me at the end of the line, he pulled the trigger twice. The shots went past my ear."

UPDATE 87, Friday, March 11, 11:45 a.m. EST/ 6:45 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Leon Wieseltier is displeased with Obama's stance on Libya thus far:

[Obama] declares that Qaddafi must go and that we will stand with the Libyan people, and then he does nothing. No, that’s not right. He consults and consults, and his staff works round the clock, and economic sanctions are instituted against the rampaging dictator who has tens of billions of dollars in cash. Obama is prepared to act, just not consequentially. He does not want the responsibility for any Arab outcome. He says they must do it for themselves. But they are doing it for themselves. They merely need help. And the help they need is easy for us to provide. (Jam their fucking communications.) And their cause is freedom, which is allegedly our cause. What they seek from Obama is an extended hand. What they are getting is a clenched fist.

UPDATE 88, Friday, March 11, 11:59 a.m. EST/ 6:59 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Tweeted this morning by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees: "Arrivals to #Tunisia'n border: 2,500/day. Evacuation flights: 800-1200 people total each day. #Libya"

UPDATE 89 Friday, March 11, 2:05 p.m. EST/ 9:05 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Reuters reports that foreign journalists have been brought by government forces to see the aftermath of intense fighting in the center of Zawiyah, the largest rebel-held city in western Libya. Large green and white cloths were draped over several shot up, scorched buildings. "Some 200 loyalists waved green flags, danced and chanted 'I love Gaddafi, I love Gaddafi' in English in the main square," reports a Reuters correspondent in the media group.

UPDATE 90 Friday, March 11, 4:38 p.m. EST/ 11:38 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Jo Becker of the Human Rights Watch explains how Benghazi came to be the seat of the Libyan opposition: two years ago, Libyans took to the streets of the eastern city as part of a campaign to seek the truth about a 1996 massacre of over 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli—a demonstration that was brutally repressed. Read the whole thing. 


UPDATE 91, Saturday, March 12, 12:35 p.m. EST/ 7:35p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi’s forces are pushing east towards the key city of Brega, as rebels continued their retreat to their base city of Benghazi, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Libyan army has forced the ill-equipped, poorly trained rebels out of Ras Lanuf in the east and Zawiya in the west. Qaddafi’s eastward campaign suggests that he’s strategically moving from one rebel stronghold to another in a march to Benghazi. Al Jazeera reports that the only town in the west still held by rebels is Misurata, located about 200 km east of the capital city of Tripoli.

UPDATE 92, Saturday, March 12, 2:23 p.m. EST/ 9:23p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Arab League has formally endorsed a no-fly zone over Libya, reports the New York Times. Speaking from the league’s meeting in Cairo, Oman’s foreign minister, Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said that the body voted unanimously to ask the United Nations Security Council to approve a no-fly zone. Even though Alawi says the vote was unanimous, some countries in the group, including Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Morocco, remain opposed to a no-fly zone. They argue that foreign force would destabilize the region. Meanwhile, at the UN Security Council, the UK, and France are drafting a resolution on a no-fly zone. The resolution has been opposed by China and Russia. The Obama administration has yet to come out in support of a no-fly zone, reports the Associated Press. Watch this report from Al Jazeera on the Arab League’s decision:


UPDATE 93, Sunday, March 13, 3:42 p.m. EST/ 10:42 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera reports that the US has come out in support of the Arab League's call for the UN to invoke a no-fly zone over Libya. But officials in Washington have yet to commit to any military action, or call for a meeting of the UN Security Council.


UPDATE 94, Tuesday, March 15, 2:19 p.m. EST/ 9:19 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): A top diplomatic official said the GOP's planned cuts from the international affairs budget would hinder the US' ability to respond to events in Libya, reports Josh Rogin. On Monday, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric Schwartz said "[w]e have, around the world, ongoing humanitarian responses to protracted situations, situations that are not emergency but are protracted and require our engagement, and we have emergency situations, and we have accounts for both. And it is the future funding of both of those accounts that are so seriously imperiled by some of these proposals."

UPDATE 95, Tuesday, March 15, 2:35 p.m. EST/ 9:35 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Qaddafi's forces are trying to take back the city of Ajdabiya, considered the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, reports the Associated Press. "They don't have the arms, but they have the will to fight," Lt. Col. Mohammed Saber, an army officer who defected to the uprising. The government has largely retaken the west, as French and British efforts to drum up support for a no-fly zone crumbled on Tuesday. Ajdabiya is a key supply point for rebels, flush with stocks of ammunition and weapons that the rebels drew on as they marched toward Tripoli.


UPDATE 96, Wednesday, March 16, 11:25: a.m. EST/ 6:25 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Here's the news from today:

  • After taking Ajdabiya—the gateway to Benghazi—Qaddafi's forces are now setting their sites on Misurata, the last rebel stronghold in the west, reports the New York Times. Ajdabiya, back in government hands, controls access to the highways that loyalists will use to mount their likely upcoming attack on Benghazi. As shelling increased in Ajdabiya on Tuesday, "hundreds of cars packed with children, mattresses, suitcases— anything that could be grabbed and packed in—careered through the streets as residents fled. Long lines of cars could be seen on the highway heading north to Benghazi, about 100 miles away." Many rebels in Benghazi have begun to privately acknowledge that an attack on the city is coming.
  • Also from the Times: there's a growing consensus in the Obama administration that a no-fly zone over Libya won't make a difference, says a senior official. But the White House won't stand in the way of other countries in the United Nations trying to rally support for such an action. Alternatives under consideration: jamming Libyan government radio signals and financing the rebel forces with $32 billion in Libyan government and Qaddafi family funds frozen by the United States.
  • Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford, praises Obama's foreign policy pragmatism, but says he's ducking a tough choice that could ebb his credibility as leader of the free world: 

Presidents do not get elected to make easy decisions, and they certainly never become great doing so. They do not get credit just because they go along with what the diplomatic and military establishments tell them are the “wise and prudent” thing to do. This is not Hungary in 1956. There is no one standing behind Qaddafi—not the Soviet Union then, not the Arab League now, not even the entirety of his own army. That is why he must recruit mercenaries to save him. Qaddafi is the kind of neighborhood bully that Slobodan Milosevic was. And he must be met by the same kind of principled power. For America to do less than that now—less than the minimum that the Libyan rebels and the Arab neighbors are requesting—would be to shrink into global vacillation and ultimately irrelevance. If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?

UPDATE 97, Wednesday, March 16, 11:55: a.m. EST/ 6:55 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Saif Qaddafi has delivered a prediction: the rebellion will be defeated in the next two days, reports Al Jazeera. "The military operations are finished. In 48 hours everything will be over. Our forces are close to Benghazi. Whatever decision is taken, it will be too late," he told Euronews on Wednesday.

UPDATE 98, Wednesday, March 16, 2:40 p.m. EST/ 9:40 p.m. Tripoli (Nick Baumann): The New York Times' Jeremy Peters reports that four Times journalists are missing in Libya and have not been heard from since Tuesday morning EST:

The missing journalists are Anthony Shadid, the Beirut bureau chief and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting; Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2009 and rescued by British commandos; and two photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, who have worked extensively in the Middle East and Africa.

CNN's Ivan Watson quotes an email from Addario on Monday: "so exhausted. this story has been one of the most dangerous i have ever covered." Watson also joins other folks in speculating that the release of Guardian journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on Wednesday may bode well for the Times' journos if they're being held by the Libyan regime. But right now, there just aren't many details about the situation.

Our thoughts and prayers are with these brave journalists and their families. You can donate to the Committee to Protect Journalists here.


UPDATE 99, Thursday, March 17, 11:10: a.m. EST/ 6:10 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Here's the news from today, as the UN moves ever-closer to voting on a resolution to move against Qaddafi:

  • Too little, too late. That's the word from Washington on imposing a no-fly zone, reports the New York Times. Instead, the US is backing a UN resolution—sponsored by Lebanon and backed by the UK and France—calling for broader, aggressive action, as Qaddafi has pushed rebels back to Benghazi. The White House wants to avoid taking military action in yet another Muslim country; but the Arab League's call to move against Libya—one of its own—was the "turning point" for the United States, Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday to reporters in Cairo. Options the United States is putting on the table: sending foreign soldiers to Libya to advise rebels, or filling the opposition's coffers with some of the Qaddafi's frozen $32 billion.
  • Meanwhile, French president Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to the United States and other members of the Security Council, urging them to vote for the Lebanese resolution. It authorizes a no-fly zone, calls for stronger sanctions against Libya, and adds more names to the list of Libyan officials facing international travel bans. To pass the Security Council, the resolution must win nine votes and to avoid a veto from any of the five permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Diplomats expect to vote on it today.

UPDATE 100, Thursday, March 17, 11:42: a.m. EST/ 6:42 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): More on the UN resolution: Reuters reports that it calls for "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to protect civilians under threat of attack. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament that the measure includes demands for an immediate ceasefire, a complete end to violence, and a ban on all flights in Libyan air space with the exception of humanitarian flights. "It calls for all necessary measures short of an occupation force to protect civilians under threat of attack, including in Benghazi," he said. Hague added that the resolution denies Libyan planes permission to take off, land, or fly over UN member states.

UPDATE 101, Thursday, March 17, 12:58: p.m. EST/ 7:58 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Guardian reports that Turkish officials helped free its reporter, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, from prison in Libya. Abdul-Ahad, a respected war correspondent of Iraqi origin, had been detained by the Libyan authorities for two weeks after being swept up in the town of Sabratha on March 2. The Turkish government has been handling the UK's affairs in the country in the wake of the its embassy's closure in Libya, and was a key player in negotiations to secure Abdul-Ahad's release. "It is believed the prime minister and president's offices were involved in behind-the-scenes talks since the weekend, along with the foreign ministry," reports the Guardian. Abdul-Ahad was freed on Wednesday after Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger flew to Tripoli to help coordinate his release.

UPDATE 102, Thursday, March 17, 2:00: p.m. EST/ 9:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): A Split in the Ranks: freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is calling out the Obama administration for its inability to come to a decision on taking action in Libya, reports Josh Rogin. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, Rubio said that "[t]he United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act…[t]he president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. Testifying before the committee, Undersecretary of State for Poltical Affairs Bill Burns said that the US wants to wait for the UN Security Council—whose members include fly zone dissenters China and Russia—to approve action against Qaddafi. Rubio argued that waiting for these countries to change their stances would look weak. Meanwhile, Rogin also reports that the committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), disagrees with Rubio, saying a no fly zone is equivalent to declaring war.

UPDATE 103, Thursday, March 17, 7:00: p.m. EST/ 2:00 a.m. Tripoli (Adam Weinstein): At 6:38 p.m., the UN Security Council voted 10-0, with five abstentions, to approve a resolution ending the Qaddafi-led violence in Libya and establishing a no-fly zone. After the vote, representatives from the UK and Germany made it clear that Qaddafi would have to go. My piece "What Will Happen When the US Attacks Qaddafi?" lays out some of the basic international and domestic consequences of the decision to interdict Qaddafi's forces.


UPDATE 104, Friday, March 18, 10:15: a.m. EST/ 5:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The United Kingdom and France are leading the charge to take military action against Libya. The news for the day:

  • As noted in Update 103, the UN Security Council passed a sweeping resolution on taking action against Libya. The resolution passed with 10 votes, including the United States'. But Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, and India abstained. The New York Times reports that just hours after the vote, Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to all military operations against rebels. But that isn't deterring French and British officials, who said today that military action would begin soon. "This is about protecting the Libyan people and saving lives," said British Prime Minister David Cameron. "The world has watched Qaddafi brutally crushing his own people. We expect brutal attacks. Qaddafi is preparing for a violent assault on Benghazi.…I believe that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others." Cameron will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Arab leaders on Saturday in Paris.
  • The Times also reports that its four reporters in Libya who went missing on Tuesday—Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, and reporter Stephen Farrell—will be released. Initially, it appeared that the Libyan government would only be releasing Addario. “They entered the country illegally and when the army, when they liberated the city of Ajdabiya from the terrorists and they found [Addario], they arrest her because you know, foreigners in this place,” said Saif Qaddafi in an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour. “But then they were happy because they found out she is American, not European. And thanks to that, she will be free tomorrow,”  he added, suggesting that the government only be releasing Addario. But Libyan officials told the State Department late on Thursday that all four will be released.
  • Check out this Al Jazeera explainer on how a no-fly zone works:

UPDATE 105, Friday, March 18, 10:40: a.m. EST/ 5:40 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Meanwhile, Tunisia continues to struggle with the thousands of refugees flooding across its border with Libya, reports the Global Post. Some 280,000 people have left Libya since mid-February; over 150,000 have fled to Tunisia, and some 118,000 to Egypt, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Initially, many were immigrants from Bangladesh, the Philippines, and African countries, who were working in Libya. But the second wave consists mostly of Libyans fleeing the escalating violence. Most of the refugees are waiting for their native countries' governments to repatriate them, while others hope to get asylum in Europe. Tunisians have responded by harnessing social networks to organize food and clothing drives, and transport volunteers from different towns in Tunisia to refugee camps.

UPDATE 106, Friday, March 18, 3:07 p.m. EST/ 10:07 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): In a statement delivered this afternoon, President Obama said that Qaddafi had lost his legitimacy to lead Libya, and that "left unchecked, we have every reason to believe" he will commit atrocities against his own people. Qaddafi must uphold the ceasefire declared yesterday, Obama said, and stop his troops' advance on Benghazi. He also said that the newly passed UN resolution will be enforced through military action, via an international coalition. But he made it clear that change in the region cannot be imposed by the US or Europe. "What we will not be doing…[is] deploying ground troops into Libya," he said, in attempt to ease the fears of Americans anxious over the prospect of another military committment in a Muslim country.

UPDATE 107, Friday, March 18, 6:20 p.m. EST/ Saturday, March 19, 1:20 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): David Corn sees a new policy in Obama's speech on Libya:

[W]ith this brief set of remarks, [the president] has crafted something of an Obama Doctrine for military intervention: The United States will join in a multilateral fight for democracy and humanitarian aims when it is in the nation's interest and when the locals are involved and desire US participation. In short, the Anti-Bush Doctrine. 

UPDATE 108, Friday, March 18, 6:50 p.m. EST/ Saturday, March 19, 1:50 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Asking some tough questions, Jeff Goldberg is decidedly less sanguine:

Do we really know who would rule Libya if Qaddafi disappeared from the scene? I met a whole bunch of anti-Qaddafi activists in Cairo last week, and they didn't fill me with good feeling about their intentions or their beliefs. Or, for that matter, their competence. I know that there are many brave people among the opposition, and I wish fervently for their success, on the theory that they can't be worse than Qaddafi. But I'm not one hundred percent behind this theory.

And another question: Are we seeking to depose Qaddafi, who, we are informed by various American officials, has "lost his legitimacy" to rule (as if he didn't lose it when, for instance, he blew up Pam Am 103) because we just hate him more than run-of-the-mill dictators? Is it because he has committed crimes that are so unique? He's a satanic figure, of course, but he has never committed atrocities on the scale of, say Saddam Hussein, or Hafez al-Assad. Are we offended because he has launched aerial attacks against his own citizens? Of course we are, but is this really so unusual in the Middle East?

