Libya: Misrata must not fall

The central plank to the rebellion should not be allowed to succumb to Gaddafi's forces.

Misrata in the centre, Zintan in the west and Adjabiya in the east are three keys to the Libyan rebellion.  They constitute a national campaign and Nato has a duty to ensure they remain in rebel hands.  Then the training of rebel forces has some chance of success, and the rebellion a possibility of ousting Gaddafi and winning the conflict.

Only a brief glimpse at a map of the line of Misrata's defences would provide any casual onlooker with a full appreciation of the pressure the rebellious residents of that city face.  Their place is surrounded, and under siege.  

As exhausted and hungry foreign workers flee for their lives by sea for safe havens abroad or in the rebel-held east, and frightened Libyan women and children attempt to clamber aboard the same rescue ships, Libyan government forces cluster-bomb and shell inhabitants.  Gadaffi's lot, including mercenaries and tribes from other Libyan regions, are precariously close to Misrata city centre.

The situation in Misrata is dire.  NATO appears incapable of bombing accurately enough in residential or built-up areas.  While French, British and other fighter jets destroy Gaddafi's tanks and installations, they seem unable to deal with more precise targets.  So, France and the UK have sent in military advisors (much to the consternation of some inside the UN), and the Americans have deployed drones.  It's a good thing that the US withdrew manned warplanes as they've a record for unreliability.  Friendly fire incidents spring to mind, as well as Iraqi civilian casualties.  Yet sometimes old map records have been blamed, as in 1999 when the American B-2 stealth bomber hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The last thing NATO needs is internal military inquiries or the stoking of rebel and international condemnation.  Drones fire weapons which accurately hit designated targets.  Sometimes there's a possibility that inaccurate or false intelligence leads to errors.  But that's untypical.  However, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintained that 957 civilians died as a result of drone attacks in 2010 alone.

But Misrata, the only significant rebel-controlled city in central Libya must be held.  As must plucky Berber-controlled Zintan in the west, the key to the Tunisian border.  The much subjugated and maligned Berbers will hold out there come what may, and they are in regular contact with rebels in Benghazi and across the country.  In the west, the main road to the rebel "capital" of Benghazi is accessed through Adjabiya, much of which has changed hands several times in past weeks, say reports. 

These three cities must remain in rebel hands.  Gaddafi will fall in the end, most likely.   But the length and devastation of this war will depend on the ability of the rebels to hold onto gained territory at this point.  Ground troops are a non-starter for NATO and the UN.  So, the morale of the rebel forces is vital.  As is the international community's ability to train these computer engineers, office workers and small businessmen in the art of warfare.  For they are ill-equipped, poorly organised and untrained at present.  No wonder Gaddafi keeps making headway.  And he can't be allowed to retain power.  Much depends, both inside Libya and far further afield, on this despot's downfall.

At present, the Yemeni president appears to be en-route to the exit door (within thirty days).  Bashar al-Assad in Syria could be next.  But if the tyrannical regime of Gaddifi can cling to power in Tripoli, these and other undemocratic regimes will be emboldened.  And more importantly the morale of protestors across the Jasmine-affected world will be reduced.  The impetus for change must be sustained and Misrata is a key element in that process.

But can the people of Misrata hold out?  And will NATO's response be enough, and in time?  We should put pressure on the governments of the allies to ensure success in these cities, and we mustn't lose hope that this battle can be won.

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