A spokesperson for the National Transitional Council in Benghazi Libya has reported that Libyan rebels have captured Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi in Tripoli as their troops break through Loyalist defenses. Seif Qaddafi is Col Qaddafi’s son and 2nd in command as well as the leader of the 32nd brigade - the Libyan special forces.
Rebels claim to have captured huge tracks of Tripoli, Qaddafi’s last stronghold, as rebel flags begin to dot the skyline. NATO has continued to provide essential close air support, clearing the way for the rebel advance and thwarting an attempted Loyalist counteroffensive to retake Zawiyah. It seems that the rebels may be inches from claiming victory.
Rebel forces have begun fighting on the fringes of the Libyan capital, where they have managed to capture the khamis brigade compound - the headquarters for the 32nd brigade, the special forces unit controlled by Qaddafi’s son and thought to be the best trained and equipped troops in Libya.
Fighting gas continues throughout Sunday, as rebels advance deeper into the city where loyalists are using heavy machine-guns and mortars to fend of the attackers. Qaddafi made a second radio broadcast where he called on the people of tripoli to arm themselves and fight. Massive street demonstrations have also been reported
Reports of heavy fighting in outlying Tripoli neighborhoods suggests that rebellious factions within the Libyan capital are beginning to revolt in coordination with the rebels of the East and West. In recent days rebel forces have effectively cut off and surrounded Tripoli, capturing the towns of Zawiyah, Ziltan and possibly Brega. In addition, another high ranking Qaddafi government official has defected, binging to total to three in the last week.
Still, Qaddafi has amassed his forces around the city center where they are well dug in, and maintains control of Sirte - a loyalist city to the south that remains a bastion of Qaddafi support. In the past rebels have proven incapable of holding captured territory to forceful counteroffensives. Yet, with a significantly intensified NATO bombing campaign, it seems unlikely that Qaddafi could mass the needed forces for an effective counteroffensive without becoming incredibly vulnerable to NATO air support.
Rebel commanders in the East and in Tunisia say they are preparing to enter the city where they are working with local forces to soften Qaddafi’s frontlines, but reports also indicate that Qaddafi’s forces are taking up sniper positions and blocking off roads in preparation for a fight. Though the outcomes still remain uncertain, it seems that a battle for the Libyan capital is imminent.
Amidst recent speculative claims that the assassination of the rebel commander General Abdle Fattah Younis signaled a breakdown of the rebel structural unity into tribal factionalism, the Rebels have made a strong advance into the key city of Zawiyah, potentially cutting off the strategic supply route for Col Qaddafi’s forces in Tripoli. The offensive is an important tactical maneuver into this crucial city, coordinated in conjucntion with rebellious elements within Zawiyah and baked by NATO airstrikes.
If the offensive can be sustained and the town itself held, it would be a huge defeat for the Qaddafi regime, who rely on the town as supply route to Tunisia - especially vital as the NATO naval bockade and Eastern rebel forces have eliminated other supply lines. Without it Qaddafi’s military, already facing food, fuel, and weapons shortages, could begin to feel even more pressure. Indeed, the advance would put the rebels in the West within 20 miles of Tripoli, and likely undermine Qaddafi’s war efforts in the Eastern oil city of Brega.
What’s more, a victory here would be a much needed moral boost for the rebel forces, who have begun to show signs of strain from the 6 month long stalemate. It also speaks to the resilience of the rebel forces, who have undertaken the offensive without central organizational leadership, relying on their local commanders for direction and coordination. However, reports indicate that elements of Qaddafi’s military still remain in Zawiyah, including snipers who have taken up positions across the city’s highest buildings.
One of the few Western correspondents to make it into the contested areas of Syria, Anthony Shadid and photographer Moises Saman captured aspects of the Syrian resistance in Hama, like makeshift barricades intended to block tanks and personel carriers from re-entering the city. However, the recent military offensive in to Hama, and more recently into Deir al-Zour, have demonstrated the heroic futility of civilian defiance in the face of tanks and APCs.
This week, elements of the Al-Shabaab militant Islamic organization withdrew from the Somali capital, Mogadishu - the first time the city has been entirely free of the Islamist militia in years.
Recently, Al-Shabaab has sustained a series of tactical and strategic setbacks that may have prompted the retreat, including the death of its leader in a recent gun battle, continued American drone strikes that have eliminated members of its top leadership, and the loss of military control of the Bakara Market. In general, the intensification of fighting over the past several weeks between the African Union Peacekeepers that back the Somali Transitional Federal government and Al-Shabaab have been costly for the militant organization, who are not as well trained or well equipped as their African Union counterparts.
Although the Somali President, Sharif Ahmend, has declared victory, Al-Shabaab’s leadership has said that the withdrawal is part of a larger strategic shift in their operations that will move the organization’s tactics from conventional warfare to the sort of “hit-and-run” techniques that are the trademark of organizations like the Taliban.
The hope among Western Nations, and no doubt of the Somali people, is that in Al-Shabaab’s absence foreign aid organizations may be able to begin providing desperately needed assistance and supplies to the famine stricken nation. Al-Shabaab had outlawed foreign aid groups from operating in their areas of control, making addressing the massive starvation in Somalia frustratingly difficult.
From the New York Times, Somali refugees just across from the eastern Kenyan border making their way to a refugee camp in search of food. According to the New York times, the famine in the Horn of Africa has claimed the lives of more than 29,000 children under age 5 in the last 90 days. Unfortunately, the militant organization Al-Shabaab, which controls vast tracts of territory on Somalia, is not allowing aid groups into their areas of control.
In Syria, the Assad government renewed its assault on the restive city of Hama this week, as well as other unyielding cities, sending in tanks, armored personel carriers, and thousands of soldiers to occupy the city. The protest movement in Syria that began in mid-March of this year has persisted for months, and represents the most potent challenge the Assad regime has yet faced. Since March, the government crackdown has taken a heavy toll, with as many as 2,000 civilians dead. Despite heavy international condemnation, Bashar al-Assad continues to shock the world with the level of violence he is willing to visit on his own people.
In June, in the face of massive protests in many of the major cities, the Syrian military halted its operations and withdrew its forces from the larger population centers including Hama. Since then, the city had experienced a certain level of independence and peace, largely invalidating the Assad government claims that their operations were aimed at crushing a revolt lead by armed extremist gangs. Many in Hama believed that the military would not attempt to retake the city, especially considering Hama’s history - Assad’s father crushed an uprising in the 80’s based in Hama that left more than 10,000 dead (some estimates are as high as 40,000). But the Military’s offensive that began on the start of Ramadan seems aimed at crushing any signs of revolt, regardless of the human cost. In recent days casualty estimates have soared to more than 200 in Hama alone.