And another question: Is the goal to remove Qaddafi from power? To limit his running room? What if Libyan rebels don't succeed in removing him from power? How long will the West be engaged militarily in Libya? What is the strategy here? Is there a strategy? What's the plan if this settles into a standoff?


UPDATE 109, Saturday, March 19, 4:02 a.m. EST/ 10:02 a.m. Tripoli (Monika Bauerlein): There are multiple reports that Benghazi is under attack, with pro-Qaddafi forces moving into the western portions of the city and heavy shelling reported. Al Jazeera English has a good summary. On Twitter, the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy, who is in Benghazi, says he came under small-arms fire this morning and has heard rocket attacks for some time. You may also want to follow SultanAlQassemi's updates.

UPDATE 110, Saturday, March 19, 12:02 p.m. EST/ 6:02 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): An Associated Press video shows a Libyan plane crashing over Benghazi on Saturday. Rebel forces have now said that the pilot was one of their supporters, conflicting earlier reports that the pilot was a Qaddafi mercenary. The plane, which was a former Libyan air force jet, apparently crashed as it attempted to attack pro-Qaddafi troops on the outskirts of Benghazi. 

UPDATE 111, Saturday, March 19, 12:30: p.m. EST/ 6:30 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Al-Jazeera correspondents reported hearing loud explosions on Saturday, including the crash of a plane (shown above). One witness told Al-Jazeera, "There is a bombardment by artillery and rockets on all districts of Benghazi." Despite seemingly obvious evidence to the contrary, the Qaddafi government maintains that it is observing a cease-fire and is not attacking Benghazi. Nicolas Sarkozy said today (via Sultan AlQassemi) that the French air force has already commenced stopping Libyan aircraft attacks on Libyan people. British Prime Minister David Cameron said (also via Sultan AlQassemi) that Qaddafi has broken the ceasefire and that it's "time to move quickly."

UPDATE 112, Saturday, March 19, 1:32 p.m. EST/ 8:30 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Call it humanitarian intervention, call it war, call it what you will.  Tweeted about half an hour ago by @LibyaFeb17_com: "BREAKING: First shot fired by French fighter jet on Libyan military vehicle at 16:45 GMT - #feb17 #libya"

UPDATE 113, Saturday, March 19, 1:37 p.m. EST/ 8:37 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): And this tweet from Jake Tapper: "[Hillary] Clinton: US 'has unique capacities+we will bring them to bear to help ' Eur/Canada allies/Arab partners to stop further violence v civilians"

UPDATE 114, Saturday, March 19, 2:00 p.m. EST/ 9:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Some context for that tweet from Tapper(see Update 113): Reuters reports that Hillary Clinton—meeting with French and Arab leaders in Paris—offered few specifics about the ultimate objective of the international intervention, but was clear about one thing: that its aim is to protect civilians. "If the international community is to have credibility ... then action must take place," Clinton told a news conference. Meanwhile, Clinton also said that Washington has yet to decide whether to formally recognize the rebel government in Benghazi.

UPDATE 115, Saturday, March 19, 4:00 p.m. EST/ 11:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): More details from the Paris meeting: 

  • The New York Times reports that the initial stages of the UN-sanctioned military operation will be run by French and British forces, with significant assistance from the United States in the form of radar planes, command and control, and precision-guided munitions, including cruise missiles and B-52 bombers, according to NATO officials. In Paris, Hillary Clinton affirmed that “[w]e did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who behave as Qaddafi is unfortunately doing so now.” By the middle of the coming week, NATO is expected to take charge of the no-fly zone and arms embargo.
  • Meanwhile, Qaddafi is writing letters to foreign leaders, warning them that they will regret taking military action in Libya. His missive to President Obama was unshockingly weird:

Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter that combined pleas with a jarring familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

UPDATE 116, Saturday, March 19, 4:13 p.m. EST/ 11:13 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The baby has name. SultanAlQassemi tweets: "Pentagon calling strikes Operation Odyssey Dawn. #Libya via @NBCNews"

UPDATE 117, Saturday, March 19, 4:35 p.m. EST/ 11:35 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Operation Odyssey Dawn has apparently commenced. The Associated Press reports that missiles were launched from US Navy vessels in the Mediterranean, targeting Libyan air defense sites along the coast.

UPDATE 118, Saturday, March 19, 4:42 p.m. EST/ 11:42 p.m. Tripoli (Ashley Bates): Obama has issued in an audio message from Brazil. "The use of force is not our first choice, and is not a choice that I make lightly," he said. "But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his own people that there will be no mercy." He emphasized that the United States was acting as part of a broad coalition, and that the United States will contribute its "unique capabilities" at the "front end" of the mission. "We will not, I repeat, we will not, deploy any US troops on the ground," he said. Listen to the full audio below:

UPDATE 119, Saturday, March 19, 6:44 p.m. EST/ 1:44 a.m. Sunday Tripoli (Ashley Bates/Monika Bauerlein): Mohammad Nabbous, described as the "face of citizen journalism in Libya," was reportedly shot dead by Qaddafi forces in Benghazi on Saturday. Nabbous had recently launched Libya Al-Hurra TV (Libya Freedom TV), broadcasting raw feeds and commentary from Benghazi on livestream. In this interview with Democracy Now's Anjali Kamat, conducted on his 28th birthday, the Oxford-educated engineer explained that while he personally hadn't been victimized "all that much" by the regime, he was compelled to take action by what the injustices he saw around him.

Nabbous's journalism was a key resource to many following the events in Libya, including NPR's Andy Carvin, whose tweetstream has become a major source of news on the Middle East. Nabbous was killed while out reporting on the attack on Benghazi; his last recording is dominated by the sound of gunfire and explosions until the audio abruptly stops. Nabbous leaves behind his wife, who is expecting their first child.

Earlier today, Guardian reporter Chris McGreal filed a harrowing report from Benghazi. He interviewed besieged residents who, the day before, had thought they'd been "saved" by the west's threat of airstrikes. "Where are the air strikes? Why is the west waiting until it is too late?" asked a 27-year-old chemical engineer, who shook his finger in fury. "Sarkozy said it. Obama said it. Gaddafi must stop. So why do they do nothing? Is it just talk while we die?"

The coalition-led air assault on Libya continues through the night. So far, at least 101 Tomahawk missiles have been launched against pro-Qaddafi targets.


UPDATE 120, Sunday, March 20, 3:06 a.m. EDT/ 10:06 a.m. Tripoli: Word on Twitter is that was a quiet night in Benghazi. "A few bangs and crashes, but nothing out of the ordinary," according to the Telegraph's Rob Crilly.

UPDATE 121, Sunday, March 20, 8:40 a.m. EDT/3:40 p.m. Tripoli (Daniel Schulman): A defiant Qaddafi spoke by phone to state television on Sunday, vowing "a long, drawn-out war with no limits" and warning that "oil will not be left to the United States, France, and Britain." As a statue memorializing America's 1986 airstrikes on his compound filled the screen—a golden fist crushing a US fighter plane—the dictator called the coalition forces bombarding his regime "the new Nazis." And he said: "You have proven to the world that you are not civilized, that you are terrorists—animals attacking a safe nation that did nothing against you."

Qaddafi has previously threatened to arm the public. And on Sunday he said he was opening Libya's weapons depots: "It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity, and honor of Libya."

According to CNN, Libyan state TV has issued an unverified report that 48 people have been killed in the strikes, claiming that most are "women, children, and religious clerics."

Meanwhile, the Taliban has apparently weighed in on Operation Odyssey Dawn, decrying the strikes as "politically-motivated and uncalled-for intervention and adventure" by western powers. Al Jazeera reports that the statement called on the Islamic world to rise up and "save itself from the tentacles of the foreign colonialism."

UPDATE 122, Sunday, March 20, 10:56 a.m. EDT/5:56 p.m. Tripoli (Tim Murphy): MoJo's Adam Weinstein already took a stab at mapping out an end-game for Libya, but the "How does this end?" question seems to be on everyone's minds right now—in contrast to the nation's last two major military operatons. James Fallows, who was one of the few mainstream journalists asking that question before the Iraq war, is at it again over at the Atlantic with some Sunday morning thoughts. He's pessimistic: "I hope to be proven wrong in these concerns. I hope the results are swift, decisive, merciful, and liberating, and that they hasten the spread of the Arab Dawn. But I assert that it is much better to be proven wrong in that way, and to have thought to much about 'What happens then?' possibilities—than to have thought too little about them, which I fear we have done."

UPDATE 123, Sunday, March 20, 11:10 a.m. EDT/5:10 p.m. Tripoli (Tim Murphy): That was quick. Citing Libyan State TV's report that 48 civilians were killed during last night's bombing, Russia is now calling on the UN coalition "to stop the non-selective use of force," reports Al Jazeera. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that the Security Council's resolution, which Russia tacitly supported by not vetoing, did not authorize the kinds of air strikes conducted last night. "We believe a mandate given by the U.N. Security Council resolution—a controversial move in itself—should not be used to achieve goals outside its provisions which only see measures necessary to protect civilian population."

UPDATE 124, Sunday, March 20, 11:31 a.m. EDT/5:31 p.m. Tripoli (Tim Murphy): Amr Moussa, the head of Arab League (which called for the no-fly zone in the first place) echoed Russia's criticism of the air strikes, stating that "what we want is civilians' protection not shelling more civilians." That statement, as well, is based on the report by Libyan state TV that 48 civilians were killed and a hospital destroyed in last night's strikes. Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, however, suggested that these arguments are either naiive or a bit cynical in nature: "Do they think these air defense systems man themselves?," she asked moments ago. "What did the Arab League think it was signing up for? Realistically, a.) We don't know exactly what we're seeing, and b.) We've been through this before."

UPDATE 125, Sunday, March 20, 12:05 p.m. EDT/7:05 p.m. Tripoli (Tim Murphy): With the Arab League and Russia stepping up criticism in light of the Qaddafi government's assertion that civilians have been killed, it's worth noting that in Libya's case, the ideas that the air strikes only hit military installations, and that civilians were killed, are not mutually exclusive. The Times' David D. Kirkpatrick reports on a visit to one of Qaddafi's palaces, where he met with men, women, and children who were employed as human shields for the dictator: "'If they want to hit Muammar Qaddafi, they must hit us because we are all Muammar Qaddafi,' said Ghazad Muftah, a 52-year-old widow of a soldier from the Warfalla tribe, who said she was there with her six grown children."


UPDATE 126, Monday, March 21, 10:42 a.m. EST/ 5:42 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The allied assault on Qaddafi continues, as rebel forces regather and prepare to push back:

  • Emboldened by allied intervention, rebel forces appear to have asserted their control of Benghazi, reports The New York Times. They are trying to retake the town of Ajdabiya, and have fallen back to a position about 12 miles north of Benghazi. The United States has deployed B-2 stealth bombers, F-16 and F-15 fighter jets and Harrier attack jets to attack Libyan army positions, while Navy electronic warplanes and EA-18G Growlers are jamming Libyan radar and communications centers. Many of the bombing mission were flown by British pilots, American commanders said.
  • A bomb dropped across the bow? The Times also reports that Sunday's assault on Tripoli scored a potentially major hit: Qaddafi’s personal compound in Tripoli. A column of smoke could be seen rising above the building, suggesting that allied forces may have struck either his residence or the barracks of his personal guards. Journalists escorted by the Qaddafi government to visit the blast site reported seeing a bomb-damaged building that appeared to be an administrative center. US military officials insist that that the focus of the operation remains fixed on weakening the colonel's military capacity.
  • The Libyan government has released the four New York Times journalists captured six days ago in Ajdabiya, into the custody of Turkish diplomats.
  • And this must-watch from Sunday: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour, outlining the US' (expected) contribution to the military campaign:

UPDATE 127, Monday, March 21, 11:00 a.m. EST/ 6:00 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Marc Lynch offers a cautious argument in support of allied and, more specifically, American intervention in Libya: 

If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change.

UPDATE 128, Monday, March 21, 11:15 a.m. EST/ 6:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Across the border: AFP reports that some fifty pro-Qaddafi demonstrators in Cairo tried to attack UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his delegation, who are in Egypt overseeing the country's painful first steps towards open democracy. Ban was touring Tahrir Square when protesters carrying banners, waving the national flag of Qaddafi's Libya, and chanting "Down, Down USA, Libya, Libya," pushed towards the UN chief and his delegation, forcing them to retreat into the nearby Arab League headquarters. Police and troops intervened, allowing Ban and his group to escape.

UPDATE 129, Monday, March 21, 2:17 p.m. EST/ 9:17 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Over at the Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman reports on how Boeing's super-jamming EA-18G Growler is being deployed. The brand-spanking new plane

provided electronic warfare support to the coalition’s attacks on Libya. That’s the first combat mission for the Growler, which will replace the Navy’s Prowler jamming fleet...[N]ot only did the Growler go after Libya’s surface-to-air missiles, it helped the coalition conduct air strikes on loyalist ground forces going after rebel strongholds....There’s no word yet on whether the Growler’s jamming functions disrupted any missiles that the pro-Gadhafi forces carried, or fried any communications the Libyan loyalists attempted to make back to their command. But Robert Wall of Aviation Week notes that the continued “risk from pop-up surface to air missile firings” prompts the need for Growlers above Libya.

Even after the Pentagon hands over control of Operation Odyssey Dawn to the international allied force, it will continue contributing its “unique capabilities” to the Libya mission—specifically, via the planes like the Growler.

UPDATE 130, Monday, March 21, 3:10 p.m. EST/ 10:17 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Fox News reports that the attack on Qaddafi's compound (see Update 126) had to be aborted because of the presence of journalists nearby. According to British sources, seven Storm Shadow missiles were ready to be fired by British planes. But the strike was called off because of their target's proximity to news crews from CNN, Reuters, and other organizations.  

UPDATE 131, Monday, March 21, 6:15 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, March 22, 1:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Here's the president's full statement to Congress explaining the no-fly zone:

TO THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

AND THE PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE OF THE SENATE

March 21, 2011

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

At approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on March 19, 2011, at my direction, U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya. As part of the multilateral response authorized under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, U.S. military forces, under the command of Commander, U.S. Africa Command, began a series of strikes against air defense systems and military airfields for the purposes of preparing a no-fly zone. These strikes will be limited in their nature, duration, and scope. Their purpose is to support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. These limited U.S. actions will set the stage for further action by other coalition partners.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized Member States, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, including the establishment and enforcement of a “no-fly zone” in the airspace of Libya. United States military efforts are discrete and focused on employing unique U.S. military capabilities to set the conditions for our European allies and Arab partners to carry out the measures authorized by the U.N. Security Council Resolution.

Muammar Qadhafi was provided a very clear message that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. The international community made clear that all attacks against civilians had to stop; Qadhafi had to stop his forces from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity, and gas supplies to all areas. Finally, humanitarian assistance had to be allowed to reach the people of Libya.

Although Qadhafi’s Foreign Minister announced an immediate cease-fire, Qadhafi and his forces made no attempt to implement such a cease-fire, and instead continued attacks on Misrata and advanced on Benghazi. Qadhafi’s continued attacks and threats against civilians and civilian populated areas are of grave concern to neighboring Arab nations and, as expressly stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, constitute a threat to the region and to international peace and security. His illegitimate use of force not only is causing the deaths of substantial numbers of civilians among his own people, but also is forcing many others to flee to neighboring countries, thereby destabilizing the peace and security of the region. Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States. Qadhafi’s defiance of the Arab League, as well as the broader international community moreover, represents a lawless challenge to the authority of the Security Council and its efforts to preserve stability in the region. Qadhafi has forfeited his responsibility to protect his own citizens and created a serious need for immediate humanitarian assistance and protection, with any delay only putting more civilians at risk.

The United States has not deployed ground forces into Libya. United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster. Accordingly, U.S. forces have targeted the Qadhafi regime’s air defense systems, command and control structures, and other capabilities of Qadhafi’s armed forces used to attack civilians and civilian populated areas. We will seek a rapid, but responsible, transition of operations to coalition, regional, or international organizations that are postured to continue activities as may be necessary to realize the objectives of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

For these purposes, I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.

BARACK OBAMA


UPDATE 132, Tuesday, March 22, 10:46 a.m. EST/ 5:46 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): An American jet crashed near Benghazi, while American appear split over US involvement in the ongoing conflict. Here's the news of the day:

  • The Guardian reports that two American airmen ejected from their F-15E fighter jet over Libya on Monday night after an apparent mechanical failure, according to military officials. The jet's remains were found near Benghazi. US Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley said both crew members had been safely recovered, and sustained only minor injuries. He also emphasized that the crash was not caused by hostile fire. The plane was based out of a Royal Air Force base in the UK that hosts US Air force units and personnel. 
  • The Guardian also reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy says giving control of the military operation to NATO would send the wrong message to Arab countries. Sarkozy reportedly stormed out of a NATO meeting on Monday in response to accusations that his decisions are hindering the coalition's involvement. Western officials said that Sarkozy angered British and American officials last weekend by sending French jets into Libyan airspace before many of the allied countries had agreed on taking military action. The repercussions, thus far: Norway will withhold its F-16 jets until it has "a clarification of the command [structure]"; meanwhile, Germany and Turkey don't want NATO to continue with the bombing campaign, and Italy is "reflecting on the use of its bases" for the operation. So far, it's unclear who is taking the lead on the military campaign:

While France has been giving the impression it is heading the operation, the military attacks on Libya are, according to [French officials,] "an operation co-ordinated by the US in direct collaboration with the French and British authorities". It is being led from US bases in Germany and Italy.

This unprecedented, three-pronged command is reflected in the different names for the operation: The French are calling it Harmattan (the name of a hot wind that blows over the Sahara); in Britain, it is Operation Ellamy; and in the US, it is Odyssey Dawn.

  • A CBS News poll shows that half of Americans approve of how President Obama is handling the situation in Libya, while 29 percent disapprove. A CNN poll showed similiar results. In the CBS poll, Obama received more support from Republicans on the issue than he has on domestic issues.
  • Meanwhile, Politico reports that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are attacking the president for stretching his constitutional authority. His decision to take military action in Libya, they say, should have included more congressional consultation. From Politico: "The White House 'been sort of on autopilot for almost 10 years now, in terms of presidential authority, in conducting these types of military operations absent the meaningful participation of the Congress, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Monday on MSNBC, joining the chorus of critics of the president. Others, meanwhile, say the administration was too slow to intervene in Libya and should have moved ahead before Qadhafi began regaining some of his lost territory."

UPDATE 133, Tuesday, March 22, 11:02 a.m. EST/ 6:02 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Week's First Post offers some insight into who sits on the Interim Transitional National Council, which has been officially recognized by France, Portugal and the Arab League:

The key players on the council, at least those who we know about, all hail from the north-eastern Harabi confederation of tribes. These tribes have strong affiliations with Benghazi that date back to before the 1969 revolution which brought Gaddafi to power.

Although the tribes' influence has waned since then, it is worth remembering that Libya's tribal divides linger on. Consequently, their stance is not necessarily representative of the wider Libyan attitude to Gaddafi.

Much has also been made of the public defections of government officials, most notably interior minister Abdul Fattah Younis, who announced a change of heart as early as February 22. The major-general's long history with Gaddafi, whom he fought alongside in the 1969 coup, and his military background have made him a pin-up candidate for the opposition movement. He, too, is from the Harabi tribes. 

To a large extent, the decision to recognize and deal with the council was driven by a severe case of "Anyone but Muammar" desperation. The council has been quick to build a relationship with a West that still has very little sense of who, among the rebels, is truly credible.

UPDATE 134, Tuesday, March 22, 12:55 p.m. EST/ 7:55 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The first details surrounding the capture, imprisonment, and release of the four New York Times reporters are emerging. The Times reports that Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario, and Stephen Farrell had been covering fighting near Ajdaibya, when they decided that conditions had grown too dangerous for them to continue. But their driver unintentionally drove into a checkpoint manned by Qaddafi's forces. Read the entire, harrowing account.

UPDATE 135, Tuesday, March 22, 1:51 p.m. EST/ 8:51 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Count the members of the African Union among the critics of the allied intervention in Libya. Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, South Africa's Jacob Zuma, and Zimbawe's Robert Mugabe have condemned the campaign, reports the Global Post. Many of the leaders see a double standard in the West's actions in Libya, as the US-backed regimes in Bahrain and Yemen continue to slaughter their own citizens—seemingly with impunity. Qaddafi headed up the African Union in 2009. The group, which met on Saturday in Mauritania to discuss the situation in Libya, assembled a five-member panel including Museveni and Zuma to look into the Libyan situation. But they have been denied permission to enter the country.

UPDATE 136, Tuesday, March 22, 7:03 p.m. EST/ Wednesday, March 23, 2:03 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Sarko-Watch: French officials have proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to run the war in Libya, reports Josh Rogin. The group, composed of foreign ministers from the United States, Europe, and several Arab states, would oversee the war and make "strategic decisions" involving military action, according to a French diplomat. "It was always understood that there would be two stages of operations. The one that started on Saturday and a second phase in which NATO would play a role," the diplomat told Rogin. The White House has yet to comment on the French plan. But it would clearly allow President Obama to uphold his promise to transfer leadership of the war out of American hands quickly.


UPDATE 137, Wednesday, March 23, 10:05 a.m. EST/ 5:05 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The campaign continues:

  • The New York Times reports that at least three bombs were heard in Tripoli on Tuesday. And on Wedneesday morning, a loud blast and antiaircraft could be heard across the capital. Meanwhile, at a news conference in El Salvador, President Obama again expressed confidence that the international operation's leadership chain will soon be clarified, and that the United States won't be running the show. “That’s why building this international coalition has been so important,” he said, “because it means the United States is not bearing all the cost.”
  • Ground fighting continues to surge in the western cities of Zintan and Misurata, as pro-Qaddafi snipers and artillery have killed dozens over the past week, according to a rebel spokesman. American Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, who is the tactical commander of the mission, said that intelligence reports confirmed that Qaddafi is attacking civilians in Misurata.
  • And speaking of the colonel: Qaddafi made a short appearance on Libyan TV last night, reports The Daily Mail. “I am here. I am here. I am here,” he said from a balcony to a throng of supporterss. “We will not surrender…We will defeat them by any means. We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one. We will be victorious in the end,” he said. “This assault is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history.”

UPDATE 138, Wednesday, March 23, 10:54 a.m. EST/ 5:54 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): How much did you pay for that humanitarian intervention?: CNN reports that costs for the US to fully install a no-fly-zone over Libya could rise to some $800 million, and another $100 milion a week to maintain it. The estimates come from Zack Cooper, a senior analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Pentagon has yet to release a cost estimate for the ongoing operation, but the Obama administration says it is paying for its part of the campaign out of the existing war budget—about $150 billion. Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said he will try to block federal dollars from going towards military operations in Libya.

UPDATE 139, Wednesday, March 23, 11:13 a.m. EST/ 6:13 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): In Foreign Policy, Arthur Goldhammer dishes on the the possible motivations behind French President Nicholas Sarkozy's aggressive moves in Libya—moves that've raised the ire of the international community.

UPDATE 140, Wednesday, March 23, 4:57 a.m. EST/ 11:57 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): NATO member countries again failed to come to an agreement on what role the international treaty organization should play in Libya, reports Al Jazeera. Turkey said that the military campaign has already gone beyond the scope of last week's UN Security Council resolution. The French, meanwhile, think that control should be handed to an international coalition, with NATO in charge of planning and operations. "There was no agreement and the discussions continue," a diplomat told the AFP news agency after today's talks among NATO ambassadors.

UPDATE 141, Wednesday, March 23, 7:03 p.m. EST/ Thursday, March 24, 2:03 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Congress could hold a vote on President Obama's decision to attack Libya when lawmakers return from recess next week, reports Josh Rogin. In a conference call, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) sought to do damage control in the face of growing criticism of the absence of congressional consultation before the intervention. "None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president," Durbin said. But Durbin couldn't say how congress will pay for the operation. He reminded callers that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows Obama to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress. The law also stipulates that if both chambers of Congress pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the president must comply. Both Durbin and Levin justified the US' involvement on the grounds that the situation in Libya is a humanitarian crisis.


UPDATE 142, Thursday, March 24, 11:21 a.m. EST/ 6:21 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta):

  • As the air campaign enters its fifth day, the international coalition has yet to stymie Qaddafi's forces, reports CNN. On Wednesday, pro-government tanks attacked Misrata's hospital, and reportedly shelled the surrounding area for 40 minutes. Meanwhlie, journalists have had no access to the city, impeding their ability to report firsthand on the situation.
  • The New York Times has a must-read on the Qaddafi regime's utter and pervasive corruption. Qaddafi himself helped negotiate a number of deals with global energy companies looking to do business in Libya, demanding that they pay massive kickbacks, shady signing bonuses, and sign questionable consultancy contracts. Otherwise, they risked suffering "serious consequences" for their oil leases. After the country paid a $1.5 billion settlement over its role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,

[a]t least a dozen American corporations, including Boeing, Raytheon, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, Caterpillar and Halliburton, gained footholds, or tried to do so. In May, the Obama administration and the Qaddafi government signed a new trade agreement, designed, according to Gene Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya, to “broaden and deepen our bilateral economic relations.”

Libya became so flush with cash that Bernard L. Madoff, the New York financial manager who stole billions of dollars in a long-running Ponzi scheme, approached officials overseeing the country’s $70 billion sovereign fund a few years ago about an “investment opportunity,” according to a State Department summary of the episode in 2010. “We did not accept,” a Libyan official reported.

  • The Times also reports that House Speaker John Boehner continues to put pressure on the White House to define the United States' mission in Libya.

UPDATE 143, Thursday, March 24, 12:05 p.m. EST/ 7:05 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya has come under heavy criticism—both domestic and foreign—for being overly broad, and, essentially allowing any member country to take it upon itself to enforce the no-fly zone. Does it actually do this? Joshua Keating says yes, technically:

Security Council Resolution 1973 "authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organization and arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." It goes on to prohibit a "foreign occupation force" on Libyan territory and "requests that the Member States ... inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization."

The phrase "acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General," Keating writes, is just vague enough so that member states who want to take part in the coalition don't need UN chief Ban Ki-Moon's actual permission. This vagueness isn't anythinging new. Chapter 7 of the UN'S Charter allows member states to use force to repond to "threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression." The right to intervene is, in a sense, baked into the UN cake. The bottom line: once countries inform Ban of what they intend to do—as long as it falls within predetermined limits—they're in the clear.

UPDATE 144, Thursday, March 24, 1:15 p.m. EST/ 8:15 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Via the Center for a New American Security's Andrew Exum: a timeline showing the steps involved in the recovery of the US' downed F-15E. How long did the operation take? 3 hours.


UPDATE 145, Monday, March 28, 12:38 p.m. EST/ 7:38 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Obama will address the nation on the ongoing military intervention in Libya. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the gains made by rebel forces in recent weeks could be shortlived.

  • The New York Times reports that while rebels have made some isolated gains, Qaddafi's strength “still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily,” said Gen. Carter F. Ham, the ranking American in the coalition operation. Ham added that the coalition's air power is the main reason why the regime hasn't been able to reverse rebel gains, most notably in the city of Ajdabiya. But reports of opposition advances in the city of Surt, deep in the heart of Qaddafi country, appear to be premature.
  • The president will address the nation this evening, and is expected to clarify his rationale for joining the international coalition. John Harwood does the "politically damned if you do, morally damned if you don't" calculus.
  • CNAS' Andrew Exum emphasizes the importance of talking when making plans to go to war:

    When the administration went to war in Libya, it did so without talking through the crisis of Libya, its possible responses to the crisis, and the consequences for action or inaction. As a result, nine days into the intervention, we are at war without a clear policy, clearly defined goals, or stated assumptions. Instead, we are at war with a laundry list of activities—things we are doing, but things untethered to a broader framework.

    Although some of the administration's most vociferous detractors have claimed the president "dithered" on Libya, the reality is that the administration deliberated and then acted on Libya in too hasty and too closed a manner. The debate on whether or not we should intervene in Libya was a debate carried out in the highest echelons of the administration but without much outside consultation or opportunity for others to question the validity of the administration's assumptions. And though humanitarian/liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives were, perhaps correctly, warning of dire consequences of immediate inaction, the administration did not go to war following a careful discussion of interests, strategic goals and assumptions about the environment and our capabilities.

UPDATE 146, Monday, March 28, 2:12 p.m. EST/ 9:12 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Dan Drezner imagines what Ben Rhodes' first draft of Obama's address looks like:

What kills me, what absolutely kills me, is that in just ten days, without any boots on the ground, we've accomplished one whole hell of a lot. First off, if we hadn't intervened, the rebels would have been routed in Benghazi, and Khaddafy would be in control of the entire country again. OK, so maybe the 100,000 figure was a bit exaggerated, but surely the fall of Benghazi would have created hundreds of thousands of Libya refugees flowing into Egypt, which is exactly what that country doesn't need right now. Anyone who doesn't realize that the situation in Libya and the situation in Egypt are connected is a f***ing moron (which, since we forgot to mention this fact for an awfully long time, apparently includes my messaging shop).

Now, the situation on the ground looks pretty much like how things looked during the high tide of the Libyan rebellion. So long as our air support continues, that's now the worst-case scenario—and you know what, that's actually pretty tolerable. It would mean that the rebels would control about 70% of Libya's oil reserves and that the regions of the country most hostile to Khaddafy would be free of his grip. Over time, sanctions will start to hit Khaddafy's resources, the Libya Transitional Council can get its act together, and we can burden-share with NATO a hell of a lot more. The Libyans don't want our boots on the ground any more than we want to have them there—so further escalation is not in the cards.

All the while—and remember, this is the worst-case scenario—the United States will have accomplished two direct deliverables and quite a few positive policy externalities. Directly, we averted a humanitarian disaster and created a buffer in eastern Libya that eases any economic or humanitarian pressure on Egypt (which is where our strategic interest lies).

UPDATE 147, Monday, March 28, 2:35 p.m. EST/ 9:35 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Reporting from the front lines, the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson asks and answers: who are the rebels?

For many of them, the fighting consists largely of a performance—dancing and singing and firing into the air—and of racing around in improvised gunwagons. The ritual goes on until they are sent scurrying by Qaddafi’s shells. In the early days of Qaddafi’s counterattack, youthful fighters were outraged that the enemy was firing real artillery at them. Many hundreds have died.

The reality of combat has frightened the rebels, but it has also strengthened the resolve of those who have lost friends or brothers. Outside Ajdabiya, I met Muhammad Saleh, a young mechanic armed with only a bayonet. Just an hour or two earlier, he had seen his younger brother die. A few days later, he told me that he was planning to buy black-market weapons and, with a group of ten friends, return to the battlefield. With professional training and leadership (presumably from abroad), the rebels may eventually turn into something like a proper army. But, for now, they have perhaps only a thousand trained fighters, and are woefully outgunned. Last week, a former Army officer told me, “There is no army. It’s just us—a few volunteers like me and the shabab.”

In other words, it may not be a question so much of who they are, but who they aren't: soldiers.


UPDATE 148, Tuesday, March 29, 10:16 a.m. EST/ 5:16 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Last night, the President made his case for intervention in Libya. A key section:

It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country—Libya—at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

An America exceptional in its ability and prerogative to stop brutal insanity dead in its tracks—add it to the Obama Doctrine file? Some reaction to the speech:

  • Slate's John Dickerson writes that Obama vacillated between the ideal and the real: "While Obama was aiming for the skies with his rhetoric, he was anxious to show just how earthbound and limited the actual mission was. We won't go farther than the international coalition will allow. The military mission was limited and largely over. Our values don't compel the United States to intervene wherever humanity is threatened—in, say, the Ivory Coast, Darfur, Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria."
  • Peter Feaver heard a satisfactory, but not altogether candid enough address.
  • Andrew Exum talks of practical things: "Considering this intervention likely wiped out even the most draconian cuts envisioned by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, how the hell are we supposed to both carry out these kinds of military interventions and pay for them? You know what leadership is? Leadership is announcing to every American that their 2011 taxes will go up by $10 per person in order to pay for what we have done. Leadership is making sure people understand that in these times, you cannot have both guns and butter unless you are willing to pay for both."
  • Meanwhile, in Libya: Al Jazeera reports that Qaddafi's troops have managed to halt the rebels' progress. Loyalist tropps shelled rebels, pushing them out of Bin Jawad, not far from the colonel's hometown of Sirte. Opposition forces had moved into Nawfaliya, a small town close to Bin Jawad, before being repelled.

UPDATE 149, Tuesday, March 29, 10:58 a.m. EST/ 5:58 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): From Democracy Now: University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, who supports the use of military force in Libya, debates University of Trinity Professor Vijay Prashad, who opposes intervention.

UPDATE 150, Tuesday, March 29, 11:30 a.m. EST/ 6:30 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Spencer Ackerman reports on the toys the Pentagon is deploying over Libya. In a briefing yesterday, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said that the A-10 Warthog and the AC-130 have flown some 286 strike missions, 133 of which were piloted by Americans. "If you want to take out enemy tanks, trucks and artillery pieces from the sky—with friendly dudes on the ground nearby—these are the planes you fly," Ackerman writes. Gortney neglected to get specific about where the planes are flying, but Odyssey Dawn commanders said today that the Warthog flew a mission with the destroyer U.S.S. Barry and a Navy P-3C patrol plane against Libyan coast guard ships in Misrata. Ackerman thinks, though, that the planes' apparent importance to the operation raises more questions than it answers about Obama's pledge to draw down the US' involvement swiftly.


UPDATE 151, Wednesday, March 30, 2:10 p.m. EST/ 9:10 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Guardian reports that Qaddafi's troops have retaken the city of Brega, sending the rebels fleeing back to Benghazi. Though NATO planes continue to bomb government positions, the opposition has been forced to retreat in the face of a more professional fighting force. Meanwhile, there's talk in the British government of arming the rebels "under certain circumstances." Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons during prime minister's questions that the situation in Libya is "extremely fluid [and that] there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the ceasefire is still being breached." His government, he pledged, will continue to keep the pressure on Qaddafi.

UPDATE 152, Wednesday, March 30, 2:17 p.m. EST/ 9:17 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Over at The New Republic, John Judis has a characteristically insightful, pithy analysis of Obama's justification for going to war in Libya: "Obama’s speech will probably not go down as a major foreign policy address comparable, say, to his Nobel Prize oration, but for my money, it went further than any of his previous efforts in developing a viable post-Cold War foreign policy." Read his take.

UPDATE 153, Wednesday, March 30, 5:02 p.m. EST/ Thursday, March 31, 12:02 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The New Yorker's Phillip Gourevitch rips apart Obama's speech, and finds some disturbing inconsistencies:

In his speech, the President tied himself in knots trying to say two irreconcilable things at once: that we’re still in it to win it against Qaddafi, and that we have already fulfilled our purpose and will not be responsible for what happens next. Of course we will. The logic of our entry into the civil war dictated that we would have to see it through—we could not leave without getting rid of Qaddafi, and then, of course, dealing with what comes after him. The minute we flew against him, we signed on with the rebel cause.

Admitting what we're doing in Libya, Gourevitch suggests, is the first step to accepting the depth of our commitment. He goes on:

[I]n plain English, let’s be clear: what the rebels do with our guns will be our doing. We decided that they should be the ones killing, not the ones killed, and we cannot control that story from the air. Why are these guys our guys? (Qaddafi’s former Interior Minister is one of their leaders.) What if, with our guns, they kill a lot of civilians? Do we then subtract those casualties from the putative numbers of lives saved? Obama didn’t touch any of these obvious and urgent questions. (And what if there is a rebellion against the rebels we are empowering? Obama said he supports more rebellion in the Arab world—whose side will we be on then?)

The calculus of intervention demands that Obama's plan, whatever it is, make roomj for casualties. Gourevitch argues that the body count counts, whether they're American bodies or not. Why? Because we gave them the tools to fight.

UPDATE 154, Wednesday, March 30, 5:51 p.m. EST/ Thursday, March 31, 12:51 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera reports that the British foreign ministry has said that Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has resigned his post and come to the UK.

UPDATE 155, Wednesday, March 30, 9:36 p.m. EST/ Thursday, March 31, 4:36 a.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The New York Times reports that the CIA has sent over a dozen covert operatives to Libya to help gather intelligence on the rebels, put together a framework for supplying them with aid, and meet with rebels to gain a firmer grasp of their leadership structure and allegiances. CIA officers have already been working in Libya for the past couple weeks, in hopes that they might be able to “help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military” and instigate defections, top administration officials told the Times. And current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are also in Libya, working to achieve similar aims. 


UPDATE 156, Thursday, March 31, 10:13 p.m. EST/ 5:13 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): The news of the day:

  • A correction to update 155: Reuters broke the story on President Obama's secret order authorizing covert operations in Libya. "Obama signed the order, known as a presidential 'finding,' within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter," reports Reuters. These sorts of findings are typically used to green light secret operations by the CIA—a necessary legal step, normally conceived with the intention of providing sweeping authoriziation for a wide range of potential US covert actions. But "[i]n order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorization...the White House also would have to give additional 'permission' allowing such activities to proceed," known in the intelligence community as "Mother may I' findings." More on this as it develops.
  • The New York Times reports that former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who flew to the UK yesterday after resigning his post, will not be receiving immunity. British foreign secretary William Hague said that Koussa is voluntarily speaking to British officials. There's no suggestion that Koussa will face any formal changes related to the ongoing crisis in Libya, or in connection with accusations of the country's sponsorship of terrorism. Koussa has long been a Qaddafi insider: he served as head of external intelligence in the 1980s, and could have information on 1988's Lockerbie bombing. And Koussa was also intimately involved in the campaign to rehab Qaddafi's image. He played a central rolel in the effort to convince the colonel to turn over his nuclear equipment to the United States in 2003, making him a potentially key asset for the allied coalition.

UPDATE 157, Thursday, March 31, 4:57 p.m. EST/ 11:57 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta): Spencer Ackerman reports that American planes and ships will pull back from their missions in Libya—music to most lawmakers ears at a Senate Armed Services committee hearing today, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testified. But count John McCain among the unappeased. Mullen told the committee that low-flying gunships will continue to strike Qaddafi's tanks, trucks, and artillery for the next several days. And Gates said that strike aircraft have been made available for a short length of time if NATO fails to improve the worsening humanitarian disaster in the country. But McCain unleashed hell on Gates and Mullen, remarking that their "timing is exquisite [and that he's] glad to know that small arms will be effective for [the rebels]." Gates countered, telling the senator that everyone in the coalition "understood the United States would come in heavy and hard in the beginning,” and then pull back.


UPDATE 158, Friday, April 1, 11:16 p.m. EST/ 6:16 p.m. Tripoli (Siddhartha Mahanta):

  • Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Saif Qaddafi, is engaged in secret talks with British officials in London, reports The New York Times. Ismail plans to return to Tripoli after his discussions. The reports about Ismail emerge as more and more top Libyan officials continue to defect. According to Al Jazeera, there are unconfirmed reports of even more high-level defections from Qaddafi's government. "Some Arabic newspapers said Mohammad Abu Al Qassim Al Zawi, the head of Libya's Popular Committee, the country’s equivalent of a parliament, is among the defectors, and reports of other defections, such as that of top oil official Shokri Ghanem, remain unconfirmed." Al Jazeera also reports that many high-level Libyan officials are attempting to defect, but have been thwarted by tight internal security measures.
  • And Al Jazeera also reports that the rebels will agree to a ceasefire if Qaddafi agrees to pull his military forces out of opposition-held cities, and allow peaceful protests. Following the UN resolution to use force in Libya, Qaddafi had announced a ceasefire, but hasn't exactly been true to his word.

 


UPDATE 159, Friday, August 19, 9:25 p.m. EST/ 4:25 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

It seems Moammar Qaddafi's reign in Libya may be coming to an end. That's at least according to reports out of Libya tonight. Libyan rebels, according to Al Jazeera English, have captured two coastal towns: Zawiyah, a key oil town about 25 miles west of Tripoli, and Zlitan, roughly 90 miles east of Tripoli. Capturing Zlitan, according to Al Jazeera English reporter Andrew Simmons, is essential for the rebels. Simmons said, "It's a strategic town, [if] they want to advance on to Tripoli. Now they could do it very quickly. They have a clear run on this coastal road of almost 60km." CNN reports that US officials believe Qaddafi "may be making preparations for what is described as a 'last stand.'" To make matters worse for Qaddafi, his No. 2, Abdel Salam Jalloud, has defected to "rebel-held territory in Libya's Western Mountains," according to Reuters. For the latest on Libya, follow Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell), managing editor of Foreign Policy, and NPR's Andy Carvin (@acarvin) on Twitter.

Here's footage from Al Arabiya News Channel of crowds celebrating new rebel gains on Friday:


 

UPDATE 160, Saturday, August 20, 1:55 p.m. EST/ 8:55 p.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

The Associated Press reports that rebel leaders claim to have taken control of another strategic oil town: Brega. The coastal town, 465 miles east of Tripoli, is home to the country's second-largest oil refinery. Elsewhere, rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil tells AFP: "We have contacts with people from the inner circle of Qaddafi. All evidence [shows] that the end is very near, with God's grace." Guma el-Gamaty, UK coordinator for the rebel organization the National Transitional Council, says Jalil will "address Libyan people" to notify them of Qaddafi's imminent downfall. Reuters reports that Omran Abukraa, Libya's oil minister, is out of the country and will not return to Libya. Abukraa was most recently in Italy. Deborah Haynes, defense editor of the London-based newspaper The Times, is in Zawiyah, another key oil town only 25 miles west of Tripoli. Rebels recently gained control of Zawiyah. This morning, Haynes tweeted, "Line of trucks and cars tooting horns with Tripoli Brigade written on them just drove past. Is this start of final push to Tripoli?"

Here's Reuters' coverage of Libyan rebels giving away free petroleum from the Zawiyah oil refinery on Saturday. Civilians on the western coast of Libya have been cut off from gasoline due to the fact that, as one Libyan woman told Reuters, "Moammar closed the pumps because he used them only for his military forces and his militia":

UPDATE 161, Saturday, August 20, 4:17 p.m. EST/ 11:17 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

As reports continue of Libyan rebel forces making key territorial advances, rebel fighters are claiming that troops loyal to Qaddafi are quickly folding, yet another sign that the regime may be losing its hold, according to the Associated Press:

Rebel fighters said Gadhafi's troops put up little resistance before fleeing their posts in Zawiya's hospital and multistory buildings around the main square—another sign suggesting that the Libyan dictator's 42-year-old regime is crumbling…

Still, regime troops kept firing rockets and mortars at Zawiya from positions in the east even after rebels said they drove them out, and thunderous booms echoed across the city. The central hospital was hit by mortar rounds early Saturday, several hours after it was taken by rebels. The attack badly damaged the operating rooms...

Here's footage of the battle's aftermath from Al Jazeera English:

While the intense fighting continues, Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate alleged NATO "abuses" and airstrikes, Reuters reports. According to Libyan state-run media, the prime minister requested "a high-level delegation…to visit Libya as soon as possible and look closely at (NATO) abuses and what is happening in Libya and discuss a solution between Libyans themselves without foreign interference." JANA, Libya's state news agency, also claims that Ban has promised to look over the Libyan government's proposal.

UPDATE 162, Saturday, August 20, 4:26 p.m. EST/ 11:26 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

According to a Reuters reporter on the ground in Tripoli, a new round of sustained gunfire and blasts hit the city Saturday evening with "multiple explosions" and "repeated anti-aircraft fire" heard and felt "in the distance." Residents in Tajoura, a city in the Tarabulus District east of Tripoli, "reported clashes were under way." Reuters also reports eyewitness testimony of renewed anti-Qaddafi protests pouring onto the streets of Tripoli late Saturday night:

…[G]unfire could be heard from multiple locations…Mobile telephone subscribers received a text message from the government urging them to "go out in the squares and streets to eliminate the armed agents," according to one resident who received the message on his phone.

Unconfirmed reports and rumors that Qaddafi and/or his two sons are fleeing, or have fled, the country continue to swirl.

UPDATE 163, Saturday, August 20, 5:58 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 12:58 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

As reports of firefights, protests, and explosions in Libya's capital persist, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim declared on Libyan state TV that "all of Tripoli is safe and stable," with the Libyan government claiming to have arrested more Libyan rebels and Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian collaborators.

Reuters has a video report on more of the government's statements:

 The Guardian also reports on the situation on late Saturday evening in Tripoli (emphasis my own):

"We can hear shooting in different places," said one [Tripoli resident]. "Most of the regions of the city have gone out, mostly young people…it's the uprising…They went out after breaking the [Ramadan] fast."

"They are shouting religious slogans: God is greatest!"

Celebrations broke out across Libya after Libyan TV reported that Muammar Gaddafi and his two sons had left the country

Libya's opposition Al-Aharar channel said that, according to sources in Tripoli, Gaddafi and his sons Mu'tasm and Hannibal had all fled. There was no information on how they had allegedly managed to escape from Tripoli, now under siege from rebel forces in the west, east and south…

Libyan state TV failed to report Saturday night's dramatic events. It broadcast instead a report of a Ramadan prayer from a Tripoli mosque and old video of Gaddafi supporters waving flags in the city's Green Square…One opposition Libyan TV station reported that Gaddafi's departing order was for his troops to use "maximum force" against the rebels.

However, rumors and reports of Qaddafi's departure are still unconfirmed. Abdul Hamid, an engineer based with the rebels in the northwestern city Az Zintan, told the Guardian that "if Gaddafi has escaped everything will be under control soon…[but sometimes] these reports are just street news."

The rebel offensive to take Tripoli continues from east, west, and south of the city, and in surrounding suburban locations, according to Bloomberg:

[NATO] carried out airstrikes against Qaddafi's Scud missile launchers and residents received text messages urging them to join the rebellion, Al Jazeera said.

"The decisive battle to liberate Tripoli started," Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a rebel brigade commander, said in an interview with Al Jazeera. "I would like to tell our families inside the capital that we are coming and call upon Qaddafi's troops to abandon their weapons tonight and to join us to get rid of Qaddafi and his regime."

According to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama was briefed earlier on Saturday on events unfolding in Libya and is receiving regular updates while on vacation at Martha's Vineyard.

UPDATE 164, Saturday, August 20, 8:21 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 3:21 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Moammar Qaddafi just finished speaking on Libyan State TV. Qaddafi appears intent on maintaining power. This is a disconcerting message for a country that has already experienced months of fighting. Sultan al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, live-tweeted Qaddafi's speech. Qassemi reports Qaddafi as saying: "Our country was happy and comfortable in Ramadan, what have we done to France and Britain, you want to give them our oil. You want France to rule you! You want the donkeys of the Gulf to rule you! They call the planes to bomb their country! 'Come bomb my country!' Look for who has done this to Libya and take revenge from them. Who has caused this? He is known. The traitor, the rat! He isn't Libyan. Look at the Libyans (on TV) kissing my photo now! Now they will say my speech is recorded from before, the lying channels. Today is Ramadan 21st. And I am watching Bab Al Azizia now. A million people will rise to liberate Libya from them. Look at the fireworks in the Green Square."

Elsewhere this evening, Abdel Hafez Ghoza, vicecharman of the National Transitonal Council, told Reuters: "The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up. The next hours are crucial. Many of their (pro-Qaddafi) brigades and their commanders have fled."

In another blow to the Qaddafi regime, Tunisia, a country that had until now remained neutral, officialy recognized the National Transitional Council as the representation of the Libyan people. Matthew Price, a BBC reporter based in Tripoli, said about Tunisia's decision, "Qaddafi isolated like never before" (via Twitter).

UPDATE 165, Saturday, August 20, 9:00 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 4:00 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Abdel Salam Jalloud, Qaddafi's former right-hand man, just finished speaking on Al Jazeera Arabic. Jalloud defected to rebel territory yesterday. A pro-opposition Twitter feed, Change in Libya (@ChangeInLibya), live-tweeted the speech. According to the Twitter feed, Jalloud said: "I ask all Qaddafi soldiers to throw down their weapons. Join the Libyan people. Qaddafi is over. His time is over. Tripoli is where over a quarter of the Libyan population lives. You should all rise up as one man. Help each other. I saw the checkpoints in Tripoli. The people manning them are spineless. They'll run away the second they see a weapon.” Max Fisher, international editor at The Atlantic, said on Twitter that Jalloud lost Qaddafi's "favor decades ago."

UPDATE 166, Saturday, August 20, 10:40 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 5:40 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Rebel forces say that Saturday's Tripoli offensive—codenamed "Operation Mermaid Dawn"—was coordinated with NATO, with Colonel Fadlallah Haroun, a Benghazi-based rebel commander, telling the AP that weapons were sent via tugboat to Tripoli on Friday. "The fighters in Tripoli are rising up in two places at the moment—some are in the Tajoura neighbourhood and the other is near the Matiga (international) airport," the military commander told Al Jazeera. Time reports on the NATO involvement, as well as why the rebels began their offensive specifically on Saturday (emphasis mine):

Gunbattles and mortar rounds were heard clearly at the hotel where foreign correspondents stay in Tripoli. NATO aircraft made heavy bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city. "We planned this operation with NATO, our Arab associates and our rebel fighters in Tripoli with commanders in Benghazi," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the head of the rebel leadership council, told the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera…

Abdel-Jalil they said chose to start the attack on Tripoli on the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell on Saturday. The date marks the ancient Islamic Battle of Badr, when Muslims conquered the holy city of Mecca in A.D. 624.

CNN has footage of NATO's coordinated bombing on Saturday night:

Here's an NBC News report from Saturday night on rebel gains, the battle for Tripoli, and rumors of Qaddafi's departure:

UPDATE 167, Saturday, August 20, 11:35 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 6:35 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Another member of the Qaddafi family gave a speech tonight: Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi's second-oldest and most politically influential son. In his speech, which was televised on Libyan State TV, Saif insisted his family would not cede power. According to Reuters, Saif said: "The revolt in Libya will not succeed. You will never see us as Libyans surrender and raise the white flag: that is impossible. This is our country and we will never leave it."


 

UPDATE 168, Sunday, August 21, 12:28 a.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 7:28 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz and Asawin Suebsaeng):

On Saturday night, Libyan State TV news anchor Hala Saakal brought her weapon to her on-air report, making her feelings about the rebels clear. Pro-opposition Twitter feed Change in Libya posted the below photo on its Facebook page. Notice the pistol at Saakal's news desk? According to Change in Libya, Saakal pulled out the gun and threatened to "kill anyone that tries to storm the studio."

To Saakal's credit, we've never seen Katie Couric demonstrate that kind of commitment.

UPDATE 169, Sunday, August 21, 10:26 a.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 5:26 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Fighting in and around Tripoli continued on Sunday, with shots and blasts ringing out since dawn. Rebel fighters told CNN that they had forced Qaddafi loyalist troops 15 miles out of Zawiyah. As the opposition fighters claim to be making significant progress towards Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli, government officials continued to deny the reports of the advances:

"Tripoli is well-protected, with thousands upon thousands ready to defend the city against any invasion," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.

"They wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured, the blood will run everywhere, so they may as well fight until the end," he added.

NATO has yet to comment on the rebels' claim that NATO had warned civilians to evacuate the main part of Tripoli before the Saturday offensive began.

Here's AFP footage of the Libyan rebels moving eastward towards Tripoli on Sunday and picking up more weapons and ammunition in Gadayem:

According to Reuters, NATO aircraft bombed Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in central Tripoli on Sunday. BBC News, as well as at-the-scene correspondent Matthew Price, is reporting that rebel forces are still facing some "stiff resistance" on their push to the capital—including heavy sniper fire in surrounding cities including Al-Maya—and that Libya's information minister, Moussa Ibrahim, has issued new calls for an immediate cease-fire:

Buoyed by recent gains, the rebels took the town of Jaddayim but were forced to retreat when they reached Maya, 35km (22 miles) west of Tripoli.

A BBC correspondent says lightly armed rebels met heavy government artillery.

The government accused Nato jets of working to clear a path for the rebels, and called for talks to end the crisis.

In Tripoli, support for Col Muammar Gaddafi remains strong, correspondents say. But new gunfire and protests were reported in Tripoli on Sunday, following fierce clashes in several districts overnight.

Rebel forces have advanced from the east and west in recent days, backed by Nato aircraft ostensibly enforcing a UN resolution to protect civilians from Col Gaddafi's forces.

Critics accuse the organisation of overstepping its mandate by helping the rebels.

Here's analysis of Moussa Ibrahim's speech—which focused condemnation on NATO—from Al Jazeera English's Jacky Rowland, reporting out of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi:

And while there are numerous reports of crowds celebrating recent successes of the Libya opposition, Al Jazeera English is reporting that there are still many in Zlitan, Tripoli, and elsewhere who remain sympathetic to the regime, and are laying low or have fled. Concern persists among ambassadors and observers regarding the oppositions ability to lead, if Qaddafi and his government are toppled soon. Reuters reports:

Assuming Gaddafi does fall, the rebels will quickly have to fill a power vacuum. The main rebel group, based in Benghazi in the country's east, consists of former government ministers who have defected, and longstanding opposition figures, representing a range of political views including Arab nationalists, Islamists, secularists, socialists and businessmen.

Far from monolithic, their military forces are a patchwork of armed groups, former soldiers and freelance militias, including self-appointed neighborhood gangs and former members of an Islamist guerrilla group crushed by Gaddafi in the 1990s…

So far, though, the main rebel leadership has a poor track record of governing. Riven by factionalism, the NTC has struggled to bring security to the areas it controls. Analysts who study the opposition say some rebel groups in other parts of the country want nothing to do with the NTC, so unimpressive is its military record…

"They are very concerned to avoid another Iraq and to get a smooth and clean political transition, but it could be very messy indeed," said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya…"[The NTC] claim to have a committee in place to manage power, water and police in the aftermath. They are determined to get the message out that they are not trying to cut anyone out and that it won't be a case of Benghazi taking over Tripoli.

"They say that if you exclude those who worked for Gaddafi then you'll exclude the whole population..."

UPDATE 170, Sunday, August 21, 12:30 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 7:30 p.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

As fighting continues both within and outside Tripoli, the AP reports that rebels captured a "major military base defending Tripoli, seize large stores of weapons." According to Al Jazeera, rebels have taken hold of several suburbs of Tripoli, including Tajoraa, Suq al-Jumaa, Arada, and al-Saba. Fighting persists in the suburbs of Ben Ashhour, Fashlom, and Zawiyat al-Dahmani. Matthew Chance, a Tripoli-based reporter for CNN, quotes government sources as warning "of a massacre unless fighting stops." Government sources told Chance that 376 people have been killed in Tripoli thus far. Sultan Al Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, says that "Libyan Revolutionaries flag raised in the Friday Market in Tripoli," citing an Al-Arabiya report. The White House apparently believes Qaddafi's decades long reign is nearing its end. That's according to CNN, which quotes White House sources as saying that "Qaddafi's days are numbered."

Here's more Reuters footage of rebels engaging in firefights in the street on the way to the capital:

Click here to check out this special Google Maps overview of the recent fighting in Tripoli (Red=rebel forces, Green=Qaddafi loyalists).

UPDATE 171, Sunday, August 21, 12:54 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 7:54 p.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz and Asawin Suebsaeng):

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi just finished speaking on Libyan State TV. According to Reuters, Qaddafi called "on Libyan people to come from all regions to liberate Tripoli from the rebels." Adding that he is "afraid that Tripoli will burn." Qaddafi ended his speech by saying he "will not relinquish power, will win."

Here is a CNN report from Sunday on shelling by Qaddafi troops in Zawiyah, and the opposition's "Operation Mermaid Dawn" strategy of surrounding the city, while coordinating with other rebels who had been waiting for the go-ahead, and had already been hiding in Tripoli before the start of Saturday's assault:

UPDATE 172, Sunday, August 21, 1:57 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 8:57 p.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Sultan al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, tweets this report from Al Jazeera, "Libyan Revolutionaries 'free most' of Tripoli, Qaddafi brigades head towards Bab Al Azizia (Qaddafi compound)." Qassemi also cites an Al Jazeera report saying that rebels have "entered" the house of Qaddafi's daughter, Aisha. Elsewhere, Matthew Chance, Tripoli-based reporter for CNN, says panic has struck at the hotel where international journalists are. Chance tweets out, "Armed loyalists raise green Qaddafi flag in #Rixos Hotel Lobby. Int'l Journos grouping together frantically trying to work out safest options as heavy gunfire crackles outside." Chance says journalists "do not feel safe."

UPDATE 173, Sunday, August 21, 3:21 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 9:21 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Below is NATO's latest "Operational Media Update," released Sunday. The document includes a list of "Key Hits" from August 20 in the vicinity of Brega, Tripoli, Zlitan, and elsewhere. Also included are updates on "Arms Embargo Activities" and "International Humanitarian Assistance Movements."

According to Al Jazeera English's "Libya Live Blog," NATO officials told reporters that "is becoming more difficult to identify and engage targets for airstrikes as the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi gains momentum." Colonel Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, says that "there is no longer a traditional front line as we had in other phases of the conflict."

Here's footage of a NATO airstrike in Tripoli on Saturday night:

 

UPDATE 173, Sunday, August 21, 4:45 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 10:45 p.m. Tripoli (Sam Baldwin):

Unconfirmed reports on Twitter indicate that Qaddafi has been shot and killed. Al Jazeera and Reuters also report that the presidential brigade, in charge of Qaddafi's personal security, has surrendered to the rebels. Stay tuned for corroboration on Qaddafi's fate and the latest updates on the situation in Tripoli. Multiple sources are also reporting that the rebels claim to have captured Saif Al-Islam, Qaddafi's most influential son.

UPDATE 174, Sunday, August 21, 5:36 p.m. EST/ Sunday, August 21, 11:36 p.m. Tripoli (Monika Bauerlein):

Moammar Qaddafi's Wikipedia page has been updated with a claim that he is dead, but verifiable sources are still all over the map, and audio messages from Qaddafi keep emerging, indicating that reports of his death may have been exaggerated. Al Jazeera's live stream is broadcasting one as I write. Qaddafi spokesman Musa Ibrahim just held a press conference at Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, where foreign media are holed up, offering to negotiate directly with the rebels. The rebel council, meanwhile, has reportedly offered a ceasefire if Qaddafi and his family depart the country.

UPDATE 175, Sunday, August 21, 6:35 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 12:35 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

In his third speech in just 24 hours, Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi continued to urge Libyans to fight the rebel forces, naming several specific tribes that he expects to "protect Tripoli." In a choppy audio message broadcasted on Libyan State TV, Qaddafi sent a warning to supporters of the rebels, saying: "Where will you go? No one will help you. NATO will not help you. They will not defend you from the Libyan people. You want them to destroy Tripoli from the bottom? The imams and leaders of the mosques must march out now. Those who understand Islam properly they must take all the women and march. The women who are trained to use weapons must march. The agents of imperialism are but a few." In other news, Al Jazeera cites reports that two planes from South Africa have landed at Tripoli's airport; some speculate the planes will facilitate Qaddafi's exit from Libya. These reports have yet to be confirmed.

Here is Sky News footage of Libyan rebel soldiers entering Tripoli with "absolutely no sign of any resistance," according to correspondent Alex Crawford:

UPDATE 176, Sunday, August 21, 6:55 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 12:55 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

BREAKING: Reuters reports that the International Criminal Court has confirmed Saif al-Islam's arrest.

After months offline, the internet has finally returned to Tripoli, according to AFP. Matthew Chance, a Tripoli based reporter for CNN, reports that government minders and officials have left the hotel where journalists are staying. CNN reports that another Qaddafi son has been arrested: Saadi, the former professional soccer player.

UPDATE 177, Sunday, August 21, 7:23 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 1:23 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Rebel forces have made their way into Tripoli's downtown landmark, Green Square. Pro-opposition Twitter feed Change in Libya distributed the below photo that they captured from Sky News footage of the events.

Update 178, Sunday, August 21, 7:57 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 1:57 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Here is raw amateur footage of Libyan rebels and civilians in the streets of Tripoli on Sunday celebrating opposition forces' arrival in the capital. Chanting, cheers, and celebratory gunshots were heard throughout the city and neighborhoods:

And here's video of some jubilant rebel fighters gathered together on Sunday evening:

UPDATE 179, Sunday, August 21, 8:17 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 2:17 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

President Obama has spoken to the press about this weekend's events in Tripoli, but appears to be taking a wait and see approach before weighing in. Obama is quoted as saying: "We're going to wait until we have full confirmation of what has happened. I'll make a statement when I do."

According to Al Jazeera, NATO has issued a statement, saying: "The Qaddafi regime is clearly crumbling. The sooner Qaddafi realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better, so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering."

Al-Arabiya reports that another of Qaddafi's sons is in rebel custody. The news network reports that Qaddafi's oldest son, Mohammed, has surrendered to rebel forces.

UPDATE 180, Sunday, August 21, 8:45 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 2:45 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Qaddafi's oldest son, Mohammed, just gave an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic. Sultan al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, translated and live-tweeted the conversation. According to his feed, Mohammed Qaddafi said, "I was assured of our safety from the people who surrounded our house. There was an absence of wisdom that lead Libya to reach such a state.…I…I…I am being attacked right now…inside, inside my house, inside." Apparently, live gunfire was audible during Mohammed Qaddafi's interview. Below is a screenshot Qassemi captured from Al Jazeera Arabic footage.

Reuters and Al Jazeera Arabic report that Mohammed Qaddafi and his family are safe. However, one rebel fighter was shot dead and one was injured during an brief exchange of fire with security detail in front of Mohammad Qaddafi's house.

UPDATE 181, Sunday, August 21, 9:10 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 3:10 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Though rumors abound of Qaddafi's whereabouts and escape plan—with some reports involving getaway planes sent by South Africa—there is still no confirmation on the exact location or condition of the Libyan strongman. Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr reports from Tripoli's Green Square among the crowds and rebel soldiers around 1:30 a.m. on Monday:

 

Scenes of celebration included the destruction of Qaddafi posters and propaganda materials, and even the display of some American flags:

Rebels and their supporters are now calling Green Square "Martyr's Square" after the opposition gains. Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr has the story (emphasis mine):

"We are in Green Square in the centre of the city. There's a party in the Libyan capital tonight. The people are in charge. They've decided the square is now called Martyr's Square, the original name. They're shouting "we're free" and even shooting at Gaddafi's poster.

"People say 'we're finally free to speak, after 41 years. We were prevented from saying what we believed, or any sort of freedom whatsoever.

"They're convinced the government has fallen. You can see how excited people are.They chant 'God is great'."

"There are still some pockets where Gaddafi forces are and people are worried about sleeper cells. But they're now convinced the capital belongs to them."

UPDATE 182, Sunday, August 21, 10:18 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 4:18 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

President Obama issued a statement Sunday night on the rapidly evolving situation in Tripoli. Here's an excerpt:

Tonight, the momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point…Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant…The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Gadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end…At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya…[T]he 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.

Click here to read the full statement.

Though celebrations continued early Monday morning in Tripoli, rebel fighters told reporters that they've heard rumors that pro-Qaddafi army forces are moving toward Tripoli's Green Square. CNN reports that some rebel fighters have temporarily relocated from Green Square due to fears that government soldiers are closing in. CNN could not confirm any movement of Qaddafi forces.

Here's more Reuters footage from the streets of Tripoli, with residents cheering early Monday morning:

UPDATE 183, Sunday, August 21, 10:48 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 4:48 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

According to the New York Times, one factor contributing to the Libyan rebels' success thus far is an "intensification of American aerial surveillance in and around the capital city." The story also cites several other contributors to the recent acceleration of the rebels progress:

The officials also said that coordination between NATO and the rebels, and among the loosely organized rebel groups themselves, had become more sophisticated and lethal in recent weeks, even though NATO’s mandate has been merely to protect civilians, not to take sides in the conflict.

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.

UPDATE 184, Sunday, August 21, 11:17 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 5:17 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz and Asawin Suebsaeng):

Deborah Haynes, an editor at London-based newspaper The Times, is on the ground in Tripoli. Haynes just sent out an unsettling tweet, indicating that the battle for Tripoli may be far from over: "Just been in Green Square. Gunfire erupted, sending rebels scattering. Then saw eight fresh corpses on way out. Tripoli ain't secure." 

Also, Sarah Sidner, a reporter for CNN on the ground in the capital city, tweeted around 5:15 a.m. Monday in Tripoli that "Green square nearly empty. We were warned to get out. Rebels say Gadhafi troops advancing toward square." CNN is also broadcasting a report from Sidner, in which she says that rebels tell her that there might be pro-Qaddafi snipers in buildings surrounding the downtown square. CNN footage seems to show that Green Square, which was just the scene of mass celebration and under rebel control, is right now nearly empty.

UPDATE 185, Sunday, August 21, 12:33 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 6:33 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Pro-opposition Twitter feed Feb17Voices tweets the chant that can be heard from Green Square: "the Libyan people are brothers brothers…Qaddafi die die [Translated from Arabic, where it rhymes]." Feb17Voices also says "more than 900 were freed from Ein Zara Prison today, most were political prisoners" citing an Al-Jazeera Arabic report. There are also reports of more NATO bombing in Tripoli this morning.

UPDATE 186, Sunday, August 21, 12:57 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 6:57 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Leaders across the world continue to speak out. French president Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement calling on Qaddafi to step down: "As the outcome is no longer in doubt, the president of the republic urges Col. Qaddafi to spare his people pointless suffering by renouncing without delay what little powers he retains." 

Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president and long-time Qaddafi ally, criticized NATO's bombing campaign in Tripoli: "Today we are seeing images of how the democratic European governments, well some of them are (democratic), are practically demolishing Tripoli with their bombs and the supposedly democratic government of the United States, because they feel like it."

UPDATE 186, Monday, August 22, 10:36 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 4:36 p.m. Tripoli (Monika Bauerlein):

Reuters reports that Italian oil company ENI is "leading the charge back into Libya," with staff already on the ground looking at oil facilities in anticipation of Qaddafi's fall. Speculation about which companies will win rights to Libya's significant reserves is intense, with many observers betting that ENI, France's Total, and Qatar's oil company will be rewarded for their countries' backing of the rebels.

UPDATE 187, Monday, August 22, 11:03 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 5:03 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

CNNMoney is reporting that oil prices were mixed Monday morning, as the oil market undergoes a "knee-jerk" reaction to events unfolding in Libya. While Brent oil dropped 1 percent to $107.55 a barrel, US crude prices went up more than 1 percent to $83.46 a barrel, due to the fact that Brent "is tied to the European market…[and] will feel the more immediate impact from Libyan oil coming back online, whereas U.S. prices are more insulated":

Even though Brent crude prices are falling, it's unlikely that there will be a glut of oil flooding the markets anytime soon, said Dan Dicker, an oil trader for 25 years…

"I see the price coming down on Brent as more of a knee jerk reaction," said Dicker, estimating that it will take a long time for Libyan oil to flow back into the market. "You're not going to see a barrel of oil from Libya for at least a year."

UPDATE 188, Monday, August 22, 11:12 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 5:12 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

As Libyan rebels continue their search for Moammar Qaddafi, NATO officials have expressed concerns that pro-Qaddafi forces might be planning a fresh assult on civilians: "If there is a last ditch effort we want to protect civilians," a senior NATO official told CNN. The official went on to say NATO is closely monitoring the situation for any sign of gatherings of army forces, or the transport of rockets or artillery. CNN reports that "[s]triking such targets in the heavily populated areas of Tripoli could be a difficult problem because rebel forces, civilians and loyalists are mixed in among the entire population." Reports are coming in of rebel forces regrouping on the outskirts of Tripoli for another hard push to the heart of the capital.

Al Jazeera English is reporting that pro-Qaddafi sleeper cells and snipers are "scattered across Tripoli," and that even though most loyalist forces have pulled out of most areas in the city center, "areas that are under opposition control are not yet fully secure." Bab al-Azaziyah, the site of Qaddafi's fortified compound and now the front line of the battle for Tripoli, is still reportedly in government hands:

Reuters reports that a Pentagon spokesman said that "any post-Gaddafi mission [is] not expected to involve US boots on ground" in Libya, as heavy US surveillance over Libya is expected to continue. Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan told reporters that he believes that Qaddafi, who is still MIA, has not fled Libya. "We do not have information he left the country," Lapan said.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council, said that they hope to capture Qaddafi alive so that he may stand trial: "I have no idea how he will defend himself against these crimes that he committed against the Libyan people and the world," he said. "The real moment of victory is when Qaddafi is captured."

Here is a CNN report on the NTC press conference:

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor with the International Criminal Court, spoke with representatives of the NTC on Monday. The court released a statement saying that "[f]urther conversations will define the precise way to move forward, including the possibility to apprehend and surrender to [The Hague]…individuals alleged to have committed crimes" during Libya's civil war, including Qaddafi, his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, and his son Saif.

UPDATE 189, Monday, August 22, 1:37 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 7:37 p.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

The area around Rixos, a hotel where many international journalists are staying, remains a Qaddafi stronghold. That's according to Matthew Chance, a CNN reporter who's currently at Rixos. Chance tweets: "Mood in #Rixos much darker than before. Everyone really worried about what's going to happen to us. Fierce battle under way near #Gadhafi compound. Huge explosions, heavy machine-gun fire. #Rixos getting hit by stray bullets. It's no fun being stuck in one of #Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds. #Rixos gunmen now refusing to let us leave." 

Stephanie Gosk, a correspondent for NBC News, reports that, while rebels claim to control over 90 percent of the capital, the situation in Tripoli remains incredibly unstable with multiple renewed gun battles and clashes with pro-Qaddafi soldiers around the government's central strongholds.

Al Jazeera reports that Qaddafi's oldest son, Mohammed, has escaped from his house with the help of Qaddafi's soldiers. Previous reports indicated that Mohammed Qaddafi was in rebel custody. The AP reports that another Qaddafi son, Saadi, has been detained. As for Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi's whereabouts, Nick Clark, a reporter for Al Jazeera English, says that US officials believe he is still in Libya. 

President Obama will speak about the situation in Libya today at 2 p.m. EST.

UPDATE 190, Monday, August 22, 2:33 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 8:33 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

President Barack Obama made another statement on the situation in Libya at approximately 2:20 p.m. on Monday. He delivered the speech while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The president again denounced the "campaign of violence against the Libyan people” and the "wholesale massacres against innocent civilians" committed by the Qaddafi regime. He echoed much of what was written in his statement released on Sunday night. Obama also said that the "pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator," and that Ambassador Susan Rice has been directed to request that the UN secretary-general use next month's General Assembly to support an "inclusive transition that will lead to a democratic Libya."

"All of this," Obama said, "was done without putting a single American troop on the ground…[and] demonstrates what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one." Along with commending the operations of NATO, US military commanders and pilots, and other participating nations, he also directly addressed the Libyan rebels and National Transitional Council: "An ocean divides us," Obama said, "but we are joined by our basic human longing for freedom, justice, and dignity."

Read a full transcript of the statement here.

Below is the audio of President Obama's address:

UPDATE 191, Monday, August 22, 3:30 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 9:30 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

GOP presidential hopefuls also issued statements on events in Libya on Monday. Comments ranged from condemnation of Qaddafi's decades-long rule, to complete rejection of any credit given to the Obama administration.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said that "ridding the world of the likes of Qaddafi is a good thing, but this indecisive president had little to do with this triumph," and that "as we have seen in Egypt, the euphoria of toppling a dictator does not always result in more security for us and our allies in the region." Santorum has been a vocal critic of the administration's Libya policy, and said in late April that the United States should have acted faster in arming and aiding the Libyan opposition forces.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry released the following statement:

The crumbling of Muammar Qaddafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration…The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.

Mitt Romney weighed in by saying that "it is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law," and called on the "new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done."

UPDATE 192, Monday, August 22, 4:03 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 10:03 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Al Jazeera English reports on widespread speculation about Moammar Qaddafi's whereabouts. Pentagon officials said Monday morning that they believe Qaddafi is still hiding in Libya. Widespread rumors include suggestions that he has fled to Algeria, and some say he is communicating with regional allies in other African countires.

AJE is also reporting on their "Libya Live Blog" that a "NATO warplane shot down a scud missile fired from Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi's home city east of Tripoli." Pro-Qaddafi forces launched a scud missile earlier in August that resulted in no casualties.

UPDATE 193, Monday, August 22, 4:20 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 10:20 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Oliver Miles, former British Ambassador to Libya, wrote an op-ed published in The Daily Telegraph on Monday expressing his belief that the rebel opposition has already proved itself capable of governing all of Libya:

The [Transitional National Council] appear at present to have very wide support in Libya. The answer to those who say that they are completely inexperienced is twofold: under Gaddafi all political and civil society was suppressed, so there is indeed a lack of experience.

Yet the TNC have shown themselves able to run Benghazi and other liberated areas in very difficult wartime circumstances, providing a decent level of security, food, electricity etc. Why should they not do the same throughout the country?

UPDATE 194, Monday, August 22, 5:25 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 22, 11:25 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Reuters reports that the gunfire has died down somewhat in Tripoli Monday night, and that there are now far fewer people in the city's streets. Rebel fighters told Al Jazeera that they do not expect Qaddafi's fortified Bab Al-Aziziyah compound to fall easily. Reuters has the story:

The battle to take over Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli will be fierce, but anyone inside has little chance of escape, a rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera television on Monday..."The rebels are forming checkpoints at the entrances of Tripoli and I do not think he (Muammar Gaddafi's son Mohammad) would be able to escape Tripoli, and the same applies to Colonel (Muammar) Gaddafi," [Abdel Hafiz Goga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council, said].

According to the Daily Telegraph, the hunt for Moammar Qaddafi may be made even more diffcult by the elaborate network of tunnels his regime constructed:

Obsessed by his own security, the Libyan dictator oversaw the construction of hundreds of miles of tunnels and bomb proof bunkers that connect many of his compounds and key buildings.

Criss-crossing beneath Tripoli, Gaddafi and his trusted aides were able to move around the city undetected even from the air.

During the Nato bombing raids, Gaddafi was able to hide out in his well-stocked bunkers while maintaining communication with his family and government...

The project, which cost a staggering £15 billion was titled the Great Man Made River and promised to bring water from the Saharan aquifer in the south of the country to the major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi...US intelligence officials have long suspected that the project, which was completed using European and South Korean engineering skill and labour, had a military as well as a domestic purpose.

UPDATE 195, Monday, August 22, 6:30 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 12:30 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Rep. Michele Bachmann has issued a statement about the events in Libya. She said, "I opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end." Back in April, Bachmann had this to say about the Libyan rebels: "The only reports that we have say that there are elements of al Qaeda in North Africa and Hezbollah in the opposition forces. Let me ask you this: what possible benefit is there to the United States by lifting up and creating a toehold for al Qaeda in North Africa to take over Libya?" Bachmann continued, saying, "If Qaddafi is toppled, if al Qaeda of North Africa comes in, and they secure control over the oil revenues, then they will have a permanent source of funding to finance global terror worldwide."

UPDATE 196, Monday, August 22, 7:24 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 1:24 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

Reuters is citing an Al Arabiya report that indicates NATO planes are bombing Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi's compound.

The AP reports that U.S. officials believe Qaddafi's forces have launched a scud missile; it's unclear where the missile actually landed.

UPDATE 197, Monday, August 22, 8:08 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 2:08 a.m. Tripoli (Hamed Aleaziz):

In a sudden reversal in reports, Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, does not appear to be in rebel custody. Saif told the BBC that Qaddafi's forces  "broke the backs of rebels" and that he is "well." Saif told Matthew Chance, Tripoli-based CNN reporter, that the entire Qaddafi family remains in Tripoli. He also told Chance that "Qaddafi forces lured Libyan rebel fighters into a trap in Tripoli." Earlier today, Chance tweeted that Saif had called a press conference at Rixos hotel, where international journalists like Chance are staying, but that he then canceled the event after realizing that there was no electricity. Yesterday, numerous reports claimed Saif had been arrested. Later, the ICC confirmed his arrest.

Sultan Al Qassemi, an expert on Arab affairs, reports that Al Arabiya just aired an interview with Saif. Qassemi translated and live-tweeted the interview. According to Qassemi, Saif said, "They smuggled through the sea and cars gangsters who tried to corrupt, but you saw how the Libyan all people stood up. The Libyan people stood up & destroyed the spine of the rebels and the rats yesterday and today." According to Qassemi, Saif, when asked about the ICC's request to transfer him to the Hague, said, "screw the ICC." Below is a screen shot Qassemi took of Al Arabiya footage of Saif.

UPDATE 198, Monday, August 22, 10:41 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 4:08 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

The only hospital left functioning in Tripoli is dangerously understaffed and in crisis, a doctor named Mohmed Harisha said during an interview with Sky News. "Not enough doctors in our hospital," the doctor said. "We need more doctors, surgeon doctor, orthopaedic doctor and anaesthesia doctor. We need nurse, we need technician for X-ray...Everybody can give help, who will come here. Our hospital here, patient from three days back, patient every day will die."

CNN reports that US forces working with NATO have nearly doubled the number of airstrikes in Libya in the past twelve days. On Monday, the Pentagon disclosed that the number of warplane attacks on pro-Qaddafi air defenses, troops, and other targets jumped from an average of 1.7 strike sorties a day from April 1 to August 10, to 3.1 strike sorties in the past twelve days. "The cost to the US taxpayers for America's share of the Libyan mission, known as Operation Unified Protector, is approaching $1 billion," writes Larry Shaughnessy of CNN. The Pentagon also reported that it has delivered approximately $12.5 million in nonlethal humanitarian aid to civilians and rebel forces.

NATO and American officials are also concerned about the large weapons stockpiles—missiles, mustard gas—amassed by the Qaddafi regime. Intelligence personnel from several countries, including the US, have been on the ground in Libya to assist in securing stockpiles, according to NATO. CNN reports that NATO officials have asked rebel leaders to keep tabs as best they can on the government's inventory of surface-to-air missiles and WMD, and Reuters reports that an unnamed "U.N. official [believes] that due to their age, Libya's chemical stockpiles might be more of an environmental hazard than a military or terrorist threat." Shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the Qaddafi regime destroyed or gave up most of its most dangerous WMD, and US officials report that most of what's left is now difficult to weaponize and/or outdated.

UPDATE 199, Monday, August 22, 11:21 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 5:21 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

NATO forces have been dropping various leaflets in Tripoli, with most of the messages encouraging pro-Qaddafi troops to join the opposition. Here is an example that was posted on Al Jazeera English's "Libya Live Blog":

 

UPDATE 200, Tuesday, August 23, 11:32 a.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 5:32 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Rebel sources tell CNN correspondent Sara Sidner that opposition fighters have taken over Qaddafi's fortified Bab al-Aziziya, a military compound and one of the key remaining government strongholds in Tripoli. "They have been able to take some of the weapons off of the Qaddafi forces," Sidner said during her live report. According to CNN, rebels are "hugging each other and crying on the streets" while fighting continues and they attempt to clear and secure the area. An AP reporter says that "hundreds of Libyan rebels" have entered the gates of the compound after exchanging fire for several hours with pro-Qaddafi forces and snipers on Tuesday.

On Al Jazeera Arabic, a rebel troop shouts through a loudspeaker system, "Bab al-Aziziya has been liberated! Say Allahu Akbar! Celebrate!"

Here's Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr covering the reported breach "just 300 meters" from Qaddafi's compound:


 

Opposition fighters claim that loyalist resistance has ended inside the military compound and that "the fight has finished." Rebel sources told CNN's Sara Sidner that they have seized documents bearing the official stamp of Qaddafi's regime, as well as medical files, from within the compound.

"I'm free! I can get back to my normal life," a young man named Ahmed, who said he had entered the compound, said during an interview with CNN. Ahmed also claimed that rebel forces burned Qaddafi's building to the ground and could swim in the pool on the property.

According to Reuters, NATO warplanes had been bombarding Bab al-Aziziya earlier on Tuesday as gun battles raged nearby the compound between loyalist forces and rebel fighters.

Pentagon officials warn that the situation is still far from stable. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is looking into other means of financing the Libyan opposition, including unfreezing and returning $37 billion in Libyan assets after it is confirmed that Qaddafi and his supporters are cut off from the country's financial system.

Stephanie Ditta, social media editor for Reuters, tweeted Tuesday that "Libyan opposition UN envoy Dabbashi says rebels would like to put Gaddafi, two others indicted by ICC on trial in Libya."

UPDATE 201, Tuesday, August 23, 12:58 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 6:58 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

An RPG explosion and non-celebratory gunfire was heard shortly after opposition forces overran Bab al-Aziziya, according to Al Jazeera Arabic's live report. CNN is reporting wounded people and fires inside the compound. None of the Qaddafi family was found inside Bab al-Aziziya.

"We don't think that he has left the country," Guma el-Gamaty, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council said during an interview with BBC television on Tuesday. "We believe that he is either in Tripoli or close to Tripoli...Sooner or later, he will be found, either alive and arrested - and hopefully that is the best outcome we want - or if he resists he will be killed."

A rebel leader said in an interview with Al Jazeera that opposition forces assaulted Qaddafi's compound from four angles, overwhelming loyalist defenses. Below is a screenshot taken by Arab affairs commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi of Sky News footage of a Libyan rebel standing on what was once Qaddafi's balcony:

UPDATE 202, Tuesday, August 23, 4:37 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 10:37 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Libyan rebel sources told reporters that pro-regime forces began firing into Bab al-Aziziya, the Qaddafi military compound and headquarters that rebels breached and overran on Tuesday. CNN correspondent Sara Sidner, who reported from inside the compound after it was seized, evacuated the building with her team, as others fled the area as shots rang out nearby. Sidner said that "the headline is Qaddafi forces are now targeting...their own compound." Rebels still claim to be in control of the compound.

The National Transitional Council announced that representatives are scheduled to arrive in Tripoli on Wednesday to help provide basic services and manage the turbulent transition. Mahmoud Shammam, an NTC spokesman speaking from Tunisia, told The Guardian on Tuesday that half of the NTC executive board did not expect rebel fighters to advance as quickly as they did since their Tripoli offensive began on Saturday August 20. "We are a bit late becomes we thought it would take longer. The swift movement of the battle has left our officials a little bit behind, but we are trying hard," Shammam said. "We have negotiated more electricity from the Tunisian government and we have got the Zawiya refinery working. But it would help a lot, and we are screaming at our friends about it, if they could unfreeze some of Libya's money."

Mahmoud Jibril, NTC's prime minister, said on Tuesday that other members of the opposition leadership will meet with representatives from the US, Italy, Britain, France, Qatar, and Turkey at a summit hosted in Doha, Qatar on Wednesday to discuss the pledging of international funds, as well as the recovery of the billions of dollars in Libyan assets frozen when sanctions were imposed on Qaddafi's regime. The NTC wishes to use these funds to restore law and order, establish stability, and keep the country's economy afloat during the advent of a post-Qaddafi Libya.

UPDATE 203, Tuesday, August 23, 5:22 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 23, 11:22 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

As Qaddafi's continues to elude capture, Libyan rebels believe that their manhunt might lead them through Qaddafi's vast network of interconnected tunnels and bunkers. Bloomberg reports:

"Nobody visited these underground bunkers but the information that we got is that he has some tunnels leading from Bab Al Aziziya to some other places like the airport and even Martyrs' Square," the former Green Square staging ground for pro-Qaddafi demonstrations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's former deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters yesterday in New York. Dabbashi, who now represents the opposition, said the rebels "expect him to have some residences underground."

The potential for an underground search comes after rebel fighters took over the Bab Al Aziziya compound on Tuesday afternoon. News footage of the victory showed rebels carrying regime documents out of the complex, cheering in and around the former Qaddafi fortress, and attempting to tear down the property's gold-colored sculpture of a giant fist crushing a US warplane (the statue had been used by Qaddafi as background imagery during rallies and speeches delivered after the start of the 2011 rebellion).

UPDATE 204, Tuesday, August 23, 10:02 p.m. EST/ Wednesday, August 24, 4:02 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

In a recorded message broadcast Tuesday on Libya's state media, Qaddafi vowed that he would either emerge victorious or go down as a martyr. His message was released following news of rebel fighters taking control of his Bab al-Azizya complex in Tripoli. UN envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi, of the Libyan opposition, predicted that the country would be free from Qaddafi's regime within three days, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of Libyans re-entered central Tripoli's Green Square (which the rebels have dubbed Martyrs' Square, a name change that Google Maps has also accepted) to celebrate in the streets early Wednesday morning. Libyans were waving pre-Qaddafi-era Libyan flags and shouting phrases such as "Qaddafi needs to go," according to on-the-ground CNN correspondent Sara Sidner. Damien McElroy of The Daily Telegraph reports on the intense jubilation of the Tripoli gathering:

Posters and official portraits were ripped, kicked and burned amid huge cheers and a cacophony of celebratory gunfire that erupted in the square. Rebels and locals fired into the air long into the night. Mosques around...[Martyrs' Square] broadcast religious chants extolling harmony and rebirth. A beaten-up Toyota car drove slowly around the outside of the square with one man at the wheel shouting 'Libya, Hurra' or 'Libya is free.' Huge red phosphorous rounds from anti-aircraft artillery pieces mounted on the back of pick-ups flared into the night sky.

Below is footage of the mass public celebration, which closely resembles the images that came out of the Green Square celebrations on Monday early AM, before Qaddafi loyalists had moved back toward the area.

Rebel sources say that Pro-Qaddafi forces are aggressively defending a location east of Tripoli's airport, leading them to wonder if those government troops are guarding a high-profile individual hiding in the area, according to CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon. Rebels took control of the airport earlier this week, in spite of multiple attempts launched Tuesday by Qaddafi forces to reclaim the key area.

Because the conflict in Libya's capital has turned to all-out, house-to-house urban warfare, the NATO air campaign that hugely contributed to the rebels' ability to move to the heart of Tripoli so quickly has run into trickier obstacles, the New York Times reports Tuesday night, EST:

For legal and practical reasons, as well as to avoid the perception of bombing indiscriminately inside Tripoli...allied warplanes will continue to prowl for targets, but mostly on the outskirts of the city where government troops might be trying to escape or reinforce Tripoli — and where the risk of civilian casualties is much lower, allied officials said...

Until now, the vast majority of targets attacked in Tripoli have been sites suspected of being military command headquarters or weapons-storage buildings that NATO monitored closely for days or weeks with surveillance aircraft, including Predator drones, to ensure that no civilians were living or working there.

Allied targeting experts and fighter pilots do not have that option with the rapidly shifting battle lines in block-by-block combat carried on by fighters on both sides dressed in civilian clothing.

UPDATE 205, Wednesday, August 24, 10:03 a.m. EST/ Wednesday, August 24, 4:03 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

During a news conference on Wednesday, the National Transitional Council chair Mustafa Abdel Jalil announced that the rebel government will grant amnesty to any of Qaddafi's inner circle or security detail who captures or eliminates the Libyan dictator. Jalil claims that a businessman based in Benghazi has offered a reward of two million Libyan dinars, or $1.3 million, for Qaddafi's capture.

Ahmed Jehani, senior representative of the NTC, told Reuters that the Libyan rebel government intends to uphold all oil contracts signed under the Qaddafi regime, including those granted to Chinese companies. Here's the Reuters video report:

On Tuesday, Bel Trew, a Middle East journalist, tweeted this below photo of international reporters who are still trapped inside Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, which is where Western media had been based during the Libyan conflict. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has asked opposition forces to help end the siege of the hotel, where pro-Qaddafi gunmen are preventing people from leaving. According to The Daily Telegraph, about 35 people, including journalists and politicians (such as former Democratic US congressman and pastor Walter Fauntroy, who was in Libya for a "peace mission") are being held hostage.

Update 206, Wednesday, August 24, 10:40 a.m. EST/ Wednesday, August 24, 4:40 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Reporters who had been trapped for days at the besieged Rixos Hotel in Tripoli were released Wednesday, after being held automatic-weapon-toting "crazy gunmen" with Qaddafi-era Libyan flags, according to CNN's Matthew Chance, who was among the captives. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was also involved in negotiating their release. Now that the hostages have been freed, rebel fighters are now likely to more forcefully engage the pro-regime troops stationed at the hotel, The Daily Telegraph reports. After their release, reporters from Reuters, Fox, CNN, and AP were seen packing into a car operated by the ICRC.

CNN's Nic Robertson is reporting that Saadi Qaddafi, one of Moammar Qaddafi's sons, is trying to contact rebel and American authorities to negotiate a ceasefire in Tripoli. Robertson and Saadi Qaddafi have been communicating via email, and CNN believes the emails to be authentic: "I have authority" to negotiate, Saadi wrote, according to CNN.

Update 207, Thursday, August 25, 10:00 a.m. EST/ Thursday, August 25, 4:00 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Opposition fighters now claim that they have found and trapped Qaddafi, Reuters reports. As NATO and rebel fighters continue the hunt for the Libyan dictator, rebel sources are telling reporters on Thursday afternoon, Tripoli time, that they have surrounded some apartment buildings close to Qaddafi's former military headquarters in Tripoli. Opposition troops believe that Qaddafi and some of his sons may be hiding inside the apartment complex, though they did not expand on why. The rebel forces are engaged in gun battles with pro-regime soldiers stationed near the apartment buildings, which is one of the several "pockets" of loyalist resistance that rebels are facing after the capture of Qaddafi's Bab al-Azizya on Tuesday.

"They are together. They are in a small hole," Muhammad Gomaa, one of the fighters surrounding the apartment complex, told Reuters. "Today we finish."

Meanwhile, representatives of 29 countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United States, are meeting with members of the National Transitional Council in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the future of a post-Qaddafi Libya. The coalition is being called the Libya Contact Group, according to CNN.

Update 208, Thursday, August 25, 11:31 a.m. EST/ Thursday, August 25, 5:31 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Al Jazeera reporters say they have discovered evidence of a possible mass execution of Libyan activists in Tripoli. The network's team came across corpses of men who were reportedly murdered by pro-Qaddafi soldiers as the rebels began their push towards the capital city. Al Jazeera's James Bays said that he was "told these men were political activists who have been arrested over the last few days and weeks and being held near the Qaddafi compound. When the opposition fighters started to enter the compound we are told they were killed. Everyone I have spoken to who has looked at these injuries, all the medical staff, they say they believe that the injuries they see on the bodies of these men have the hallmark of a mass execution."

Bays did clarify, however, that forensic scientists have yet to examine the dead bodies, and that doctors snapped photos of entry and exit wounds for experts to look at later on.

Here is the Al Jazeera English footage of the possible mass execution in Tripoli:

And back at the now-rebel-held Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, opposition fighters are continuing to uncover some peculiar possessions of the Libyan dictator and his family, according to MSNBC. Along with excess items like a gold mermaid-shaped couch that belonged to Qaddafi's daughter, the raiding of Qaddafi's former military headquarters has turned up a photo album filled with nothing but photos of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. MSNBC reports (and check out rebels staring at the Rice photo book here):

In a 2007 interview with al-Jazeera television, Gadhafi spoke of Rice in glowing terms. "I support my darling black African woman," he said. "I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders ... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. ... I love her very much. I admire her and I'm proud of her because she's a black woman of African origin."

In 2008, Rice visited the Libyan capital during a brief period that started during the Bush administration when the Qaddafi regime had somewhat eased international relations.

Update 209, Thursday, August 25, 6:29 p.m. EST/ Friday, August 26, 12:29 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

The National Transitional Council officially announced on Thursday that they will move the rebel government to Tripoli and will begin governing from the Libyan capital, Reuters reports.

"I proclaim the beginning of the resumption of the work of the executive office in Tripoli," said Ali Tarhouni, the council's finance minister.

Since the Bab al-Aziziya compound has been in rebel hands, opposition forces have been able to explore the once-secret underground tunnel-bunker network in order to widen their search for Qaddafi, and also to better understand how his regime functioned during his 42-year dictatorship, according to the AP:

Beneath the grassy courtyard of Moammar Gadhafi's private compound, long tunnels connect bunkers, command centers and spiral staircases that lead to a luxurious home filled with Gadhafi family photos..."It's normal that someone like Moammar would do this to protect himself," said rebel Riad Gneidi, walking curiously through the tunnels with an assault rifle over his shoulder. "Any dictator has to have a way to protect himself and to escape in times like these."

The Bab al-Aziziya compound had always been a mystery to most Libyans. Though it is one of the city's largest landmarks, no streets signs indicate where it is. Few ever entered, and many Tripoli residents said they wouldn't even walk nearby, fearing security guards on the compound's high green walls would get suspicious and arrest or shoot them.

As the manhunt goes on and the rebel leadership continues to plan for a future without Qaddafi in power, the US and South Africa agreed on Thursday to allow the unfreezing and release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets and funds for humanitarian and civilian needs in the war-torn country. South Africa had previously been a hold-out on this deal, due to their refusal to recognize the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate government. Reuters reports:

[UN diplomats] said the agreement would allow the release of the funds without a Security Council vote on a draft resolution that Washington submitted on Wednesday after South Africa blocked a U.S. request to disburse the money in the U.N. Libya sanctions committee.

The South African delegation said it did not support funds going directly to the Libyan rebel government, the Transitional National Council (TNC), which the African Union has not recognized. Pretoria insisted that there be no mention of the TNC in the official request for the release of the funds...A spokeswoman for the South African U.N. mission, however, said her delegation had told the United States that Pretoria would withdraw its objection to the release of the money "as long as there is no reference whatsoever to ... the TNC."

Funds are still likely to reach the Libyan rebels, according to The Daily Telegraph, as the NTC has said that it is in urgent need of at least $5 billion in seized Qaddafi assets for public services while rebuilding Libya, paying state employees, and rebooting the country's oil infrastructure. American officials want unfrozen assets to be delivered to humanitarian aid organizations, a large international fund to pay for emergency items and fuel, and the rebel government for services and employment.

The South African delegation's reversal was made following the insistence of and pressure from British government officials.

Below is an Al Jazeera exclusive on the former headquarters of Qaddafi's intelligence services. The report includes footage of once-secret holding cells for political prisoners and confidential files that belonged to the Qaddafi regime:

Update 210, Friday, August 26, 2:12 p.m. EST/ Friday, August 26, 8:12 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

On Thursday night, British airmen working with the NATO campaign in Libya bombed a regime headquarters bunker in Sirte, Moammar Qaddafi's hometown and one of his last strongholds in the country. Libyan opposition leaders have been trying to open negotiations for the city's surrender, but the area's tribe leaders did not respond positively. Sky News reports:

The military alliance said NATO warplanes targeted 29 vehicles mounted with weapons near Sirte, a city of 150,000 about 400km east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Rebels are trying to advance toward Sirte but expect fierce resistance from tribesman and townspeople loyal to Gaddafi.

The rebel leadership, trying to avoid the bloodshed that occurred in the battle for Tripoli, has also been trying to secure Sirte's surrender, but the two main tribes have rejected negotiation efforts.

AFP correspondents say that there are dozens of decomposing corpses in a hospital in Tripoli, many of whom died because the intense fighting in Libya's capital that kept them from receiving medical treatment. 17 patient were found, but remain trapped due to continued gun battles and fighting in the surrounding area of Abu Slim, a generally pro-Qaddafi neighbourhood. According to doctors at the scene, loyalist snipers prevented medical staff and new patients from entering the hospital.

Update 211: Saturday, August 27, 4:11 p.m. EST/ Saturday, August 27, 10:11 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Libyan rebel forces say they have taken control of a key position at Ras Ajdir, the primary northwest passage at the Libya-Tunisia border, according to Al Jazeera English. The gain will likely help to facilitate the transport of aid and supplies to Tripoli and other parts of Libya, and further expands the rebel control of the war-torn nation. Rebel sources announced that they had also defeated pro-Qaddafi forces in Bin Jawad, a town about halfway between Misrata and Benghazi. Opposition fighters are working to deliver a final, definitive blow to regime loyalists still operating in central Tripoli, laying down sniper fire and shellling the capital's airport.

The International Red Cross warned that the warfare in Tripoli is making it very difficult to bring emergency supplies into the city, and the UN, EU, Arab League, and African Union, all expressed concern over the potential for waves of reprisal killings, and urged that all sides in the conflict refrain from such slaughter. "Colonel Qaddafi must avoid further bloodshed by relinquishing power and calling on those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms and protect civilians," Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Friday.

Here is the Al Jazeera Arabic video report:

As the fighting in the contested parts of Tripoli remains tough, rebels have also claimed victory Saturday in an area nearby the capital city's airport, after having faced strong resistance from pro-Qaddafi soldiers, CNN reports. An National Transitional Council spokesperson said that the rebel council is calling on Libya's police officers to return to work by next week, or risk being fired. An NTC defense spokesman said that all army officials must resume active duty under the rebel command, or risk being labeled regime loyalists.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization warned antiquities dealers and Libyan citizens to be vigilant about the looting of Libyan artifacts that may occur during wartime. "Experience shows that there is a serious danger of destruction during times of social upheaval," Irina Bokova, UNESCO's director-general, told reporters. "Careless dealers who buy these objects and fragments are in fact inciting more looting. It is...crucial that the international antiquities market be particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances."

Some officials and observers of the conflict are concerned that rebel-led prison breaks, while having freed many political prisoners, has also unleashed hundreds of jihadists over the past week of rebel advances. CNN reports:

The freed militants had been imprisoned in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison by Moammar Gadhafi's regime during the height of the insurgency in Iraq, according to Noman Benotman, once a senior figure in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Benotman said he believes as many as 600 militants may have been among the prison population at Abu Salim...Human Rights Watch...which recently had a team visit the prison, estimates that before the uprising, there were a few hundred Islamists held at Abu Salim.

Benotman said many of the militants released are pro-al Qaeda. "Nobody knows what these released prisoners are going to do next," he said. "Will they take part in the fighting and if they do will they join pre-existing rebel brigades or form a separate fighting force?"

Update 212: Monday, August 29, 9:38 a.m. EST/ Monday, August 29, 3:38 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Ahmed Bani, a National Transitional Council military spokesman, delivered an ultimatum to Qaddafi loyalist soldiers in Sirte, the dictator's hometown: surrender the city to rebel fighters, or face "liberation." The announcement was made after thousands of rebels assembled on the outskirts of Sirte, and after Qaddafi himself offered his widely rejected "talks on power transfer" over the weekend. There have also been rumors and reports of negotiations between rebel and loyalist representatives regarding the surrender of the city, which sits to the east of Tripoli.

More evidence emerged Sunday of mass murder allegedly committed by Qaddafi's forces in the regime's final moments of control over Tripoli. CNN reports the discovery of a warehouse filled with charred corpses at a military base in Tripoli:

Forces commanded by Gadhafi's son Khamis killed an estimated 150 captive civilians as they retreated last week, hurling grenades and spraying bullets into a building full of men they had promised to release, a survivor said.

The massacre took place August 22, the survivor, Muneer Masoud Own, told CNN.

More examples of the Qaddafi family's brutality was discovered after reporters and rebel fighters searched the recently taken Qaddafi seaside compound located in western Tripoli. The compound, which served as the pleasure palace for the Qaddafi family (including the big-spending, notoriously sadistic fourth son, Hannibal Moammar Qaddafi), was full of the possessions and excess expected of a wealthy dictator's children: expensive scotch and champagne, big TVs and expensive stereo systems, bar area, hot tub, private beach, and more. However, behind the extreme decadence were examples of the severely tortured house staff, including Shweyga Mullah, a nanny scalded and abused beyond recognition by Hannibal's wife, Aline (click here for images of the victim). CNN has the exclusive report, which was corroborated by other staff interviewed at the Qaddafi seaside home:

The 30-year-old [Shweyga Mullah] came to Libya from her native Ethiopia a year ago. At first things seemed OK, but then six months into her employment she said she was burned by Aline.

Three months later the same thing happened again, this time much more seriously...[S]he explained how Aline lost her temper when her daughter wouldn't stop crying and Mullah refused to beat the child.

"She took me to a bathroom. She tied my hands behind my back, and tied my feet. She taped my mouth, and she started pouring the boiling water on my head like this," she said, imitating the vessel of scalding hot water being poured over her head..."When she did all this to me, for three days, she wouldn't let me sleep," Mullah said. "I stood outside in the cold, with no food. She would say to staff, 'If anyone gives her food, I'll do the same to you.' I had no water -- nothing...I worked a whole year they didn't give me one penny...Now I want to go to the hospital. I have no money. I have nothing."

These latest reports of atrocities and tortures allegedly commited by the Qaddafi regime and his family surfaced as Libyan rebels asked NATO on Monday to sustain its support of the rebel offensive, and to continue to help protect civilians and those trying to repair water and electricity providers in Tripoli. During a meeting in Qatar, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the National Transitional Council head, discussed with NATO representatives the potential for Qaddafi and his forces to still inflict great harm, according to the Associated Press. "Even after the fighting ends, we still need logistical and military support from NATO," Jalil said. In Libya, rebel teams are still searching for mass graves and prisoners of the Qaddafi regime that they say are unaccounted for.

Update 213: Monday, August 29, 1:32 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 29, 7:32 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

The wife and three children of Moammar Qaddafi successfully fled to Algeria, which borders Libya to the west at approximately 8:45 a.m. local time Monday, according to Algerian state television and the African country's foreign ministry. Family members include his daughter Aisah, his sons Mohammad and Hannibal (along with their children and wives), and his wife Sofia. Bloomberg reports:

[National Transitional Council] Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have been informed of their arrival...Qaddafi is still in Libya, Moussa Ibrahim, his chief spokesman, said in a phone call to the Associated Press in New York yesterday from Tripoli, without saying where the Libyan leader was located.

This latest development comes as rebel forces continue to plan and build up their offensive on the town of Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown. Al Jazeera English reports that rebel forces are gathering to stage attacks from both Tripoli and Misrata to the west of Sirte, and rebel-held Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad to the east. They are currently waiting for reinforcements from Tripoli to join the teams.

"There is no lack of men, and no lack of weapons, but what they lack are trained fighters," AJE's Zeina Khodr reported Monday. "Until Tripoli is secure we are not going to see these fighters... and you are going to need them if you are going to open new battles like in Sirte, or in Sabha, further south, another [Qaddafi] stronghold..."

Here is the ABC Australia news coverage of the coming rebel assault on Sirte:

Update 214: Monday, August 29, 3:42 p.m. EST/ Monday, August 29, 9:42 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Rebel sources in Tripoli claim that Khamis Qaddafi, one of Moammar's sons, was killed in a battle between Tarhoni and Bin Walid on Sunday. According to Reuters, a senior Libyan rebel commander said that Khamis was severely wounded in the clash and then was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to fatal wounds and was buried in the area.

News sources are still waiting on independent confirmation of the rebels' reports.

A leaked document, which seems to outline the UN's plan for its role in a post-Qaddafi Libya, reveals that the UN intends on deploying hundreds of police forces and military observers to the country as the National Transitional Council attempts to kick-start reconstruction and stabilization. The plan also details what would be the UN's role in assisting elections in Libya in the coming months. The leaked document was published by Inner City Press, a nonprofit UN watchdog organization based in South Bronx of New York City.

Here's the Al Jazeera English interview with ICP journalist Matthew Russell Lee:

Update 215: Monday, August 29, 7:06 p.m. EST/ Tuesday, August 30, 1:06 a.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

Many foreign workers in Tripoli are saying that they were illegally detained and abused by rebel forces. Some of the African workers claim that their captors suspected them of being loyal to, or (worse) mercenaries of, the Qaddafi regime. Other migrant workers currently reside in de facto refugee camps in coastal areas and harbors, and claim that armed men have been raiding their camps, looting ships and raping women. Anthony Ogiezeri, a camp pastor interviewed by Al Jazeera English, says he does not know for sure whether the armed men are pro-regime soldiers or opposition fighters.

Here's AJE's exclusive report on the imprisonments and workers' allegations:

The inhabitants of the squater camps are suffering through noticeably poor conditions, often crammed in by the hundreds at individual locations. Many tell reporters that they wish to flee the war-torn area, but are afraid to do so.

Update 216: Tuesday, September 6, 10:43 a.m. EST/ Tuesday, September 6, 4:43 p.m. Tripoli (Asawin Suebsaeng):

While a Qaddafi spokesman said that "no one will be able to know" where the deposed despot is hiding, and claimed that Qaddafi is still in Libya, Nigerien officials said Tuesday that two Libyan convoys passed through Niger this week. Both convoys were headed toward Niamey, Niger's capital, with the second holding six high-ranking Libyan regime officials including Mansour Daw, a loyalist general and Qaddafi family security head, a source within the Nigerien Interior Ministry told CNN. These reports have added to speculation regarding still unknown whereabouts of the dictator.

Because Niger is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court—which has had a warrant out for Qaddafi's arrest since late June—the Nigerien government would be obliged to turn Qaddafi over to the ICC.

In response to the news out of Niger, Col. Roland Lavoie, the NATO Libya mission's spokesman, claimed that "our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people."

Here's the Euronews report on the Nigerien convoys and rumors:

Update 217: Thursday, October 20, 11 a.m. EST:

The Libyan prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, announces at a news conference in Tripoli that Moammar Qaddafi has been killed. "We have been waiting for this moment for a long time," he says. 

The former dictator reportedly died from wounds in his head and legs when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after his regime fell.

It was unclear whether Qaddafi was killed when a Nato air strike attacked a convoy fleeing Sirte, or during a firefight on the ground or in concrete tunnels in the town itself. 

More from Mother Jones on what this means for Libya.

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